Strait Talk Express

Strait Talk Express

Strait Talk Express

A summary of what's in the major U.S. newspapers.
March 19 2000 4:39 AM

Strait Talk Express

The Los Angeles Times, the Washington Post, and the New York Times all dedicate big headlines and photos to Taiwan's presidential election. Chen Shui-bian of the Democratic Progressive Party triumphed in a bitter three-man race, with 39 percent of the vote. His victory ends 51 years of Nationalist leadership in Taiwan, although the Nationalists still control Taiwan's legislature. The WP claims that two issues were crucial to Chen's success: Taiwan's independence and government corruption. Chen's record as a reformer and his willingness to clean up the corruption of the Nationalists earned him the support of many young voters.

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Chen's party maintains a strong pro-independence stance, but Chen himself made numerous conciliatory gestures toward Beijing in his acceptance speech: He spoke in Mandarin Chinese instead of the Taiwanese dialect (NYT), he announced plans for a conciliatory trip to Beijing before his inauguration (LAT), and he claimed that he wouldn't push for a formal declaration of independence (which might prompt a military attack by China) because he and his party already consider Taiwan an independent entity. But he rejected the "one country, two systems" approach used by Hong Kong in an oft-quoted statement: "We will never be a second Hong Kong or a second Macao."
 
Beijing has taken a wait-and-see approach to the news. In a brief statement issued after the results, they say they'd "listen to what the new leader in Taiwan says and watch what he does."  Last week, China's premier warned that if Taiwan chose "pro-independence forces," not mentioning Chen by name, they might not get the chance to choose again. A related NYT article about China's response reasons that the election results, in the face of this saber rattling, will strengthen hard-liners who advocate a firmer stance against Taiwan. President Clinton was cautiously optimistic, commenting that the election showed the "strength and vitality of Taiwan's democracy" and sets the stage for fresh attempts at peaceful resolution of tensions between China and Taiwan.

The NYT fronts, and the WP reefers, a brief bio of Chen. He entered politics as a lawyer defending pro-independence dissidents in the late '70s. His wife was hit by a truck during a 1985 campaign rally, and was paralyzed from the waist down (some maintain the accident was orchestrated by Nationalist plotters).  In 1994, Chen was elected mayor of Taipei, but he lost a re-election bid to the Nationalist candidate last year. The papers also note that his running mate, an American-educated lawyer named Annette Lu, will become Taiwan's first female vice president.

The NYT notes that President Clinton advocated legislation to create a new reserve of heating oil in northeastern states. However, he has still refused to mandate short-term measures to lower rising fuel prices, such as lowering gas taxes or releasing oil from emergency federal reserves.

Another NYT front-pager chronicles the inevitable result of two seemingly unrelated trends. As prison rolls soar and the job market tightens, an increasing number of inmates are working in an increasing number of positions, doing everything from telemarketing to manufacturing computer parts. Advocates of the prison labor claim it does help reform prisoners; opponents say it merely exploits them, while driving down wages for workers on the outside. The issue is coming to a head in Congress, where competing bills that will either expand or contract the scope of the prison labor program are now pending.

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A WP investigation finds that Al Gore's image as a policy wonk doesn't square with his academic performance. Despite high achievement test and IQ scores, he made surprisingly average grades at St. Albans and fell victim to sophomore slump at Harvard. In his second year of college, he scored a D, several C's, and only one B-, a poorer performance than any of George W. Bush's years at Yale. The WP, based on interviews with his college classmates, blames Gore's poor showing on some extracurricular activities: shooting pool, watching TV, eating hamburgers, and the occasional toke.