Last Stop

A Postcard from Kinmen

Last stop: Outgoing President Ma Ying-jeou made a pitstop visit to Kinmen island on January 2 to canvass for his party—the Nationalist Party (Kuomintang, or KMT)—and its local candidate running in the legislative elections concurrent to the presidential vote on Saturday.

In his stump speech, Ma, who is stepping down after two terms in office, spoke of how Kinmen residents have sacrificed economic development as Taiwan’s “front line,” protecting its security. Kinmen, the island nearest mainland China, had been highly militarized for decades after the KMT retreated to Taiwan after being defeated by the Chinese Communists in 1949. It bore the brunt of a bloody Communist attempt to retake the island in October of that year, and from the 1950s onwards has suffered regular shelling from China.

Locals, who have historical and familial ties with Xiamen and Quanzhou on the mainland—just a half-hour ferry ride away these days, across the Taiwan Strait—have traditionally been KMT supporters and are somewhat less Beijing-skeptic than Taiwanese mainlanders. Kinmen has been the center of some cross-strait experiments like transport and tourism links and an annual cross-strait swim. The parched island will soon be getting water supplied from Jinjiang, a city near Quanzhou in Fujian province, through underground pipes.

But these elections are expected to bring into office a new president, Tsai Ing-wen, leader of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), which is less friendly towards Beijing. Tsai was well-received when she visited Kinmen in early December and the DPP’s local legislature candidate is polling strongly, surprising some observers.

Whatever the local elections results in Kinmen, a DPP-led government is expected to usher in change—at least in tone—in cross-strait relations, and the island might again be caught in those cross winds.