Some countries’ politics are easy for Americans to follow. Take Japan. They have two main parties: one that’s pro-national security, pro-growth, and nationalist. The other is socialist. Japan’s politics are the easiest thing in the world for Americans to have a feel for.

Other countries are harder to get. The Republic of China’s has divisions completely unlike ours, so let me breakdown their new election. Who won? What does it mean?

Photo by Pasu Au Yeung on Flickr

Photo by Pasu Au Yeung on Flickr

Who won is the pictured Democratic Progressive Party. The last two elections had been won by the Chinese Nationalist Party (Kuomintang, often abbreviated KMT), the party of Chiang Kai-shek as he opposed the Communists in the Chinese Civil War. The Nationalists lead the “Pan-Blue” coalition, which is right-leaning, but the defining issue of the coalition is that they support the One China policy (led by the Republic of China of course), with Taiwan included.

I often see American observers get tripped up by that last point. They think that KMT is pro-Communist because they’re pro-Chinese. But they aren’t. The KMT believes the Republic of China is the legitimate government for all of China, including all the Communist-held parts. KMT opposes Taiwan independence not because they’re pro-Communist, but because they’re pro-Chinese.

Which brings us to the winners of the election, the Democratic Progressive Party. They lead the “Pan-Green” coalition of left-leaning parties, however again, it’s not the left-right split that really defines politics in Taiwan. Cross-strait issues with the People’s Republic of China do. What defines the Pan-Green coalition is that they favor independence of Taiwan. That is, independence from China. Not just the People’s Republic of China, but also from the Republic of China. They want Taiwan to be an independent nation of its own.

You see, when the KMT lost the Civil War, they ran to Taiwan as a last resort. So Taiwan, which already had endured immigration and assimilation eroding its Taiwanese aboriginal population down to a minority, got an influx of Chinese nationalists, and the seat of the Republic of China government accelerating Chinese dominance of the island. They even have different spoken languages (Mandarin for the Chinese, Hokkien for the Taiwanese, spoken by the majority of the country). This has displeased some Taiwanese nationalists, and helped drive calls for Taiwan independence.

So you see, neither major party in Taiwan is pro-Communist, or in favor of the People’s Republic of China. One just wants the Republic of China to rule all of China. One wants to end Chinese rule over Taiwan. So even though the KMT supports the ‘One China’ policy that the Communists support, don’t think that means a pro-Communist party lost. The KMT is the only party that denies the legitimacy of Communist rule over China, and that is what lost.

So don’t expect me to cheer when a left-wing party wins in Taiwan, thank you.