By Ralph Jennings
TAIPEI, March 17 (Reuters) - Bloodshed in Tibet last week is wedging its way into the centre of Taiwan’s March 22 presidential election, threatening the chances of a front-runner who has pledged closer ties with political rival China.
Taiwan’s feisty and uncensored media has given wide coverage to the violence on the streets of Lhasa, and all sides of the island’s political spectrum have weighed in to condemn China, whose government also claims self-ruled Taiwan as its territory.
Taiwan’s ruling Democratic Progressive Party, which advocates keeping a distance from China, said on Monday the island could suffer the same fate as Tibet if it gets too close to Beijing, whose troops marched into the remote Himalayan region in 1950.
China has never renounced the use of force to bring Taiwan under its wing. The two sides have been ruled seperately since the defeated Nationalists fled to the island at the end of a civil war with the Communists in 1949.
"The violence in Tibet is related to our platform of resisting Chinese imperialism," said Cheng Wen-tsan, spokesman for ruling party candidate Frank Hsieh, who is trailing in the opinion polls.
The Liberty Times said in an editorial that China’s "bloody repression" in Tibet should act as a wake-up call to the island’s voters to Beijing’s "real face", and that they should not believe any peace treaty offers.
"If this revelation in Tibet can wake up many people in Taiwan and show them clearly China’s wild ambition to invade Taiwan, then that is a blessing from God for Taiwan," the Chinese-language daily said.
The Hsieh camp’s Tibet-Taiwan comparison, which included lampooning Chinese officials at a mass parade in Taipei on Sunday, has put election opponent Ma Ying-jeou on the defensive after months of discussing plans for increased dialogue with China.
"To draw an analogy between Taiwan and Tibet is an incorrect one," Ma, whose Nationalist Party once ruled all of China, told a news conference on Monday. "Tibet is under mainland China rule, and Taiwan is not."
But although Tibet has become a hot-button issue likely to stir votes ahead of the election, analysts say that once in office either candidate could safely push for limited China ties without running any military risk.
"Tibet is having an effect on the election," said Lin Chong-pin, president of the Taipei-based Foundation on International and Cross-strait Studies. "But Tibet won’t have any real impact here, since China is very set on using a softer approach toward Taiwan."
Still, Taiwan’s government is hoping events in Tibet could help the island attract more international sympathy and support, and even foreign news coverage of the election.
"On the one hand, they’ll (the world’s media) see this powerful China, which does not know the meaning of human rights. They’ll see the long-term oppression in Tibet and the massacre there," Shieh Jhy-wey, head of the Government Information Office, told reporters. "But we have gone in the direction of democracy, of human rights. We are choosing our own president." (Additional reporting by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Bill Tarrant)