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NEW REA IN TAIWAN

L.A. Expatriates Greet News Calmly

Reaction: Community that has often been roiled by cross-strait tensions chooses optimism instead.

March 19, 2000|PETER Y. HONG | TIMES STAFF WRITER

When tensions between Taiwan and China flared in the past, Southern California residents sometimes encouraged family members in Taiwan to shift their savings to U.S. bank accounts, or even to come to the U.S. as a precaution.

But Saturday, gatherings of Taiwanese expatriates were remarkably tranquil after the election of Chen Shui-bian as the island's new president.

Jason Yuan, who serves as Taiwan's de facto consul in Los Angeles, said the mood at a postelection gathering of local political activists from all camps Saturday morning was conciliatory.

Yuan said the local residents he talked to saw recent threats by China as a bluff, one that may even have backfired by prompting Taiwanese to support Chen, the pro-independence candidate.

Chen's backers were predictably ebullient. At Rosemead's Taiwan Center, run by a consortium of 50 Taiwanese American organizations, Long Beach real estate agent Darice Lee, long an advocate for an independent Taiwan, could hardly contain her excitement.

"I've been waiting for this day for at least 30 years," said Lee, who moved to the United States in 1969 with her husband, Ray, a retired aerospace engineer.

Local backers of the other candidates--Vice President Lien Chan from the governing Nationalist Party and James Soong, a former Nationalist official who ran as an independent--apparently accepted the results without bitterness. Yuan said that a reception at a government-run community center in El Monte drew about 200 people, with the group about evenly split in its support. Chen supporters did not gloat over their victory, and backers of the different candidates congratulated one another on their efforts.

Yuan pointed out, however, that the most politically impassioned residents were absent, having traveled to Taiwan to vote in the elections themselves.

By early afternoon the center, which is also used by ruling party opponents, was packed with people attending an investment seminar, an art exhibit and a conference of the Sino-American Certified Public Accountants Assn.

Feng-ying Ming, 44, a Whittier College Chinese literature professor who was attending the art exhibit, said she followed the election intensely, staying up all night to listen to returns on the radio even though she did not favor a candidate. She does not, however, fear repercussions from the outcome.

"I am kind of optimistic," she said. "I'm not saying there's no possibility of war, but people are smart and sophisticated enough not to do anything detrimental to Taiwan's stability," she said of China's and Taiwan's leaders.

Jane King, 37, an accountant from Monterey Park, also is not worried about a possible Chinese attack on Taiwan. Chen's outspoken support for independence, she said, was important as campaign rhetoric but is unlikely to be followed through on once he takes office.

"In China, Taiwan or the U.S., people say things to differentiate themselves from other candidates, but once they're in, it's different," King said.

The measured reaction to the election reflects an evolution from the hostility that had marred Taiwanese expatriate politics. Independence advocates and supporters of the Nationalist government clashed bitterly for decades.

The rivalries occasionally turned violent, as in the 1984 slaying of San Francisco writer Henry Liu, who was killed after writing a book critical of then-president Chiang Chingkuo. Liu's assassination was ordered by a former Nationalist official, but the government denied any involvement.

*

Times staff writer K. Connie Kang contributed to this report.

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