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March 30, 2017

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Who is Taiwan's Lee Myung-bak?

The results of South Korea's presidential election Wednesday were greeted in Taiwan with elation from both the "pan-blue" and "pan-green" camps — the two major groups vying for the presidency next March. This seemed ironic, but it is true. Both camps believe that their candidate is Taiwan's Lee Myung-bak — a conservative candidate who won by a landslide.

Ma Ying-jeou, the opposition KMT's presidential candidate, seemed justified to say the KMT is the equivalent of Lee's Grand National Party, which played the "economy card" to defeat rival Chung Dong-young by the largest margin in history.

Yes, the KMT is playing the "economy card." In particular, Ma's running mate Vincent Siew is one of the architects of Taiwan's economic miracle. Ma's highly-touted "623 economic revival plan" bears close resemblance to Lee Myung-bak's "747 economic plan" which promises to boost South Korea's GDP growth to 7 percent, per capita GDP to US$40,000, and an economy that ranks 7th in the world. Ma's 623 plan is less ambitious: GDP growth at 6 percent, per capita GDP at US$20,000, and jobless rate below 3 percent.

Lee won the election, according to Ma's camp, on the voters' longing for change, and the Roh Moo-hyun administration's neglect of the economy. The Korean people were also riled by Roh's "Ao-bu" (dirty trick) regarding Lee's alleged involvement in a legal case. This mirrors Taiwan's presidential campaign, Ma pointed out.

But the pan-green camp did not see eye-to-eye. Frank Hsieh, the ruling Democratic Progressive Party's candidate for president, ridiculed Ma for copying from Lee's "747 plan" to make his election platform. Hsieh stressed that Lee won the election because of his policies against cozying up with the North and against "economic unification," but pointed out that Ma favors the latter policy. Hsieh, the former mayor of Kaohsiung, pointed out that Lee Myung-bak owes much of his victory to his accomplishments during his tenure as the mayor of Seoul, where he presided over the successful restoration of Cheonggyecheon, a 5.8km downtown river. Hsieh prided himself for the miraculous restoration of Kaohsiung's Love River, now a resort area like Seoul's Cheonggyecheon. Hsieh said he and Lee have a lot in common.

Who is Taiwan's Lee Myung-bak? It is up to the voters to decide that in March.

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