The Taiwan elections last week may have many in the West – and some perhaps on the Mainland – thinking if politics in Taiwan is yet turning another corner with its independence movement mounting a comeback?
The following comment by a Taiwanese reader on guancha caught our attention.
4. 在台灣島內，多數人民的首要矛盾問題是經濟與民生問題，但這６年來國民黨在馬英九的領導下完全無能無所作為；統獨問題作為次要矛盾問題，在我的認識，許多台灣人都抱持著鴕鳥心態 — 既或是傾向獨立的綠營支持者，很多人心底也都知道或默認，統一是遲早與無法抗拒的，只能持著消極抵制心態應對。而對大陸人來說，在台灣問題上，統獨是首要矛盾問題，台灣的經濟與民生問題是次要問題。而當台灣人因為自己的首要矛盾問題票投綠營時，會讓許多大陸人認為台灣走向獨立之路，或是刻意想與大陸對抗，這是許多大陸人不了解台灣社會實際情況所產生的誤解與誤讀，希望觀察網的朋友對此點有重新的認識。
Here is my quick translation:
As a Taiwanese who supports unification, I want to share the following thoughts regarding the recent Taiwanese elections with readers on guancha.
1. Even though the KMT has been handed an utter defeat and the DPP candidates won triumphantly, the results do not necessarily mean that Taiwanese are somehow turning pro-independent. The fundamental reasons for the DPP success are: 1. Ma Yin Jeou’s failures over last six years to provide anything of value to Taiwan’s middle and lower class and the perception by the vast majority of Taiwanese people that its administration is beholden to the vested interests and wealthy. 2. The perception that KMT is corrupt when the KMT selected the son of Lian Zhan [rich Taiwanese KMT politician] to run for the Taipei Mayoral elections. Many Taiwanese see only a few wealthy and connected – including the rank and files of KMT – benefiting from Taiwan’s current relationship with the Mainland, with most average Taiwanese locked out of the Mainland’s economic development.
2. The central government in Beijing needs to reassess its hands-off policy on Taiwan. It currently relies on the KMT and cross-strait businesses to cultivate its image and message in Taiwan. The central government needs to be more directly involved – perhaps through more grassroots organization in Taiwan – to foster a new type of political awareness, message, and image in Taiwan. As I have suggested before, the central government must foster more pro-active, people-to-people contacts to promote unification with Taiwan.
3. If the DPP does not come up with a coherent policy toward the mainland – dropping its pro-independence officially once and for all – then its chance of winning the 2016 Presidential election would be next-to-nil.
4. For most people on Taiwan, the most important and pressing issues of the day is economics. The Taiwanese middle class has has its income stagnate for some time, and many today blame their various problems (high unemployment, income stagnation, etc.) on Ma’s policy over the last six years. The issue of independence / unification for Taiwanese is secondary. Most Taiwanese understand that unification is inevitable but do not necessarily see a need to rush. On the other hand, from the Mainland’s perspective, the independence / unification issue is paramount. Economics is secondary. This dichotomy in perspective may lead to misunderstanding – including misunderstanding what the most recent results really means.
I personally think the comment above definitely has some grains of truth to it. The issues of the recent (local) elections have been predominantly about economics, not cross-strait politics per se. However, the the unification / pro-independence issue is just beneath the surface, and not as buried as the commentator makes it out to be.
The sad truth about Taiwan is that while there is no surge of independence feeling, neither is there a surge of patriotism either.
Tactically DPP politicians may have toned down rhetoric about independence the last six years, and they may even have lucked out this time because of the KMT’s ineptness, but make no mistake about it, beneath the surface, whether one supports KMT or DPP in Taiwan is still defined by one’s stance on independence / unification.
One issue touched on by the commentator, but not directly stated, is whether the KMT ought to be seen as the party of choice by the central government. Compared with DPP, one might argue, the KMT is surely better. But the truth is that the KMT under Ma has been hesitant and shy and weak about dealing not just with issues relating to economics, but also with issues relating to independence / unification. If neither KMT nor DPP can be trusted with unification, what should the future direction be? Should the central government continue taking a hands-off stance – as it is doing in Hong Kong – and wait things out?
I don’t know the answers except to add that I privately have been hugely disappointed with Ma Ying-Jeou the last six years. As I noted in 2008 when he was elected, I thought Ma had been too timid, too careful, too bureaucratic and lawyerly in his speeches and debates to be an effective leader. All that has turned out to be true.
Perhaps all this – KMT vs. DPP – is just a distraction. The most important thing I believe is for the Mainland to continue to develop. The noise in Taiwan comes in large part from the fact that Mainland is still seen as catching up to Japan and U.S. As long as that is true, Taiwan’s allegiance can be manipulated and divided. But as that gap decreases, I believe – I hope – the patriotism that burns inside me – that I know reside in most Taiwanese – will shine through.
As a Chinese American looking at the recent election in Taiwan I like to make the following points referencing to the article.
1. The defeat of the KMT at the hands of DPP and independents was expected, but the degree of loss was so much more. Although it may not mean more pro-independence, but it’s a logical conclusion.
2. I have to disagree with your conclusion that central government should be more involved, certainly mainland should maintain people to people contacts, tourism promotion, but I think China should step back and avoid any hint of involvement on local politics, withdrawal on favorable trade arrangements seen as bribery and backlash.
3. DPP gained powers before, and need to govern and provide for the people. Empty slogan on independence without U.S. support doesn’t solve people’s livelihood. I expect DPP to prevail in 2016 presidential election as KMT seem such old and lack young energetic new faces. I do expect status quo on relation with mainland.
4. True, as in U.S., economy is the key. For mainland it’s a long game, China is in no hurry, unification can wait. China has plenty of problems on plate right now, pollution, carbon limits, corruption, the list is endless. As China continues to modernize and people’s live improves, unification will not be a problem.
In my opinion the KMT vs DPP is much about how destructive politics can be. DPP blamed the KMT for failure while they are in power. In the next couple of years when the DPP will probably fall out favor also. Not much less than in the US how the rise and fall of Democrats and Republicans during the elections cycle.
In a universal suffrage political system it is almost natural progress to have a two parties system. Of course, once in awhile a third party might emerged due to special circumstances it would regress to two fronts when the special issue died out. In Taiwan’s case the third force used to be the PFP of James Song and TSU of Lee Teng-Hui.
I want to add that Taiwan’s economic woes actually started late in the term of Lee Teng-Hui and worsened during Chen Shui-Bian’s time. Political corruption was much worse during those time. Ma actually tried very hard to clean up “black gold” politics in KMT. The very influential president of the legislative yuan, Wang Jin-Pyng was sacked by Ma for trying to influence a case involving a DPP big shot Ker Chien-ming. However, Wang has since won the appeal.
The defeat of the KMT in this round of local election might be unprecedented due to the many issues stated in the article. One must still bear in mind that voters in a two fronts system tend to want to punish the party in power regardless of who run in the election. It actually mirror DPP election’s lost after Chen’s misdeed started being exposed in the presidency. The second term of his office was plagued by gigantic occupy movement.
The KMT has obviously been severely punished in this round, but would the situation improved on the socio-economic front in Taiwan? My prediction is that it would be even worse due to DPP’s political nature. The DPP derives it greatest strength from being confrontational with “the mainlanders” be it the KMT or the PRC. If one is to measure the progress of cities and counties ruled by DPP, the report card would be dismal. Chen Shui-bian aside, simply look at other big city run by the DPP. What progress has Chen Chu made to Kaohsiung after ten years in office? By comparison Hu Chih-chiang transformed Taichung from a back water into a progressive city after 16 years in office. However, in this election Chen still won by a land slide while Hu lost.
And to be fair, is Ma Yin Jeou a bad politician? One must bear in mind that he took office in 2008 when financial crisis decimated many leading financial institutes in the West. At that time nearly all developed economies were in recession. Of course, I agree with Allen’s view that Ma is too timid and careful. But what can he do in place? And how can one drag Taiwan’s economy out of the doldrums?