REFLECTIONS ON THE 2016 TAIWAN ELECTIONS
As the election day is approaching, the popularity of the ruling Kuomingtang (KMT) still falls largely behind the independence-leaning Democratic Progressive Party (DPP). Recent polls showed that 40 percent of Taiwanese voters opted for DPP candidate Ms. Tsai Ing-wen, while only 29 percent supported KMT candidate Mr. Eric Chu. If the trend continues, Taiwan is about to witness another party change after eight years of KMT governance.
Today, Taiwan has established a mature, stable, and democratic political system recognized by many as Asia’s “Lighthouse of democracy.” However, its uneasy history and tangled relations with China has brought special meanings to this year’s presidential election. By far, Ms. Tsai has not yet acknowledged the ’92 Consensus as the baseline for cross-strait relations, an issue matters to the Taiwanese constituents as well as Chinese leaders.
Back in 2005, then honorary chairman of KMT, Mr. Lien Chan, paid a historical visit to China, formally ended the 60-year confrontation between China Communist Party (CCP) and KMT. Since then, both Taiwan and China have implemented a number of policies in effort to create new opportunities for trade, investments, and tourism.
However, the rapprochement did little in altering the negative feelings of Taiwanese people toward mainland China. Since the Sunflower Movement, there are fewer Taiwanese who hold positive feelings toward KMT and its Chinese policies, and the rate is even higher among the younger generation.
While some regard the mainland’s strong position against Taiwan independence as the major cause, the rise of DPP is more of a result from incumbent President Ma Ying-jeou’s failed economic policies. Despite increasing trade volumes with China, Taiwanese economy has remained sluggish, with high unemployment rate and inflation rate over the past four years. The lower- and middle class is now unwilling to support closer economic partnership with China, which they believe has favored the business elite and damaged manufacturing industry back home.
Unfortunately, it seems that Chinese leaders have not yet noticed these concerns, nor have they taken any substantial moves to address them. Even in recent years, Chinese people’s knowledge of Taiwan comes either from the pro-unification KMT or from Taiwanese merchants.
For example, the February 28 Incident, an event that still divides the Taiwanese society, is unfamiliar to Chinese people. The CCP’s support of KMT is primarily based on its firm position against Taiwan independence, but in the eyes of Taiwan people, their alliance reminds them of the terrible periods when the KMT carried out brutal repression against political oppositions and civil rights movement.
The future development of Taiwan-China relations cannot solely rely on trade or party alliance. While it has rapidly grown as the world’s second largest economy, mainland China has not done enough to augment its soft power in the international community, which in the long term will undermine its credibility as a global leader.
The 2016 election is a hard lesson that reminds China to review the gains and losses of its Taiwan policies, hear the voice of Taiwanese people, and create new channels to better engages them with the Taiwanese society. A peaceful, constructive partnership is a common pursuit of both Taiwanese and Chinese leaders. With this in mind, China and Taiwan could find some fields for cooperation regardless of who stays in power.
Compiled and edited by Junxiao Liang