Tsai Ing-wen's Problem: A Lack of Policy, not a Lack of Eloquence
China Times editorial (Taipei, Taiwan, ROC)
April 29, 2010
During the Two Yings Debate, Democratic Progressive Party Chairman Tsai Ing-wen did not do as well as expected. Not surprisingly, she has been mocked by the Blue Camp. Surprisingly, elements within the DPP and the Green Camp have engaged in covert schadenfreude, and overt mockery. Their reaction is incomprehensible. Because if Tsai Ing-wen cannot win this debate, then other DPP heavyweights stand no chance at all.
Schadenfreude is an unwillingness to see others succeed. It is part of human nature. Competition within the DPP is cuthroat. DPP elders are adopting the attitude: "Another rival has been laid low!" They are not taking advantage of the debate to reflect on the future of the DPP. They are passing up a valuable opportunity to contemplate the DPP's future. Individuals so short-sighted can hardly be entrusted with the heavy responsibility of ruling a nation.
These attacks, leveled against Tsai Ing-wen by DPP elders, merely reveal these elders' own limitations. For example, some elders argue that since Ma Ying-jeou's approval ratings were at their nadir, Tsai Ing-wen should not have agreed to debate him, thereby raising his ratings. But this is wishful thinking. The DPP is vehemently opposed to ECFA. It has even called for a referendum. A debate was inevitable. The DPP has long paid ritual lip service to the democratic process. Surely it does not intend to keep the public in the dark? Surely it does not intend to demand a referendum even as it hides the facts from the people?
Most commentators, not merely those in the Green Camp, think Tsai Ing-wen lost because she came across as an academic or policy wonk immersed in a class debate. Even Tsai Ing-wen herself feels that her political rhetoric was not up to Ma Ying-jeou's. But this underestimates the intelligence of Republic of China voters. After all, the Republic of China holds elections year in and year out. Political rhetoric flies back and forth, day in and day out. Voters long ago learned to separate the wheat from the chaff. The reason the Two Yings Debate was a rout for the DPP was centrist voters. For them the debate offered two clear and divergent paths for national governance.
Ma Ying-jeou has been promoting ECFA. His short term goal is to alleviated the pressure exerted by ASEAN plus One. Affected industries may suffer losses due to high tariffs. The Blue and Green Camps each have their own arguments. But industry losses are a hard fact, Some industries may suffer losses as high as 8 or 9%. Our national leaders cannot turn a blind eye to them. In the medium term, ECFA is a more feasible means to integrate Taiwan's economy with the rising economies of East Asia. In the short term, weak industries may be harmed. But the Ma administration has weighed the risks and benefits. It has offered a workable option that cannot be cavalierly dismissed as "political rhetoric."
Tsai Ing-wen found herself at a disadvantage because she was honest enough to forsake the Democratic Progressive Party's populist, anti-ECFA rhetoric. Unfortunately the alternative she set forth does not appear to be feasible. She wants the WTO's multilateral system to safeguard Taipei's interests. But the WTO has repeatedly blocked the Doha Round negotiations. She wants to adopt the the Washington/Taipei TIFA (Taiwan-US Trade and Investment Framework Agreement) model. But this model is incapable of dealing with Taipei/Washington trade tariff issues. It is even less capable of dealing with FTAs and tariff reduction agreements between major trading nations.
Tsai Ing-wen did not lack eloquence. She lost the debate because her policy proposals were unworkable. At least she made an effort to come up with alternatives. Democratic Progressive Party heavyweights who are secretly gloating should ask themselves a question. What was the real reason they opposed a Two Yings Debate? Was it because they knew that without the cover of Taiwan independence ideology, and charges that their opponents were "pro reunification" or "selling out Taiwan," they were incapable of offering any concrete policy prescriptions?
Even Tsai Ing-wen, who stressed the importance of policy oriented debate, was deeply pessimistic about ECFA. For example, she worried that the products manufactured by Taiwan businessmen on the Mainland would use their tax-free status to undercut manufacturing on Taiwan. But NCCU Professor Chen-Yuan Tung conducted a study of 1019 Taiwan and foreign based companies. If Taipei becomes part of the integrated East Asian economic system, 23 to 37% of the companies surveyed would increase their investments on Taiwan. If Taipei and Beijing entered into economic integration agreements, 29 to 42% of the respondents would increase their investments on Taiwan. Also, every industry unanimously recommended that Taipei first enter into economic integration agreements with Beijing, and only then into agreements with Washington, the European Union, and others.
The study also pointed out that "Taiwan must resort to Sinicization. Only Sinicization could expedite its objective of Globalization." "Sinicization and Globalization go hand in hand. They are not mutually exclusive."
Chen-Yuan Tung was Vice Chairman of the Mainland Affairs Council under the former DPP government. He was also a member of the DPP's China Affairs Committee. If Ma Ying-jeou were to make such a recommendation, the DPP could perhaps ignore him. But these recommendations were made by a middle-aged scholar concerned about Taiwan's plight. They cannot ignore him. The DPP has attempted to overcome cross-Strait problems through globalization. But current trends make it virtually impossible to globalize by bypassing the Mainland. This was Tsai Ing-wen's fundamental problem during the debate.
Given Tsai Ing-wen's dilemma, the DPP has no cause for gloating. Because this is not her personal problem. This is a new international political and economic scenario the DPP must address. If the DPP is unable to address this scenario, winning or losing the debate is a minor matter. Whether the DPP can return to power, that is the truly major matter it ought to worry about!