DPP Still Not Ready for Pragmatic Cross-Strait Exchanges
China Times editorial (Taipei, Taiwan, ROC)
August 16, 2012
Summary: Democratic Progressive Party Su faction legislator Wu Ping-jui recently proposed an amendment making students from the Mainland eligible for National Health Insurance (NHI) coverage. Alas, this provoked a intense backlash within the DPP. Less than three days later, his proposal was withdrawn. Party Chairman Su Tseng-chang came forward and called a halt to the proceedings. Wu Ping-jui was forced to offer a public apology for his "reckless behavior." The controversy over NHI coverage amounted to a trial balloon, in reverse. It enabled everyone to see that the DPP, for all its lip service, is simply not ready to adopt a pragmatic approach to cross-Strait policy.
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Democratic Progressive Party Su faction legislator Wu Ping-jui recently proposed an amendment making students from the Mainland eligible for National Health Insurance (NHI) coverage. Alas, this provoked a intense backlash within the DPP. Less than three days later, his proposal was withdrawn. Party Chairman Su Tseng-chang came forward and called a halt to the proceedings. Wu Ping-jui was forced to offer a public apology for his "reckless behavior." The controversy over NHI coverage amounted to a trial balloon, in reverse. It enabled everyone to see that the DPP, for all its lip service, is simply not ready to adopt a pragmatic approach to cross-Strait policy.
Since DPP Chairman Su Tseng-chang came to power, the DPP has shown signs of wanting better cross-Strait relations. First, Chairman Su Tseng-chang restored the China Affairs Office. Trusted Tsai Ing-wen aide Lo Chih-Cheng visited the Mainland early this year. Key DPP aide Hsiao Bi-khim visited Shanghai in her capacity as a Director of the Foundation for Democracy. She participated in a seminar organized by the Shanghai East Asian Institute.
Hsiao Bi-khim was called into service separately, first by Tsai Ing-wen, then by Su Tseng-chang. This indicates the direction the DPP is headed. Hsiao Bi-khim visited the Mainland. Nominally she was participating in a seminar. In fact she was engaging in exchanges. Hsiao Bi-khim said the CCP did not understand the DPP. Mainland scholars say the CCP must understand the DPP. The DPP and CCP lack trust and understanding. But the DPP does not reject efforts to promote mutual understanding.
To be sure, exchanges between the DPP and the Mainland are better than no exchanges. Strengthening communications is the first step toward defusing hostilities. But talking about exchanges without a pragmatic cross-Strait policy merely reveals the ugly truth. It merely highlights the DPP's close-minded attitude of hatred for Mainland China. The attempt to make students from the Mainland eligible for NHI coverage is a perfect example.
Wu Ping-jui's proposal provoked a strong backlash. DPP leaders objected to "taking taxes to protect the human rights of [Mainland] Chinese." They said "The health insurance program is already in debt, yet we are proposing to provide services to them?" NHI has long been a sensitive issue on Taiwan. Such reactions are not surprising. What is truly incredible is that in the face of such challenges, the DPP has no argument to offer. All it can do is change its tune.
In fact, students from foreign countries must pay to be included in the NHI program. Students from the Mainland would have to do the same. Also, the seriously ill and senior citizens account for the lion's share of health care expenditures. Students from the Mainland are mostly younger folk. Common sense tells us they would make little use of health insurance. Therefore merely in terms of who pays and who benefits, making students from the Mainland eligible would have little effect on the NHI system. This would be the real world result of making students from the Mainland eligible for NHI coverage.
Wu Ping-jui proposed making students from the Mainland eligible for NHI coverage out of concern for human rights. After all, students from foreign countries can pay for and receive NHI coverage. But students from the Mainland cannot. This is discrimination. This is a violation of human rights. When the DPP treats students from the Mainland worse than it treats students from foreign countries, how can it avoid the suspicion that it harbors a deep-seated hatred of everything Chinese?
Over the past two months, the DPP has been laying the groundwork for reconciliation with the Mainland. But the moment it encountered a substantive policy issue, its real feelings emerged. The DPP still does not understand. In the past, they could get away with pro forma lip service. The authorities on the Mainland and voters on Taiwan were still giving them the benefit of the doubt. But ten years have elapsed. The DPP's populist demagoguery has totally destroyed the last vestiges of trust people had in the party. After the Ma administration took office, the two sides engaged in substantive exchanges, including direct links, ECFA, and investment protection agreements. These were brass tacks policy negotiations. Every policy impacted real world interests. These developments leave the DPP no room for obfuscation. Health insurance coverage for students from the Mainland is a minor concession. The DPP cannot even tolerate that. So how can anyone trust them to deal with major cross-Strait issues?
In fact, everyone was looking forward to the DPP's newfound pragmatism. For the ruling and opposition parties on Taiwan to converge on cross-Strait policy would defuse political opposition on Taiwan. It would reduce political friction. The people would benefit.
The DPP is actively attempting to establish a consensus with the Mainland. But a major obstacle remains, a lack of consensus within the DPP. Party leaders avoid cross-Strait policy discussions. As a result the Deep Green mentality of unrelenting hatred for Mainland China becomes the mainstream view within the party. Therefore, the DPP leadership is only willing to engage in ambiguous exchanges. The moment they encounter a Deep Green backlash, they immediately raise the white flag. This sort of flip-flopping merely underscores the discrepancy between DPP words and deeds. It is hardly enough to establish mutual trust with the Mainland.
The controversy over health insurance coverage for students from the Mainland may turn out to be a good thing for the DPP. Letting the cat out of the bag now is better than letting it out three years from now, after the presidential election. This at least allows DPP leaders to stop and ask themselves what they really want. Do you really want a pragmatic cross-Strait policy? If so, what's the problem? The pressure is on. The DPP must formulate a coherent cross-Strait policy. It must establish an intraparty consensus. Only then will it have a basis for communication with the Mainland. Otherwise no matter how many cross-Strait exchanges it engages in, they will all be for naught.