President Tsai: Learn from Ko Wen-je's Firmness and Flexibility
China Times Editorial (Taipei, Taiwan, ROC)
August 24, 2016
Executive Summary: Ko's actions provoked green camp accusations of "selling out", of "spinelessness", of "pandering to China [sic] and cozying up to Communists”. But ignore such emotional outbursts. Scrutinize Ko Wen-je's words. Not one of them was unreasonable. The key question is whether Tsai Ing-wen has the courage to defy green camp sentiment, speak from the heart, reason from the head, restore cross-Strait relations, and break the impass. Ko Wen-je is both firm and flexible. Tsai Ing-wen would do well to learn from his example.
Full Text Below:
Ko Wen-je is a self-proclaimed "deep green". Yet the green camp has accused him of being a "modern day Shi Lang" who aspires to be "Beijing's Governor General for Taiwan”. Taiwan independence groups heckle him wherever he goes. The green media mocks him as "a mere local official with embarrassingly low approval ratings”. Nevertheless Ko Wen-je has successfully renewed the Taipei Shanghai Twin Cities Forum.
Through her spokesman, Tsai Ing-wen wished Ko Wen-je well. The presidential spokesman said that exchanges between the two sides should increase. As long as exchanges increase mutual understanding, then exchanges, including city to city exchanges, are a good thing.
Some green camp people habitually denounce the Twin Cities Forum as “Communist”. Tsai Ing-wen, on the other hand, has expressed approval of the Twin Cities Forum. This highlights the difficulty Tsai Ing-wen faces when promoting cross-Strait relations. Resolving this difficulty is a test of Tsai Ing-wen's wisdom. Ko Wen-je's firmness and flexibility regarding the Twin Cities Forum shows that Tsai Ing-wen can learn from his example.
Green Camp condemnation is a problem not just for Tsai Ing-wen, but even for "deep green" Ko Wen-je. The ideological burden he must bear, is no less than that borne by Tsai Ing-wen. Ko Wen-je recently issued a series of cross-Strait policy statements. He made subtle revisions to the Twin Cities Forum. This invited another round of allegations that he was “soft on Communism”. Ko Wen-je now stands at a political crossroads. Which way will he go?
The Taipei Municipal Government has suffered a major setback. Ko Wen-je's governing ability is being questioned. He clearly realizes that cross-Strait relations offers him an opportunity to reverse his political fortunes. He wants the success of the Twins Cities Forum to show that some people in the green camp are able to deal with cross-Strait affairs. He wants to show that regular exchanges between Taipei and Shanghai need not be interrupted, merely because a new government has come to power.
What holds true for a city mayor, holds true for a national president. The Mayor of Taipei has a clear understanding of the importance of cross-Strait relations. Tsai Ing-wen should have an even clearer understanding. She should realize that the biggest obstacle she faces, and the chief reason her approval ratings are down, is cross-Strait policy. Unless cross-Strait relations are straightened out, Taiwan's economy will not improve. The economy is the first to feel the impact. The economy is the basis of public satisfaction. It is the fountainhead of the ruling regime's prestige.
The truth is simple. Taiwan has a trade-based economy. The more it merges with the world outside, the more vitality it acquires. The Mainland is one of the world's largest economic blocs. Can Taiwan's economy survive if this bloc is eliminated? Can internal order survive if Taiwan's economy collapses? Can Tsai Ing-wen survive politically if both the economy and internal order collapse?
Tsai Ing-wen's swift response to the China Airlines strike and the National Highway toll collectors strike shows how desperate she is to salvage her approval ratings. Leave aside for the moment the price she may pay in the long run. From a larger perspective, she is like a fly without a head, sacrificing long term interests to short term expediency. She is missing the forest for the trees. Former US President Bill Clinton summed up the fundamental principle of national governance in his campaign slogan: "It's the economy, stupid!"
For Taiwan, the two sides of the Strait are the cornerstone of the economy. Apply Clinton's campaign slogan to Taiwan, and it becomes, "It's cross-Strait relations, stupid!"
Cooperation with the Mainland is essential to Taiwan's survival and growth. It affects the complex East Asian strategic picture, and the ROC's diplomatic space. Many non-economic issues stand in the way of cross-Strait relations. Tsai Ing-wen has created an impasse in cross-Strait relations by refusing to recognize the 1992 Consensus. She stubbornly insists that her "inaugural address has already demonstrated the utmost in goodwill toward Beijing". She has throws her hands up in feigned indignation. Her passive aggressive approach will kill cross-Strait exchanges. It will lead Taiwan down a blind alley, and can only be characterized as irresponsible. Ko Wen-je realizes the importance of cross-Strait relations for his political ambitions. But he has also done his homework. He expended the necessary effort, and assumed the necessary humility.
The Mainland was initially no less skeptical of the "deep green” Ko Wen-je than it was of Tsai Ing-wen. But Ko Wen-je's continued efforts on behalf of the Twin Cities Forum prevented the interruption of official exchanges. A series of statements sympathetic to Mainland compatriots, along with changes in his attitude made a dramatic difference. Ko Wen-je did not hesitate to proclaim himself "Chinese". He boldly echoed Xi Jinping's declaration that "Both sides of the Strait belong to one family". He publicly affirmed the Mainland for ensuring that everyone had enough to eat, a rare feat in China' history. also spoke of "four mutuals" and a "2015 New Perspective". His pronouncements were constructive and low keyed. He succeeded in maintaining uninterrupted communication between the Twin Cities. The Shanghai representative refrained from embarrassing Ko Wen-je over the 1992 Consensus at the Shanghai Twin Cities Forum. This too was a gesture of good faith.
Ko's actions provoked green camp accusations of "selling out", of "spinelessness", of "pandering to China [sic] and cozying up to Communists”. But ignore such emotional outbursts. Scrutinize Ko Wen-je's words. Not one of them was unreasonable. The key question is whether Tsai Ing-wen has the courage to defy green camp sentiment, speak from the heart, reason from the head, restore cross-Strait relations, and break the impass.
Ko Wen-je is both firm and flexible. Tsai Ing-wen would do well to learn from his example.