China Times Editorial (Taipei, Taiwan, ROC)
September 13, 2016
Executive Summary: One hundred days after taking office, President Tsai's popularity has plummeted. All manner of polls have her on the critical list. All manner of protests have broken out, one after another. Cross-Strait relations remain deadlocked, creating a serious drag on Taiwan's economic development. The public can take to the streets. But otherwise it is helpless. At this stage of the game, it can still find no substitute for the DPP. The KMT is still licking its wounds following its rout at the polls. It has yet to reposition itself and find its future direction. The KMT will naturally find it difficult to regain the voters' trust. DPP governance may be riddled with problems. But persuading voters to switch back to the KMT is going to be difficult.
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One hundred days after taking office, President Tsai's popularity has plummeted. All manner of polls have her on the critical list. All manner of protests have broken out, one after another. Cross-Strait relations remain deadlocked, creating a serious drag on Taiwan's economic development. The public can take to the streets. But otherwise it is helpless. At this stage of the game, it can still find no substitute for the DPP. The KMT is still licking its wounds following its rout at the polls. It has yet to reposition itself and find its future direction. The KMT will naturally find it difficult to regain the voters' trust. DPP governance may be riddled with problems. But persuading voters to switch back to the KMT is going to be difficult.
This is especially true with cross-Strait issues. Cross-Strait issues were once the KMT's strength. This was especially true in 2005, when Lien Chan visited the Mainland. The KMT was virtually a symbol of peaceful cross-Strait interaction. It was the ballast that ensured stable cross-Strait relations. But the dividends from cross-Strait interaction failed to reach the lower rungs of society. They failed to result in salary increases. Instead, the facilitation of cross-Strait capital flows led to rising housing prices that priced young people out of the housing market. Public resentment against the Kuomintang exploded. Cross-Strait relations became a liability instead of an asset.
Following the election, KMT members demanded a review of cross-Strait policy. Many even want the KMT to take the “nativist” path. But that is surely gross overcompensation.
To be fair, peaceful cross-Strait relations and cross-Strait civilian exchanges are the historical trend. The KMT must be commended for having the courage to stand on the cutting edge. The monopolization and uneven distribution of the benefits of cross-Strait exchanges must of course be addressed. But the basic direction was absolutely correct. When the KMT reviews its cross-Strait policy path, it must distinguish between strategic direction and specific policies. It must not “give up eating for fear of choking”. It must not sit on its hands and do nothing.
Consider the current cross-Strait situation. The Mainland insists on the 1992 Consensus. But the DPP government refuses to recognize it. This means the 1992 Consensus no longer provides room for negotiation. In order to get cross-Strait relations back on track, toward healthy development, a new basis for cross-Strait political relations must be found. The Mainland is flexible on this issue. The Mainland has long focused on the implications of the 1992 Consensus, rather than the term itself. In other words, if the new government can find some sort of loophole, the cross-Strait deadlock can be broken. But given the Tsai government's policy tone, one cannot expect the Tsai government to offer up any sound policies. The Tsai government's cross-Strait strategy is to avoid making any mistakes, rather than getting anything done. But managing Cold Confrontation is difficult. The harm inflicted upon Taiwan's economy is all too real. This provides the KMT with a golden opportunity.
On September 4, the KMT Party Congress incorporated a Peace Agreement into its new party platform. But controversy erupted over “one China, different interpretations”. This newspaper has long urged the KMT to convene a policy debate on this very issue in order to establish a strategic direction. Since the Five Goals of the Lien Hu summit were announced, the Kuomintang has benefited from large scale cross-Strait exchanges. It has become lax in its defense of its policy path. This has weakened its ability to explain what it is doing. During public debates, it has found itself pummeled relentlessly, helpless to fend off DPP red-baiting and accusations of “pandering to China [sic] and selling out Taiwan”. This remains true even today.
This problem increases the need for debate and clarification. Preparation for debate is precisely what the KMT needs in order to regain the initiative when debating cross-Strait relations. We earnestly hope the Kuomintang will take advantage of this opportunity.
Trust between the KMT and the Mainland runs deep. As long as the two sides adhere to the one China principle and oppose Taiwan independence, there will be no conflict between the KMT and the CCP. The KMT can then throw open its doors and seek better solutions to cross-Strait problems.
The KMT's premise of "one China, different interpretations" stresses its commitment to the Republic of China. The "one China, same interpretation” premise represents an ambitious step forward in cross-Strait relations. Both formulations enable the Taiwan side to advance or retreat. Neither premise involves opposition with the Mainland. Both recognize one China. Both are consistent with the Mainland's own position. Both are likely to become the mainstream view on Taiwan in the future. The KMT has absolutely no need to fret about voter appeal or political correctness. As long as the matter is debated, supporters of the Kuomintang will rally to the cause, and help Taiwan establish a new basis for cross-Strait relations. This is the key by which the Kuomintang can renew itself and achieve electoral victory.
KMT cross-Strait policy should be also consider the perception of 1.3 billion compatriots on the Mainland. The Tsai government's words and deeds have provoked anti-Taiwan sentiment on the Mainland. The KMT must distance itself from the DPP. Its policy must express goodwill toward the Mainland. It must restore friendship between private individuals on both sides of the Strait. It must act as a stabilizing force in cross-Strait relations, and increase the scope of cross-Strait exchanges. Cross-Strait civilian exchanges will inform people on Taiwan about the role of the KMT, and enable them to realize its importance. This will gradually transform perceptions about the KMT, and help it return to power.