Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Chopsticks Theory: Interpreting Public Opinion on Cross-Strait Relations

Chopsticks Theory: Interpreting Public Opinion on Cross-Strait Relations
United Daily News editorial (Taipei, Taiwan, ROC)
A Translation
September 15, 2010

Last Saturday this newspaper published a public opinion survey on cross-Strait relations in 2010. It found that when asked whether the two sides are friends or foes, most people feel the two sides are warming up to each other. When asked about their position on reunification vs. independence, most want to maintain the status quo (51%), most have a negative impression of the Mainland government (54%), and a minority have a negative impression of Mainlanders in general (47%). A third however, would like to work on the Mainland. Nearly 30% want their children to study on the Mainland. And 63% do not think the Mainland's growing strength constitutes a threat to Taiwan, and are happy to see the Mainland continue growing.

Our survey reached the following conclusions. One. The public is largely content with the cross-Strait status quo. In three out of five major areas, social, political, and economic relations, the public feels cross-Strait relations are "warming." Even in areas such as military relations and diplomatic relations, cross-Strait relations are merely considered slightly "tense or competitive." Military relations were rated at 6.1, only 0.1 above "warming." Diplomatic relations were rated at 6.3, only 0.3 above "warming." Most people consider this the payoff of two years of cross-Strait reconciliation.

Two. The public on Taiwan has clear reservations about cross-Strait political integration. Fifty-one percent proposed "maintaining the status quo in perpetuity." They constitute a majority. Immediate independence plus gradual independence advocates (maintain the status quo for now, declare independence later) constitute 31%. Immediate reunification plus gradual reunification advocates (maintain the status quo for now, reunify later) constitute 14%. Again, pro independence advocates outnumber pro reunification advocates.

These two poll results show that the public on Taiwan approves of cross-Strait reconciliation, but does not advocate "reunification." This however must not be misinterpreted. It does not mean that advocates of Taiwan independence outnumber advocates of reunification. Because in such questionnaires the definition of "Taiwan independence" varies with the respondent. If "Taiwan independence" is defined more precisely, it could change how the respondent answers. Besides, advocates of Taiwan independence may number roughly 30%. But they are unlikely to increase to where they constitute mainstream public opinion and weild mainstream political clout. The 2007 legislative elections and 2008 presidential elections proved that.

These attitudes can be explained by the "chopsticks theory." A majority of the public wants Taiwan and the Mainland to act like a pair of chopsticks, joined at certain spots, but separated at others. This way the two can pick up food. They do not feel the two chopsticks should be either bound together (reunified) or separated (independent). Either way would defeat the purpose of chopsticks.

Twenty years ago, the chief editor of this newspaper met with then AIT Director Nat Bellochi, and mentioned the "chopsticks theory." He suggested that the two sides could be like a pair of chopsticks, neither completely bound together, nor completely kept apart. They should be joined at certain points, but separated at others. During recent political debates on Taiwan, political rhetoric reminscent of the chopsticks theory has emerged. In 1997, the DPP suggested that Taiwan is neither at the center, nor at the periphery. Instead, it is a dynamic, thoughtful, and creative bridge between the land and the sea It is a "bridge between the East and West," and an "interface between sea and land." It is neither at the center, nor at the periphery. This is reminiscent of the "chopsticks model." One might say that "great minds think alike." The current poll reveals that the "chopsticks model," which "wants exchanges but not to be tied down" did not arise yesterday. It has been a long time coming. It will also represent the majority view for the forseeable future.

A majority on Taiwan wants "no [immediate] reunification and no independence, both reunification and independence" and the "chopsticks model." It advocates maintaining the status quo, and proceeding from there. This ought to provide inspiration for all three political parties on both sides of the Strait. For the KMT, the current poll results mean the Ma administration's policy of "no reunification, no independence, and no war" has paid off. But as cross-Strait relations become even closer, some may wish to moderate the pace of reconciliation. This is also a characteristic of the "chopsticks phenomenon," which involves alternately coming together and separating. This may explain why the success of cross-Strait policy may not help the Blue Camp in the five cities elections.

The DPP claims that the 31% "Taiwan independence elements" constitute the Democratic Progressive Party's core support. Perhaps it does. But it is also the DPP's biggest stumbling block. The Democratic Progressive Party can use hard-core pro-independence elements to inflame political passions during election season. But it cannot transform Taiwan independence into the majority perspective on Taiwan. Still less can it maintain stable relations between Washington, Beijing, and Taipei, on a Taiwan independence premise. Taiwan independence is not a viable option for Taiwan's future. The only solution is a return to the "chopsticks theory" and the theory of "a bridge between East and West, an interface between sea and land."

For the CCP, such attitudes on Taiwan are insufficient to justify talk of reunification. But by the same token, such attitudes hardly represent support for Taiwan independence. Therefore when the Beijing authorities attempt to interpret this poll, they should give the last two years of cross-Strait policy a positive evaluation. The public on Taiwan has a somewhat negative opinion of the Mainland, due in part to stereotypes, in part to a lack of understanding, and due in part to a need for improvement by the Mainland. The survey showed that the main factor determining whether cross-Strait relations become friendlier or more hostile is not merely physical issues such as military or political pressure, but psychological issues such as democracy, culture, society, and civilization.

As "peaceful development" proceeds, the "chopsticks theory" is perhaps the one that best conforms to public expectations.

2010.09.15 01:39 am











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