Moment of Truth for DPP Cross-Strait Policy
China Times editorial (Taipei, Taiwan, ROC)
December 23, 2010
The sixth Chiang/Chen summit will be held this week at the Grand Hotel in Taipei. ARATS President Chen Yunlin felt compelled to comment. He said, "History sometimes brings surprising coincidences." Two years ago, Chiang and Chen met for the first time, at the same time of year, a the same location. At that time however, the DPP staged violent protests. The ruling administration placed tens of thousands of police on full alert. The enemy was at the gates. Given intense political and social polarization on Taiwan, a conflagration could have broken out at any moment.
Two years later however, things are moving along with ease. The two sides have signed ECFA, the most historic agreement since the two sides instituted separate rule. Five hundred and fifty-seven items on the early harvest list will enjoy tax breaks starting on New Year's Day next year. Industry tariffs will be cut by over one billion NT in the first year. More importantly, DPP legislators might continue protesting in the Legislative Yuan. But DPP party chairman Tsai Ing-wen has already assured the media that if she is elected president in 2012, she "will continue the previous administration's policies." During the recent five cities elections, not a single Green Camp candidate challenged ECFA. This was true even in the Deep Green bastions of Tainan and Kaohsiung. Why? Because according to the DPP's own polls, over half the public on Taiwan supports ECFA. The DPP is nothing if not adept at electioneering. It is not about to shoot itself in the foot at election time.
Chiang and Chen have already met six times. Cross-Strait economic exchanges are now closer than ever. Some industries are even further along in their integration. They have passed the point of no return. The two sides might not engage in political talks for the time being. But attempts to promote a referendum to author a new constitution failed during the Chen Shui-bian era. De jure independence is no longer a possibility. That is a reality the DPP cannot ignore. This political and economic situation is consistent with the wishes of most of the public, which prefers to maintain the status quo, No political party or politician can ignore this reality.
The DPP may attempt to spin the five cities elections as a contest over "governing ability." It may attempt to deliberately avoid the issue of cross-Strait policy. But during the upcoming presidential election, it cannot fall back on the catechism, "we will continue the former administration's policies." The sixth Chiang/Chen summit is now discussing matters of practical policy. Officials from the two sides are negotiating ECFA and financial sector MOUs. The two sides are even signing mutual legal assistance agreements, expressing respect for each others' jurisdiction. Meanwhile, all the DPP can talk about is Taiwan independence ideology, rather than concrete, pragmatic cross-Strait policy. How can the DPP possibly persuade the public it has "governing ability?"
Following the five cities elections, "China policy" has reportedly become a hot topic within the DPP. Green Camp think tanks are experiencing a wave of "China fever." As a matter of fact, "DPP fever," a complementary phenomenon on the other side of the Taiwan Strait, is also in full swing. Both sides appear to be taking a closer look at each other. From the perspective of cross-Strait peace and development, we of course welcome this new atmosphere of closer communication. Communication of course does not equate with policy change. In fact, exchanges between private sector think tanks on the Mainland and the DPP have been going on for years. But DPP cross-Strait policy strategy has yet to catch up with the times. If the DPP wants to adopt a pragmatic cross-Strait policy, the key will be its leaders' will power.
This is surely Tsai Ing-wen's most difficult challenge. Ever since Chen Shui-bian overturned his own "five noes" during his last days in office, the DPP has avoided the topic of cross-Strait policy. As a result, extreme Sinophobia has been the DPP's guiding concept. The presidential election is just around the corner. The DPP is an eleventh hour convert. But how will it breach the topic of cross-Strait policy, without touching off internecine warfare? That will be something of a feat.
This is especially true because Taiwan independence extremism has already taken hold within the DPP. Members of the "one nation on each side connection" carried signs expressing support for Chen Shui-bian. During the recent five cities elections, they comprised nearly 9% of the vote. This means they have already crossed the 5% legal threshold for recognition as a political party. Even if they withdrew from the DPP, they could still make their strength felt. Therefore they have enough strength to threaten Tsai Ing-wen. Taiwan independence extremists within the DPP have considerable organzational ability. This makes compromise within the DPP extremely difficult.
Compromise may be urgent and difficult. But the 2012 presidential election looms. The DPP cannot avoid the issue of cross-Strait policy. It desperately wants to win this office. Over the past year, the DPP has managed to hold its ground. The public may not support the party's cross-Strait policy. But it is dissatisfied with the worsening gap between rich and poor. Therefore it demanded that the KMT pay the price.
"It's the inequality, stupid!" This is the lesson of the five cities elections. The DPP has nearly enough strength to achieve a simple majority. If it can cash in on this resentment, and propose relevant economic and fiscal policies, it may even win over Pale Blue voters. On the other hand, if the DPP reverts to its old hatreds, it will probably lose the swing voters who supported it during the past year. Can the DPP's Platform for the Coming Decade set a new tone for 2012? The moment of truth has arrived.