Doing the Right Thing Will Eventually Dissolve Hostility and Win Support
China Times editorial (Taipei, Taiwan, ROC)
January 16, 2011
Summary: Any presidential bid for re-election, is invariably a referendum on the incumbent. President Ma Ying-jeou was compelled to wage an uphill battle during his bid for re-election. Nevertheless in the end he won 52% of the vote. Clearly over half the voters were unwilling to risk overturning the cross-Strait status quo. They calculated that if they gave Ma Ying-jeou four more years, Taiwan could maintain the cross-Strait status quo and enjoy increased prosperity and growth.
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Any presidential bid for re-election, is invariably a referendum on the incumbent. President Ma Ying-jeou was compelled to wage an uphill battle during his bid for re-election. Nevertheless in the end he won 52% of the vote. Clearly over half the voters were unwilling to risk overturning the cross-Strait status quo. They calculated that if they gave Ma Ying-jeou four more years, Taiwan could maintain the cross-Strait status quo and enjoy increased prosperity and growth.
What is the "cross-Strait status quo?" Actually, it is something dynamic, rather than static. The current cross-Strait situation is unlike the tense standoff in 2004. It is unlike the stagnant situation in 2008, just before Ma Ying-jeou was elected. The advantage of being in office, is that one can define the status quo, even change it. The Ma administration has indeed changed the status quo over the past four years, by means of its cross-Strait policy. It has resumed direct cross-Strait air links after a six decade hiatus. The two sides have signed sixteen agreements on legal cooperation, repatriation of criminals, and financial cooperation. After ECFA was signed, the Mainland made many concessions on tariffs.
This is why the election was so unprecedented. Many entrepreneurs stepped forward to openly support the 1992 Consensus. They saw the benefits of the new status quo. The DPP said the Ma administration benefited only "people with money." Not so. As HTC Chairman Cher Wang said, the day before the election, businesses need a stable environment to be sustainable. Taiwan is not a society riddled by class warfare. Businesses have the ability to remain in operation. Only then will everyone be able to profit. Over half the voters supported Ma, showing that most people long for a peace dividend.
Several presidential candidate policy presentations were held during the election. DPP presidential candidate Tsai Ing-wen pointedly criticized Ma Ying-jeou. She accused him of "governing by the numbers." She accused him of not understanding the feelings of ordinary people. But the election results prove that certains numbers do inspire feelings in people. These numbers were not limited to the 8 to 9% economic growth rate. People have had more visceral experiences than that. The Ma administration added 70 nations to the list granting visa-free travel treatment. The new nations include Japan, the UK, and the EU. It includes the United States, the country with which the Republic of China is the most closely connected. Last year, the Republic of China was added to the list of candidates for visa-free travel treatment. By the same token, soon after the two sides signed ECFA, Japan, New Zealand and the Republic of China began talking about investment protection cooperation. The Republic of China may not escape marginalziation even after joining the WTO (World Trade Organization). But voters hope new opportunities will arise now that ECFA has been signed.
The cross-Strait peace dividend refers not just to economic interests. It also refers to Taipei's maneuvering room in the international arena. The backbone that supports all these developments is the 1992 Consensus. Tsai Ing-wen's primary campaign theme during the election was "Is there really a 1992 Consensus?" But the question she should have been asking was "Should there be a 1992 Consensus?" or "How has the 1992 consensus benefited Taiwan?" As former American Institute in Taiwan Taipei Office Director Douglas Paal observed, the 1992 Consensus is a highly creative formulation. Its ambiguity permits both sides to maintain their sovereignty. It also enables them to solve practical problems. Paal, an outsider, has clearly delineated the impact of the 1992 Consensus.
The DPP refuses to recognize the 1992 Consensus. Perhaps the DPP concluded from the poll numbers in recent years that public allegiance to "Taiwan" has reached unprecedented levels. But perhaps they forgot another number. Public expectations for cross-Strait peace have also reached unprecedented levels. Before the election, former President Lee Teng-hui personally posted a newspaper ad supporting Tsai Ing-wen. He did not call on "the brave people of Taiwan" to stand and fight [Mainland] China. He merely stressed that history shows no matter who is elected, exchanges between Mainland China and Taiwan must continue. Only then are dramatic improvements in cross-Strait relations possible.
Tsai Ing-wen once criticized Ma Ying-jeou's "no reunification, no independence, no use of force" policy as self-contradictory. But it is no more self-contradictory than the two sides arguing over sovereignty while conducting peace talks. The raison d'etre of the 1992 Consensus, is to resolve the cross-Strait dilemma. Not only has it successfully shelved the dispute over sovereignty, it has also allowed smooth cross-Strait negotiations.
The DPP and Tsai refuse to recognize the 1992 Consensus. But at the same time they are unable to offer an alternative for resolving cross-Strait differences. Instead they proposed a far too vague "Taiwan consensus," that provoked outside concern. As a result, during the critical, final moments of the presidential race, cross-Strait relations once again became the DPP's Achilles Heel.
The vote proved a point. The ruling Ma Ying-jeou administration may have lost some support. But disaffected Ma supporters did not necessarily vote for Tsai Ing-wen. Tsai Ing-wen received 45% of the vote, only slightly more than the DPP's core support, and less than the 49% it received during last year's five cities mayoral elections. So what is the difference between central and local level elections? The voters understand perfectly. During a presidential election, cross-Strait policy is at stake. Tsai Ing-wen refused to clarify her cross-Strait policy before the election. Therefore the voters were afraid to let her govern the country. They refused to allow the future of the two sides and Taiwan to enter a state of uncertainty.
Another election result, pertaining to cross-Strait economic and trade exchanges, is also worth noting. The just ended presidential election maintained the basic pattern of a Blue Camp dominated northern Taiwan, and a Green Camp dominated southern Taiwan. But the key to Ma Ying-jeou's victory over Tsai Ing-wen is that he won big in the north, but only lost small in the south. Tsai was weak in the north. Yet she only managed to eke out a 30% share of the vote. By contrast, despite the fact that Ma was relatively weak in Kaohsiung and Pingtung, he nevertheless managed to garner 40% of the vote. The gap between the Two Yings in the south was much less than it was during the Blue vs. Green showdown in 2004.
How should one interpret these figures? The wrong interpretation could have fatal consequences for the future of the political parties. For example, the Green Camp could attribute its defeat to the sudden emergence of the Taiwan Solidarity Union, which received 9% of the political party vote. The DPP, by comparison, did not fare nearly so well. It could attribute this to Tsai Ing-wen's failure to adopt a hardline Taiwan independence stance, the way Chen Shui-bian and the DPP did during past elections. It could say this is why it failed to maximize its advantage in the south. But if the DPP interprets the election results this way, it won't be able to change its direction on cross-Strait policy over the next four years. It could find itself riven by internal divisions. When such a DPP challenges the KMT four years from now, it will only encounter the same cross-Strait bottleneck as in the past.
The KMT can be optimistic about one thing. Su Chun-ping, Chen Yi-chen, and other KMT "assassins" were sent into enemy territory, to run against an entrenched DPP. They failed to win. Nevertheless they acquitted themselves surprisingly well. This shows that if one offers the right candidates, one can always make inroads, no matter how hostile the territory. More importantly, the Ma administration has attached immense importance to the benefits showered upon the public by its cross-Strait policies. In the beginning, the benefits were not sufficiently widespread. The man in the street remained oblivious to its potential benefits. But the impact of Mainland tourists arriving on Taiwan, and cross-strait economic and trade, are among the reasons the Blue Camp was able to consolidate support in the south.
This should offer great encouragement to President Ma during his second term. This is not just about the Blue Camp winning back the south. This is about having the guts to do the right thing. Doing the right thing has the potential to win over even the most hostile voters one day. This is the real significance of President Ma's 52% election victory.