With Taiwan’s 2012 presidential and legislative elections less than one month away and public opinion polls showing the two presidential hopefuls, President Ma Ying-jeou and Chairwoman Tsai Ing-yen, in a dead heat, Washington and Beijing have been preparing for the possibility of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) returning to power. The possibility of a DPP victory in the presidential election and/or attaining a legislatively-significant number of seats in the parliament have raised questions about the extent to which the election results may affect current government’s cross-Strait policy. An analysis of the DPP’s cross-Strait policies is therefore necessary for better understanding the potential implications of the 2012 elections. While there has been an outpouring of media attention on the DPP following Tsai’s visit to Washington in September, much of the public discussion has been guided by subjective perceptions and little analysis concerning the Party’s stated policies and the context of prevailing views in Taiwanese society toward cross-Strait relations.
Domestic Political Environment
Any analysis of the DPP’s or the Chinese National Government’s (KMT) cross-Strait policy cannot be separated from the domestic political context. Politics takes place in a competitive market of ideas, making voter demand as important what the DPP and KMT policies supply.
In 2008, the Executive Yuan’s Mainland Affairs Council (MAC) conducted a survey in which 82.6 percent respondents indicated that they preferred the “status quo,” while a combined 10.1 percent responded that they want unification or independence as soon as possible .
For a detailed line graph on Taiwanese public opinion, see the China Brief PDF or go to the MAC website: http://www.mac.gov.tw/public/Attachment/911813284914.gif
According to a recent September 2011 public opinion poll conducted by MAC that asked respondents their positions on cross-Strait relations: 87.2 percent stated they support maintaining the “status quo”, while only a combined 7 percent of respondents indicated they want unification or independence as soon as possible.
|Unification as soon as possible||Maintaining the status quo and unification later||Maintaining the status quo and deciding on independence or unification later||Maintaining the status quo indefinitely||Maintaining the status quo and independence later||Independenceas soon as possible||Don’t know /
|Source: Mainland Affairs Council|
These polls are significant, because they show, despite the rapid expansion of cross-Strait ties under the KMT government—which include seven rounds of cross-Strait talks, 16 agreements and one “consensus” on mainland Chinese investment in Taiwan—the people still overwhelmingly prefer the “status quo” to any alternatives.
Furthermore, this trend suggests fears over increasing economic integration between Taiwan and China would lead to political integration have not materialized in the past four years. Whether it will in the long term remains to be seen. The short and medium term trends, however, indicate there is at best a weak correlation between increasing economic ties and a change in the people’s preference for independence or unification.
This signal is not lost on either political party. It appears increasingly clear that maintaining the “status quo” represents a societal consensus, and unilateral changes by either party toward unification or independence would not be widely supported by Taiwanese voters.
Absent a major stir of the pot—for example, a Chinese provocation (i.e. missile test in the Taiwan Strait) or a renouncement of the use of force (i.e. missile withdrawal), and/or the perception of changing U.S. policy (i.e. revoking the Taiwan Relations Act)—it seems unlikely that public attitudes on this particular issue will change significantly.
In other words, unless Beijing decides to intimidate Taiwanese voters by launching missile tests over the Taiwan Strait like what happened in the 1995-1996 crises; or, on other hand, demonstrate meaningful steps to reducing its military posture across the Strait; or if Washington revokes the Taiwan Relations Act, the “status quo”—as Taiwanese people see it, in general—is likely to remain as is for the foreseeable future.
What is the DPP’s Definition of the “Status Quo” for Cross-Strait Relations?
At the core of the problem in cross-Strait relations is the perception of different interpretations of the “status quo” among the major political parties in Taiwan.
The ruling-KMT’s stance on the “status quo” in cross-Strait relations has been made abundantly clear in the past four years. President Ma has repeatedly stated that the KMT government’s policy on the ‘status quo’ in cross-Strait relations is based on the principle of “no unification, no independence, and no use of force” under the framework of the Republic of China (ROC) Constitution . KMT President Ma also stated that, “When we mention Taiwan, it means the ROC” (Phoenix [Taiwan], December 4; Taipei Times, October 22).
Furthermore, according to MAC Minister Lai Shin-yuan, the Ma administration’s top policymaker on China, “the ROC and the People’s Republic of China have no jurisdiction over each other. The ROC is a sovereign and independent state; Taiwan is a sovereign and independent state” (Taipei Times, October 22).
Nevertheless, President Ma and his administration continue to be questioned for its perceived “pro-unification” stance.
On the other hand, it is no secret that the DPP’s attitude toward the “status quo” has been clouded by internal discord over different interpretations by various factions. Nevertheless, the DPP’s “Resolution on Taiwan’s Future of 1999,” which is accorded equivalent status as the Party charter, serves as the baseline of debates. According to the 1999 Resolution: “Taiwan is a sovereign and independent state and that its national title is the ROC.” In other words, “Taiwan is the ROC” (Taipei Times, October 22).
Chairwoman Tsai’s assertion at the centennial celebration of the founding of the Republic of China (Taiwan) on October 10 that the definition of the “status quo” is “Taiwan is the ROC [Republic of China], the ROC is Taiwan and Taiwan is a sovereign and independent country” underscores a significant step in the DPP’s policy of defining the “status quo” and an important policy marker for any future DPP administration (Central News Agency [Taiwan], October 10).
According to Professor Tung Cheng-yuan:
“Three recent opinion polls show that Taiwanese have reached a high degree of consensus on this view of the nation’s status. According to a DPP poll, 72 percent of respondents agreed with the view that “Taiwan is the ROC, and the ROC is Taiwan,” while only 18 percent disagreed. According to a NOWnews poll, 68.9 percent agreed and 19.2 percent disagreed with the same statement. Finally, according to a China Times poll, 50 percent of respondents agreed, while 18 percent disagreed. In other words, a majority of Taiwanese identify with this definition of the nation’s status” (Taipei Times, October 22).
Highly-charged campaign rhetoric and Beijing’s paranoia over the possibility of DPP’s return to power have led outside observers to believe that the positions of the DPP and KMT are completely at odds. While a partisan media environment in Taiwan add fuel to such perceptions, most miss the point that the “status quo”—at least in Taiwan—does not center on the issue of unification versus independence: it is about balancing stability and security (i.e. economic and military). In that sense, there appears to be an emerging consensus among the DPP’s and KMT’s positions on Taiwan’s sovereign status.
DPP’s 10-Year Policy Guideline
In August, DPP unveiled the “Party’s 10-Year Policy Guideline,” which called for the establishment of an interactive framework for peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait (Taipei Times, August 23). According to these guidelines, if elected, the DPP would engage China in discussions on a “long-lasting” interactive framework . The policy guideline emphasized a multilayered and multifaceted exchange across the Taiwan Strait undergirded by the “Taiwan Consensus.”
In what has been widely billed as the DPP’s policy response to the KMT’s “1992 Consensus,” Chairwoman Tsai put forward in August the concept of a “Taiwan Consensus,” which, according to conversations with sources close to the DPP, signals the party’s bold departure from the confrontational policies that had characterized the latter half of the previous administration. Furthermore, it seems to be an effort on the part of the chairwoman in taking personal leadership in proposing an inclusive approach to engage Beijing in negotiations over the future of cross-Strait relations—leaving all options on the table.
The KMT and the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) claim the “1992 Consensus” (jiu’er gongshi) should serve as the basis of cross-Strait negotiations. The “1992 Consensus” refers to a tacit agreement between the KMT and the CCP, according to which there is “One China,” but each side may have their own interpretations of what is that “China” (China Times, December 5; Asia Times, November 29).
Yet, CCP Chairman Hu Jintao’s now famous “six-point speech” delivered on the eve of 2009 at the 30th anniversary of the “Message to Compatriots in Taiwan,” which according to many Chinese analysts represented the new official policy guidelines of the Beijing government, did not mention the “1992 Consensus” (Xinhua, December 31, 2008). Perhaps more significantly, in Hu’s speech there was only reference to “One China” but no “different interpretation” (gebiao) (“Hu Jintao’s ‘Six-Points’ Proposition to Taiwan,” China Brief, January 12, 2009).
In the “Vision for Taiwan: National Security Strategy,” a formidable policy platform published by the Taiwan Brain Trust—a private think tank established by DPP heavy-weight Koo Kwang-ming (related to the aforementioned Koo)—there may be several parameters to the “Taiwan Consensus” that sheds light to this policy. In this 172 page book, former government officials and scholars outlined what they defined as a “special cross-Strait relationship definition” between Taipei and Beijing that does not challenge each other’s sovereignty (p. 137). Furthermore, “[s]o long as there is no direct political or military threat from China, Taiwan will have no need to deliberately display its sovereignty and independence” (p. 138) and that, “[s]o long as the Taiwan people agree, any option for the future can be considered” (p. 145). If both the KMT and DPP can accept that Taiwan is the ROC, and the ROC is Taiwan, then the ROC is Taipei’s interpretation of ‘one China’, and Taiwan is a part of the ROC under its current constitutional framework (i.e., article 4). Consequently, there can be “One China, with different interpretations.” Indeed, the DPP has not accepted the “1992 Consensus” on the basis that it believes Beijing insists there is only “One China” but no different interpretations.
According to sources close to the DPP, the consensus-based approach is more about process than policy outcomes. Given the lack of popular support for either unification or independence, it is very unlikely the DPP could push initiatives that would jeopardize the “status quo” for either Washington or Beijing. In that sense, the likely outcomes of the “Taiwan Consensus” is not much different than the KMT’s in terms of “No Unification, No Independence, No Use of Force.”
With polls showing the Taiwan’s two presidential hopefuls, President Ma Ying-jeou and Chairwoman Tsai Ing-yen, in lock-step, the result of the elections is still anyone’s guess.
Despite the heat of the contest, there appears to be a degree of convergence in the cross-Strait policies of the two parties. The outpouring of media attention on Taiwan’s elections has distorted public perception, since much of the public discussions have been guided by subjective interpretations that fuel misperceptions regarding the degree of polarization in Taiwanese politics.
Whether President Ma wins a second term or Taiwanese voters decide to give the DPP a second chance, the driving force is becoming less and less about independence or unification. DPP’s cross-Strait policy is a clear reflection of that trend. In either case, Taiwan is not on an inevitable path of reunification under the People’s Republic of China (PRC), nor is it headed in an inseparable path toward independence. In view of the tight presidential race, coupled with the fact that an overwhelming majority of Taiwanese voters prefer the “status quo,” the Taiwanese voters will not accept—nor could any political parties commit to—making any dramatic shift to the “status quo.”
Since 2008, there appears to have been a fundamental shift in the Taiwanese electorates’ that all political parties vying for power would have to accept. Democratization in Taiwan and its elections in particular—which some observers have come to see as a flash point of instability—appear to have become a stabilizing force for cross-Strait relations. The sooner Washington and Beijing start listening to Taiwanese voters and stop treating each presidential election in Taiwan as a zero-sum game, the faster Taiwan’s democratic consolidation could turn out to be the silver lining for Washington and Beijing for ensuring a peaceful and stable cross-Strait environment.
- Statistics and chart drawn from Republic of China Mainland Affairs Council, “Public Opinion on Cross-Strait Relations in the Republic of China,” August 1, 2008, www.mac.gov.tw/ct.asp.
- Republic of China Ministry of Foreign Affairs, “Position Paper on Inking a Cross-Strait Peace Agreement,” November 9, 2011, available online at http://www.taiwanembassy.org/CL/fp.asp?xItem=233057&ctNode=4099&mp=357.
- Democratic Progressive Party, “DPP Resolution on Taiwan’s Future,” May 8, 1999, available online at www.taiwandc.org/nws-9920.htm.
– December 20, 2011