Record low approval marks Tsai’s first year

By Zhang Hua Source:Global Times Published: 2017/5/18 21:53:39

May 20 marks Tsai Ing-wen's first anniversary as Taiwan's leader. However, polls suggest that Tsai's approval rate is only 28 percent, much lower than her predecessors at this point in their term. Taiwan's politics, economy and social situation have not seen outstanding improvement, and meanwhile the cross-Straits relationship has deteriorated during Tsai's one year in office. Therefore, Tsai's low approval rate is within expectation.

Taiwan has witnessed slowed economic growth for the past two decades following a period of high-speed growth at the end of the 20th century. Although the region's economic performance since 2016 is improving, Taiwan's economic growth rate is much lower than the average 5.5 percent growth rate of the Asia-Pacific region.  Polls suggest that as high as 63 percent of the Taiwanese public is dissatisfied with Taiwan's economy, while only 28 percent holds an opposite opinion.

More importantly, Taiwan's economic improvement is not a result of the Tsai administration's reform or policy, but is driven by an improved international economy and increasing external demands. Overseas markets play a pivotal role in Taiwan's economy, which is highly dependent on foreign trade. Tsai's 5+2 Industrial Innovation Plan and Forward-Looking Infrastructure Program, which is worth TWD 880 billion ($29.2 billion), have not been implemented yet due to political reasons.

In addition, Taiwan's improved economic performance has not brought about outstanding improvements to people's livelihood.

Ordinary people's basic salary remains at a low level, and the public's happiness index has not seen enhancement. Official statistics show that Taiwan's median income has remained stagnant for the last 17 years at about TWD 40,000. As high as 52 percent of the public has no confidence in the Tsai administration, according to polls.

Politically, Tsai has taken advantage of her administrative right to seek long-term governance, and her attempts to contain the development of the opposition Kuomintang (KMT) party have resulted in ferocious political battles. The Tsai administration holds high the banner of "transitional justice" and spares no effort to push through the "transitional justice promotion act." It established the Ill-gotten Party Assets Settlement Committee to stigmatize the KMT, attempting to drag the KMT into lawsuits and financially eliminated the possibility of the KMT's rise.

Tsai's social policies regarding the vacation system, annuity reform and gay marriage have also triggered a public uproar in Taiwan. All this means that Taiwan's political arena is now shadowed by ferocious battles.

Apart from complex political, economic and societal problems, deteriorating cross-Straits relations have worsened the governance quagmire the Tsai administration is facing. Given that Tsai hasn't acknowledged the 1992 Consensus and has failed to put forward alternatives that reflect the "One China" policy, cross-Straits relations have cooled down. Many official and people-to-people exchanges have been halted as a consequence.

Polls by a KMT's think tank suggest that only 5.5 percent of the Taiwanese public hold positive views regarding Tsai's cross-Straits policies.

More importantly, as a result of Tsai's hostile policy toward the Chinese mainland and a series of recent safety accidents involving tourists, the number of mainlanders willing to travel to Taiwan has seen a sharp decline.

As the Tsai administration keeps hyping up the central government's hostility against Taiwan, voices calling for unifying Taiwan by force are more frequently heard on the mainland.

Animosity and hostile sentiments have become the outstanding characteristics of current cross-Straits relations under Tsai.

All this has come at a steep cost. Sao Tome announced an end to its "diplomatic" relations with Taiwan, and the Nigerian government decided to lower the level of people-to-people business ties with Taiwan. The Tsai administration has not been invited to the World Health Assembly (WHA) and the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) either. Although Taiwan has seen improved ties with the US and Japan, it is merely a chess piece to Washington as a way to contain the Chinese mainland which can be sacrificed at any time. Recently, Tsai expressed her wish for a phone conversation with US President Donald Trump during an interview with Reuters, which was immediately spurned by the White House.

All in all, the Tsai administration's performance in its first year in office is dismal.

The author is an assistant research fellow at the Institute of Taiwan Studies, Chinese Academy of Social Sciences. Follow us on Twitter @GTopinion

Posted in: VIEWPOINT

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