Tsai’s win not mandate for independence

By Zhang Hua Source:Global Times Published: 2016-1-17 21:43:01

Illustration: Liu Rui/GT

Saturday saw the results of Taiwan elections, with Tsai Ing-wen, chairperson of the opposition Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), overcoming Eric Chu, chairperson of the ruling Kuomintang (KMT), by more than 3 million votes. The DPP has also won a majority in parliament. Since the DPP has not modified its pro-independence stance, and Tsai keeps circumventing the 1992 Consensus, concerns about Taiwan independence are ratcheting up along with the DPP and Tsai's victory in the just concluded elections.

The results of the elections, however, do not necessarily mean a triumph of Taiwan independence.

It wasn't Tsai's pro-independence views that won her and her party the favor of the majority of Taiwan residents. The dissatisfactory performance of the incumbent Taiwan leader Ma Ying-jeou and his ruling KMT is the root cause for the result. Since Ma took power in 2008, some of his major policies, although aiming in a right direction, have failed to win the support of the masses and even backfired due to lack of proper implementation and tactics. Besides, the KMT made mistakes during campaigns. Chu's replacement of Hung Hsiu-chu as KMT's candidate, and Chu's partner Wang Ju-hsuan's embroilment in a corruption scandal have lost them the support of KMT conservatives. What's more, Chu has forsaken popularity among the younger generations by allying with Wang Jin-pyng and Hau Lung-pin. In stark contrast, Tsai and her team barely made any mistakes, but kept focusing their energy on domestic issues such as economic development, the gap between rich and poor and social justice. In addition, she carefully managed policies toward the US and Japan. These efforts, unrelated to the Taiwan independence, contributed to Tsai's triumph.

During campaigns, Tsai proposed to "preserve the current status of cross-Straits relations" as her cross-Straits policy, a line that suspiciously glossed over her pro-independence intent. In a visit to the US last June, she furthered the policy by adding "preserving the existing Republic of China's constitutional order."

Notorious for initiating ambiguous policies, Tsai evades elaborating on "constitutional order," which has been interpreted by many as a hypocritical cover-up of her pro-independence advocacy. But the sugarcoating shows Tsai has deep worries over the impact of an aggressive pro-independence proposition, as many polls on the island have revealed that an overwhelming majority of Taiwan residents do not favor independence, but want to preserve the status quo of the cross-Straits relations.

In order to reassure concerns about possible shifts in cross-Straits policy, Tsai keeps calibrating her statement on the 1992 Consensus. She stopped refusing the existence of the Consensus in June, and said the DPP is seeking common ground while reserving differences. During the debate before elections, she then said the Consensus shouldn't be the only option for cross-Straits relations. Tsai's view does not reflect the essence of the Consensus, and is far from what the mainland expects, but it has thrown dust in the eyes of the public.

More importantly, Taiwan independence is not in line with the interest of the US. Washington sent high ranking officials to keep an eye on the elections. US State Department spokesman John Kirby reiterated the country's "one China" policy ahead of Taiwan elections.

Meanwhile, the mainland should face up to the fact that there is a rising tendency of "Taiwan identity" in the island. Tsai said many of the younger generation in Taiwan have exemplified "natural independence." Although it is a misleading exaggeration of the thought, some field researches on this matter have shown that Taiwan locals are increasingly not regarding themselves as Chinese.

For example, Taiwan K-pop star Chou Tzu-yu, after causing a scandal for claiming an exclusively Taiwanese identity on entertainment shows, has raised quite a stir in Taiwan, which, however, gives her overwhelming support.

Taiwan was colonized by Japan for over half a century, and it raised a long-lasting feud with the mainland due to a civil war. Plus, "de-sinicization education" promoted by Lee Teng-hui and Chen Shui-bian for over 20 years has failed to be reversed by Ma's administration. Taiwan's young generations have developed a multifaceted national identity. This is the gravest challenge for the mainland's cross-Straits policy.

The author is an assistant research fellow at the Institute of Taiwan Studies, Chinese Academy of Social Sciences. opinion@globaltimes.com.cn

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