Wed, Mar 09, 2005 - Page 8 News List

Politicians give oxygen to tensions of the past

By Hsu Yung-ming 徐永明

Hoping to end polarization between the pan-blue and pan-green camps and reverse six years of government running on empty, President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) struck a deal with People First Party Chairman James Soong (宋楚瑜) on cross-party reconciliation.

But we should give more consideration to whether focusing on the issue of independence is in line with public expectations for cross-party and ethnic reconciliation.

The Mainlander Taiwanese Association recently released a survey on ethnic relations carried out in the Taipei area. It showed that 52 percent of respondents believe that Taiwan has a serious ethnic problem, and as many as 80 percent agreed that this problem is generated by politicians furthering the interest of political parties.

So is the ethnic issue a "natural" issue, or the result of manipulation?

The same survey showed that the public is divided over the 228 Incident.

Forty percent believe that discussion of the 228 Incident will increase ethnic tension, while 36 percent believe that discussion facilitates ethnic understanding.

Even non-Mainlanders are split on the issue. It should be noted that 54 percent of those sympathetic to the Democratic Progressive Party and 70 percent of those sympathetic to Taiwan Solidarity Union feel that such discussion facilitates understanding between ethnic groups, while 55 percent of those sympathetic to the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) and the People First Party feel that it increases tension.

In other words, while we first thought that the 228 issue was a matter of ethnicity, further analysis shows that it has become a matter of cross-party conflict. That means that various approaches to 228 are decided by party affiliation rather than ethnicity.

The past 10 years of democratization in Taiwan have not hurt the interests of Mainlanders, but others have won few substantive benefits. After the issue developed into a party political matter following the transition of power in 2000, change in the political status of ethnic groups became linked to party affiliation.

Linking ethnic and party interests to each other lets us understand how the 228 Incident has changed from being a matter of soul-searching and understanding into one of cross-party conflict.

The survey also said that 70 percent of respondents felt cross-party reconciliation would facilitate ethnic reconciliation, which suggests that the public also sees a link between ethnicity and political parties. But 80 percent felt that cross-party reconciliation should be approached from a policy standpoint, and not on the basis of the unification-independence debate.

This suggests that the public desires attempts at reconciliation between the pan-blue and pan-green camps in order to avoid controversial political issues.

There is, however, quite some distance between the 10-point consensus reached by Chen and Soong and the public's wish to concentrate on policy.

With ethnicity now a party issue, any question related to party interests could reinforce conflict between ethnic groups. Is it a good thing that cross-party reconciliation begins from a unification-independence perspective and that these issues are directly connected to the parties and their electoral interests? This is a question that should be considered in some detail.

Hsu Yung-ming is an assistant research fellow at the Sun Yat-sen Institute for Social Sciences and Philosophy at the Academia Sinica. Translated by Perry Svensson

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