Between the year 2000, when President Chen Shui-bian (
Usually these things are argued to be the result of this society moving toward Taiwanese independence.
But it was in the 1990s that support for independence grew the most, not after 2000. In the seven years before 2000, support for independence grew from 5 percent to 45 percent, while in the seven years after 2000 it only went up from 45 percent to 55 percent.
The actual causes are more complex. First, localization under former president Lee Teng-hui (李登輝) attracted pro-independence votes to the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT).
After Lee's era ended, anti-independence forces within the pan-blue camp came to the fore again, pushing most of the pro-independence voters back to the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP).
But an even more important reason is the political effect of the "M-shaped society" brought about by globalization.
In 1992, after Lee raised the idea of making China the hinterland for Taiwan's economic development, cross-strait trade became a link in the globalized post-Cold War economy and economic growth took off. Although attempts were made to step on the brakes through the "no haste, be patient" policy in 1996, this did not have any effect. Exports to China as a proportion of total exports kept rising, and by 2004 the figure had increased to 38 percent.
The rapid expansion of cross-strait trade enabled companies such as Foxconn and Asus, which invested in China and utilized its labor market, to become global companies. Some people profited greatly from this, but as with the US and Europe, globalization also caused many people to lose out, some even losing their jobs.
With domestic demand declining and wages stagnating, real incomes declined. These trends started to emerge in 1996, but because this coincided with a decade-long boom in the US technology industry, the problems as Taiwan felt them weren't very grave at first.
But between 1992 and 2003, a number of social problems accumulated and the situation became serious.
When the government changed in 2000, the unemployment rate was already 2.99 percent, and in 2004 it had reached 4.44 percent. In the early 1990s, wages had increased by an average of around 2 percent a year, but after 1995 this dropped to 1 percent, and in 2000 pay raises stopped altogether. Taking inflation into account, the real value of wages was now decreasing.
Faced with these difficulties, the KMT has been working toward increasing cross-strait trade and opening direct links with China.
But this is not in accordance with public opinion, which has complained that, even with limits on trade with China, bosses run off to do business there, leaving behind jobless workers. Many are also afraid that the situation will become worse if direct links are established and restrictions lifted, and feel that KMT politicians do not care about the circumstances of ordinary people.
That's how Taiwanese in the lower wage brackets turned to a sort of economic nationalism, opposing trade with China.
They regarded the KMT as their enemy, and Chen, who was criticized for isolating the country, as their ally. The more hard up people were, the more Chen would be supported by the majority of those who had lost out.
It is quite strange to look upon Chen as a kind of savior who would deliver Taiwanese people from trade with China, because until 2005 he was in favor of it.
As soon as he took office, he proclaimed the "four nos and one without," opened the "three small links," amended the Act Governing Relations Between the Peoples of the Taiwan Area and the Mainland Area (兩岸人民關係條例) and, at the end of 2004, he introduced the "actively opening up" policy.
But his plans were blocked by China and were indiscriminately criticized by the KMT as isolationist, thus giving people the firm impression that Chen was against the three small links.
The most important reason Chen won the election in 2000 was that the KMT was divided, but he won in 2004 because globalization had made this society M-shaped.
The economic nationalism that followed this grew stronger until it became a force to be reckoned with in legislative and presidential primaries. This has led to the rise of strong pro-independence populism in the DPP. The pro-independence group has struggled for power with reformers in the party, then winning overwhelmingly in the primaries.
Globalization has meant ever greater riches for some people, and on the whole it allows the economy to maintain a moderate degree of growth.
But the plight of the people who lost out is the main cause of the turbulence in local politics. From now on, therefore, the cross-strait trade relationship will be even more intense.
Lin Cho-shui is a former Democratic Progressive Party legislator.
Translated by Anna Stiggelbout
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