Since the 1990s, southern Taiwan has become a pan-green political stronghold. As a result, people often believe that support for Taiwanese independence is far more prevalent in the south. However, this conception is merely a stereotype.
According to polls conducted by Focus Survey Research, in Yunlin, Chiayi, Nantou, Kaohsiung and Pingtung counties, 77.6 percent of the population believe that Taiwanese sovereignty belongs to Taiwan's 23 million people. However, even more than that -- 80.4 percent -- in Taipei believe the same thing.
Pan-blue support in northern Taiwan is not a matter of anti-independence. According to cross analysis, the higher the education level and the lower the age group, the more one is likely to support Taiwanese independence. Therefore, although the Taipei region has the highest concentration of Mainlanders, it also has the highest concentration of youngsters from every ethnic group receiving a higher education. Therefore, the reasons behind southern Taiwan's pan-green and northern Taiwan's pan-blue predilections must be sought outside of the independence issue.
There are two explanations for this.
First, the backlash from the Chinese Nationalist Party's (KMT) long-term support of the north over the south. Before 2000, KMT election results in the south maintained a 60 percent advantage. After President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) come to power in 2000, his subsequent policy for equal development in north and south created a strong response in the south resulting in a major change in voting patterns.
Second, there are the effects of globalization on Taiwan -- the gap between winners and losers is increasing, with the north winning and the agricultural south losing. Taiwan's economy was already integrating with the global economy when China joined the world production line in the 1990s, resulting in the export of industry and the rise of unemployment in Taiwan. Like other regions on the losing side, many in southern Taiwan reject further globalization, with the added implication that support is sliding for the KMT's continual encouragement of China-bound investment.
Figures provided by the Directorate-General of Budget, Accounting and Statistics show Taipei City ranked highest in annual disposable income in 2002 at around NT$38,000 followed in descending order by Hsinchu City, Kaohsiung City, Taipei County, Taichung City and Taoyuan County at above NT$26,000. Of these areas, four are northern, with only one from central and one from southern Taiwan. Moreover, in Yunlin, Chiayi, Kaohsiung and Pingtung counties, annual disposable income came in at below NT$23,000 -- only about 60 percent of the annual disposable income in Hsinchu.
Not only does the south have lower disposable income levels, but its income growth is also slower. Along Taiwan's west coast, the highest rate of growth in income is in Hsinchu City, with a NT$7,200 rise between 1988 and 2006. After Hsinchu, the highest areas of growth are in Taipei County, Kaohsiung City, Taipei City, and Miaoli County. The real winner is of course Taipei City, which remained stable even during the 2001 economic slump.
These figures imply that the KMT would be gravely miscalculating the situation if it thought it could oppose Taiwan independence while focusing on the support of the educated population of the north. Now that the pan-blue camp is following DPP initiatives such as the bid to enter the UN, the gap on sovereignty between the two camps has been reduced.
Economic growth and disposable income are likely to become stronger determining factors of public support.
Lin Cho-shui is a former Democratic Progressive Party legislator.
Translated by Angela Hong
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