Are Taiwanese easily scared? Apparently so, at least in the minds of some politicians, who think they can secure public endorsement simply by trying to appeal to voters through creating an atmosphere of fear.
That appears to be the case in remarks made on Tuesday by President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) in response to Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) Chairperson and presidential candidate Tsai Ing-wen’s (蔡英文) cross-strait policy guidelines, which do not recognize the existence of the so-called “1992 consensus.”
Defending the consensus as the basis for maintaining the “status quo,” Ma said that discarding it “would create uncertainty … and would have a huge impact on both sides of the Taiwan Strait, especially in Taiwan.”
Ma, who is seeking re-election on Jan. 14, was implying that there is a high chance of war breaking out across the Taiwan Strait should the Tsai-led DPP — which does not recognize the consensus — win power.
The tactic of garnering public support via the rhetoric of fear-mongering is nothing new: Ma’s rhetoric on Tuesday reminded many of the volleys of intimidation that were similarly launched in late 1999 and early 2000 in the run-up to the presidential election face-off with then-DPP presidential candidate Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁).
At home, there were threats sounded by the Chinese Nationalist Party’s (KMT) candidate, Lien Chan (連戰), and KMT officials who claimed that if Chen were elected there would be military clashes between the two sides of the Taiwan Strait within three years. Abroad, there were repeated warnings from Chinese officials, ranging from then-foreign minister Tang Jiaxuan (唐家璇) and then-premier Zhu Rongji (朱鎔基) to then-president Jiang Zemin (江澤民), who, stressing Chen’s stance on national sovereignty, said China would not renounce the use of force should Taiwan seek independence.
That is without mentioning the missiles China fired into the waters surrounding Taiwan ahead of the first direct presidential election in 1996 — a move ostensibly meant to intimidate Taiwanese into not voting for then-president Lee Teng-hui (李登輝), and a move which backfired.
We all know how these stories of saber-rattling and menace end. Not only did the Taiwanese electorate hand Lee an overwhelming victory in the 1996 presidential election, but Chen was elected in 2000 and re-elected in 2004. Moreover, there was no war across the Strait during Chen’s eight years in office.
Heeding these examples, which suggest the public does not buy into intimidation, it appears China has learned its lesson. So far no Chinese officials have threatened Taiwanese voters against supporting Tsai.
However, Ma is apparently still of the opinion that Taiwanese are emotionally vulnerable to the fear of military attack from China and he continues to blow the horn of a fear-monger when he says the cross-strait policies of his presidential rival could risk war with China.
Whenever election season rolls around, there are always politicians who resort to either lavish campaign promises or drumming up fear.
As the head of the nation, Ma should work to forge a public consensus through reason and fact, not resort to unsubstantiated threats with the sole aim of swaying support in his favor by exploiting people’s fear of war.