Several tycoons have spoken out in recent weeks in support of President Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) re-election bid. It’s not that surprising that the chairmen of Delta Electronics, Hon Hai Precision Industry, Ruentex Financial Group and Yulon Group, as well as Formosa Plastics Corp’s president, should be so forthcoming. They all know on which side their bread is buttered — the side facing Beijing.
Others have been more oblique. Instead of saying directly that they back Ma, the chairmen of the General Chamber of Commerce of the ROC and the Far Eastern Group said they supported the candidate who won’t take any “risks with peace and stability across the [Taiwan] Strait.” While that might refer to People First Party Chairman James Soong (宋楚瑜), it is obviously not directed at Democratic Progressive Party Chairperson Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文), who is making Beijing’s leaders very antsy. And when Beijing gets antsy, people who have millions of dollars invested in production facilities or trading ventures in China get very, very nervous.
Just look at what happened to Evergreen Group founder Chang Yung-fa (張榮發). Back before the 2000 election, he was one of the most prominent Taiwanese businesspeople to come out in support of DPP candidate Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁), whom he knew from the former president’s time as a legal consultant for Evergreen. When Chen became president, Chang became an unpaid presidential adviser.
Chang later began to distance himself from the Chen administration, a move that many interpreted as reflecting unhappiness with the government’s failure to establish direct cross-strait shipping. However, among data mined from the WikiLeaks trove last summer was a cable from the American Institute in Taiwan (AIT) dated Jan. 1, 2006, that said: “Evergreen’s efforts to distance itself from Chen are largely the result of pressure from the People’s Republic of China [PRC]. Reports of such pressure emerged immediately after Chen’s election in 2000 … Arnold Wang (王龍雄), president of Evergreen Marine, recently confirmed to AIT that the PRC applied pressure to Evergreen, particularly in 2001, when authorities placed restrictions on the firm that Wang declined to describe in detail.” Wang told the AIT in 2005 that 70 percent of Evergreen Marine’s revenue came from the China-Hong Kong market.
Chang resigned as a senior presidential adviser just three days after Chen was sworn in for a second term. However, he was not the only Chen adviser who had second thoughts because of apparent pressure from China. In March 2005, Chi Mei Optoelectronics Corp founder and long-time independence supporter Hsu Wen-long (許文龍) created headlines when he praised Beijing’s “one China” principle, and later resigned as a presidential adviser.
It seems Chang has now had to sacrifice his principles again: this week he said he could not agree “with the denial of the  consensus by a ‘specific’ presidential candidate.” That fabled consensus, of course, is the bedrock of Ma’s cross-strait ventures and Beijing’s raison d’etre for dealing with him.
Even before these tycoons spoke out, the presidential election was shaping up as a contest between the haves and the have-nots, between those who have benefited from increased cross-strait ties and the Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement (ECFA) and those who have seen thousands of jobs go to China and a steady decline in their salaries and purchasing power. Big business has made gains on greater cross-strait ties, but you would be hard pressed to find an average person who could say how their life has improved as a result.