The Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) cannot avoid the issue of relations across the Taiwan Strait. Following its loss in the Jan. 14 presidential election, the party needs to consult widely and try to find a balance between globalization, cross-strait issues and upholding Taiwan’s identity, and go on to formulate arguments that most people can accept.
During her election campaign, DPP presidential candidate Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) proposed what she called a “Taiwan consensus,” the main point of which was that Taiwan’s future should be decided by all its people, in the spirit of democracy and self-determination.
The DPP lost the presidential race, but it made substantial gains in the legislature and as the main opposition party it should play the role of overseeing the government.
Beyond that, the DPP should follow the British model by forming a shadow Cabinet whose role would be to put forward realistic views on major national policy issues, thereby showing itself to be capable of taking back the reins of government at any time. If the DPP can use the period between now and the next election to refine and reform itself, starting out with a fresh approach to cross-strait issues, that ought to be a positive step for the development of party politics in Taiwan.
Coming up with a set of standpoints on cross-strait relations that reflect changes in Taiwan’s geopolitical situation and can be accepted by the public is a key task that the DPP must tackle if it wants to hold the presidency again. President Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) re-election should not be seen as merely a referendum on the so-called “1992 consensus,” nor does it mean that people don’t support the “Taiwan consensus” proposed by Tsai. The election result showed that both sides have a considerable degree of public support.
What complicates matters is that there is no way of knowing how many people cast their votes defensively, on the one hand fearing that an excessive reliance on China could whittle away Taiwan’s ability to decide its own future, while on the other hand worrying that moves toward independence would threaten cross-strait peace. Many voters wanted to avoid instability and the possible worst-case scenarios that might have resulted from it. This psychological factor can hardly be interpreted as an adherence to party ideologies, and such people can’t simply be categorized as swing voters. All you can say is that Taiwanese do not want to be “Finlandized.”
Taiwan does not want to provoke China militarily and it does not want to be marginalized in the global division of the manufacturing industry. The DPP sees how globalization is leading to an increasingly unequal “M-shaped society,” so it has called for measures to change this trend, such as care for the disadvantaged and innovation in local industry. In its election strategy, the party intentionally steered clear of issues related to China, but its opponents successfully hit back and gave the DPP a rough ride by labeling it as anti-China, anti-business and incapable of maintaining stability and growth.
The Ma administration and the Chinese government have an unspoken agreement to blur the issues of “one China” and national sovereignty. During his second term as president, Ma will face heavy pressure from China to engage in political negotiations. Will the two governments keep giving top priority to the economy, or will the economy become a means of promoting unification? The answer will become clear during the next four years. It is a key moment, and the DPP must not be absent from the process.