Much has been made of the impact of China-based Taiwanese businesspeople’s votes in last month’s presidential election. Fearing their business interests could be jeopardized if Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) Chairperson Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) were elected president, it was obvious that they opted for what they perceived as “stability” in cross-strait relations.
The role of the taishang (台商), as the Taiwanese living and doing business abroad — including China — are known, in these elections was the largest and most significant since Taiwan started having direct presidential elections in 1996. An estimated 200,000 taishang — out of a total population of about 1 million — came back from China to vote on Jan. 14, a majority of them apparently for President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) of the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT).
Huang Jin-hsun (黃錦勳), head of the Association of Taiwan-invested Enterprises in Chongqing, raised 1.25 million yuan (US$198,000) to subsidize cross-strait flights specifically for taishang to return home to vote, according to a report by English-language news Web site Want China Times early last month. It would not be a stretch to assume that Taiwanese associations in every Chinese city engaged in such “fundraising.”
So, one wonders how Huang could have raised such an amount outside of membership fees and donations. After all, it would be pointless for members of Taiwanese business groups in China to donate out of their own pockets to subsidize their own flights back home when they could just as well spend that money on regular airfare.
The fact that airlines in China offered steep discounts to taishang for cross-strait flights in the run-up to the elections is no surprise and well known, but how much of that had to do with directives or pressure from the Chinese government? How much of that pressure was applied on Taiwanese carriers? More importantly, how much collusion was required between the KMT and the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) with their combined resources and through their intermediaries — the Straits Exchange Foundation and the Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Straits?
As the Want China Times reported, Huang was clear on his political allegiance and sent text messages to members of his association: “My dear fellow countrymen, Ma Ying-jeou is only 1 or 2 percentage points ahead in recent opinion polls. I ask you to fly back to Taiwan to vote for him. If you know any Taiwanese person who has not yet bought a flight ticket back to Taiwan, please let me know.”
It is also important to understand that the taishang constituency would have generated much more than 200,000 votes, given the influence that senior members have over their family and other relatives. Take those numbers out of the equation, and the final vote between the KMT and DPP would have been much closer than the 790,000 vote difference, or perhaps even in favor of Tsai.
Ultimately, offering subsidized cross-strait plane tickets through the Taiwanese business associations in China — thereby offering financial incentives to would-be voters to elect Ma — should be viewed as an act of vote-buying. Given the scale at which this took place, it would not be an exaggeration to say that this constitutes the biggest case of vote-buying in Taiwan’s history, involving not just a single politician, but the KMT, the CCP and their respective party-state apparatuses as well. It happened under everyone’s noses, yet no one confronted the issue.