On Feb. 11, Zheng Lizhong (鄭立中), deputy chairman of the Taiwan Affairs Office of China’s State Council, flew into Taiwan for a 10-day visit to southern areas. Zheng’s visit came less than a month after Taiwan’s presidential and legislative elections, which were held on Jan. 14. Zheng used the trip to visit Taiwanese fishermen and fish farmers and hear their opinions first hand.
In the meantime, Taiwan’s governing Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) has been busy appointing new Cabinet ministers and other officials, while members and supporters of the opposition Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) keep arguing about why they lost the presidential election. Compared with the KMT and DPP, China’s quick and efficient moves are quite impressive.
Zheng’s visit was a bit different to some visits made by Chinese officials in the past. Accompanied by eight Chinese agricultural and fishery experts, Zheng did an intensive tour of farming and fishing villages in southern Taiwan, talking to farmers and fishermen and finding out what they really think.
In March last year, China signed a deal to buy NT$135 million (US$4.57 million) worth of milkfish from Greater Tainan’s Syuejia (學甲) District. China went out of its way to publicize the agreement, but it had no perceptible effect on the pro-independence parties’ vote count in last month’s elections. No doubt Zheng and his group want to find out why that happened, so that they can adjust their policies for dealing with Taiwan accordingly.
Although President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) beat his main challenger, DPP Chairperson Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文), by a considerable margin of nearly 800,000 votes, his support lagged far behind Tsai’s in many farming and fishing towns and villages. After investigating the reasons for Ma’s defeat in Greater Tainan and Pingtung, the KMT said that the government had invested a lot of resources in southern counties and cities, and that the reason why this investment was not reflected in the vote was that it had not been promptly and effectively publicized.
However, this explanation does not ring true. In fact, in the run-up to the elections, government departments and the KMT churned out so much information about the cross-strait Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement and the benefits they say it has brought to the farming and fishing sectors that voters could hardly have missed it.
The government and KMT came up with plenty of impressive figures, such as the threefold increase in the export volume of groupers and how this adds up to a sixfold increase in the export value of the fish. One would think that good news like this would win the KMT government a lot of support from farmers and fishermen in southern Taiwan, but it didn’t work out that way.
There are a few issues that explain why these gains did not translate into voter support.
First, those who have really benefited from growing exports of fish are a small number of businesses and breeders, not the great majority of fish farmers.
Second, although Taiwan has gained concessions from China in the form of reduced import duties, producers have not got their share of the benefits.
Third, the big fanfare China made about how much money it was spending to buy milkfish from Taiwan offended Taiwanese people’s sense of dignity.
Fourth, while milkfish is one of the main kinds of fish farmed in Taiwan, producers have for a long time faced problems such as the middlemen’s control of marketing and difficulty in developing overseas sales, as well as the fact that milkfish is rather bony, but government authorities have not paid much attention to these problems or offered much assistance.