As the day approaches when the administration of President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) enters its second term, it is becoming increasingly evident that Ma has been very lucky that Taiwanese have been both very patient and apathetic about his dangerous flirting with Beijing.
This might be about to change, as the disconnect between public expectations on relations with China and the policy direction in which the Ma administration appears to be engaging grows wider.
How out of sync Ma’s China policy is with public opinion became starker last week when, ostensibly with the president’s blessing, former Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) chairman Wu Poh-hsiung (吳伯雄) — an unelected non-official, we must not forget — on a visit to Beijing delivered to Chinese President Hu Jintao (胡錦濤) what can only be described as a blueprint for the future of cross-strait relations. That plan reflects far better Beijing’s position on Taiwan and on “one China” than it does the views of the public that voted for Ma and the KMT on Jan. 14.
Facing a strong reaction to the proposal, the KMT shot back by saying the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) was distorting the language contained in the Constitution to score political points.
While the Presidential Office accused the DPP of manipulating the issue of “one country, two areas” in a poll, it failed to address another poll — this one by TVBS, hardly a bastion of pro-independence or pan-green sentiment — which showed growing dissatisfaction with Ma’s handling of cross-strait affairs. Unless TVBS is running for office in 2016, the Ma government has a far more serious problem on its hands than the manipulation of polls by mischievous DPP officials.
The numbers provided in the TVBS poll should make any responsible government official sit up at night trying to figure out what is wrong with cross-strait policy. The poll shows that the disapproval rate on Ma’s cross-strait policy now stands at 55 percent, against 27 percent who approve, while the percentage of Taiwanese who lack confidence that the Ma administration would defend Taiwan’s interests in cross-strait economic agreements rose to 57 percent, versus 34 percent who are confident.
On whether Ma’s cross-strait policies are seen as increasingly tilting toward China, 59 percent said “yes,” versus 31 percent who said “no.” Meanwhile, the figures for identification as Taiwanese and support for independence continued their upward trend against those who identify themselves as Chinese or who support unification.
Given the pressure that the Ma administration is expected to receive from Beijing in the coming months, disapproval of Ma’s cross-strait policies will very likely continue to grow. However, what remains to be seen is whether this dissatisfaction will translate into opposition to those policies that is substantial enough to force Ma to correct his course.
In the past four years, even as Taiwan under Ma’s guidance has drifted toward China, public opposition has been meek and unimaginative at best, which has allowed the Ma administration to ignore the sporadic public protests and continue with its plans unchanged.
As the threat becomes more distinct and gets closer to home, there will be a point where abstract fears become reality. Let us hope for Taiwan’s sake that this moment of reckoning occurs early enough to avoid a point of no return.
Acknowledging the threat alone will be insufficient: If the Ma government is to be accountable to the public, and if Beijing is to realize that Taiwanese will not brook the dismemberment of their freedoms, Taiwanese of all stripes, regardless of their political affiliation, will have to unite and truly make their voices heard and their anger felt.
If they fail to do so, Taiwan as we know it today will not go out with a bang, but a whimper.
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