Here is a snapshot of things to come: Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) Chairman Su Tseng-chang (蘇貞昌) visits China in an unofficial capacity, going to a forum on cross-strait ties — in some first-tier city — attended by Chinese officials who have also shed their official capacity and pose as private individuals.
The groundwork for such a move is now being laid by DPP Legislator Hsiao Bi-khim (蕭美琴), who is in Shanghai on private business — a seminar on cross-strait relations. New Taipei City (新北市) DPP office director Lo Chih-cheng (羅致政) went to Kunming to intend a similar symposium in March. At the time, Lo was the DPP spokesperson, and he was also the first standing DPP official to travel to China.
Former DPP chairperson Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) has said she would be willing to go to China, and she would most likely be the best person to lay the groundwork for an incumbent chairperson such as Su to make a trip, all, of course, unofficially.
Why this sudden surge of interest among DPP officials in cross-strait forums held in China?
Most people see the roots of this sudden political shift in the DPP’s loss in the January presidential election, and its resultant belief that if the party were to re-examine its attitude toward China, even come up with some new conciliatory policies, it could possibly fare better in the next election.
But is this such a wise move?
The DPP’s support base is made up of Hoklo-speaking (commonly known as Taiwanese) Taiwanese who trace their roots to China’s Fujian Province more than 400 years ago. The Chinese Nationalist Party’s (KMT) support base is made up of so-called “provincial outsiders” or “Mainlanders,” the millions of people who fled China for Taiwan after the KMT’s defeat in the Chinese Civil War. These two groups will most likely continue to vote for their respective political block no matter what either party does, or what changes in history sweep over the world.
In other words, going to China will not exactly help the DPP sway pan-blue voters to cast ballots for the opposition, because they are simply on the wrong side of an intractable divide.
Tsai could not have done a better job in her election campaign, and Ma could not have done a worse job in his past four years; yet he is still president, and Tsai is now contemplating a trip to China.
The support base of the DPP has not changed. It is still wary of being swept away by Chinese hegemony and its manufacturers being made irrelevant by cheap Chinese goods. In the desire to get back into office, the DPP should be careful not to forget its base. It should not be swayed by the idea that trips across the Taiwan Strait or finding some kind of new agreement with the Chinese is the way back into power.
There is nothing wrong with trying to understand China, or trying to come up with a more win-win approach to Taiwan’s cross-strait neighbor. However, in the end, the political divides in Taiwan are too strong to sweep away with a few trips and a few promises. The DPP must be careful not to lose its way in China.