Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) Chairman Su Tseng-chang (蘇貞昌) has quietly withdrawn a proposal to include Chinese students in the National Health Insurance (NHI) program, after the suggestion was fiercely criticized by pan-green supporters. Since then, apart from the Ministry of Education, which says it intends to include Chinese students in the insurance program, Taiwan Democracy Watch has also expressed its support for the proposal.
The controversy over the proposal is a reflection of the tendency among pan-green supporters to equate the China factor with the China threat. This equation narrows the pan-greens’ scope for gaining an objective understanding of the China factor, and it limits their space and potential for formulating rational policies with regard to China.
The China factor is an integral part of the worldwide political and economic system, and it is a result of both globalization and China’s rising power and influence. Consequently, there are some points that need to be clearly understood when considering the China factor and formulating China policy.
First, the China factor is not just a matter of “that China over on the other side of the Taiwan Strait.” It is a factor that has long since been beside and among us. Wherever you look in Taiwan, you can see made-in-China goods and Chinese tourists, and these are only the most obvious aspects. Taiwan today relies on China for about 60 percent of its exports, so a lot of the New Taiwan dollars that it earns and spends are generated from the Chinese yuan.
Second, the China factor is, for the most part, not just a cross-strait factor. For example, hordes of Chinese students go to study in the US and Chinese academics are teaching in US universities. These are not cross-strait factors, but they do have an influence on Taiwan. Similarly, the state of China’s society and economy has an influence on the global prices of grain, oil and other commodities, and of course these prices also affect prices in Taiwan.
And third, the China factor often involves huge interests and opportunities. This is an undeniable objective reality all around the world. Over the past two decades, China has been the workshop of the world, and now it is gradually becoming a market for the whole world too.
The leaders of the pan-green camp can hardly be unaware of these points, but they seem to lack a setup for communication that could turn these opinions into political energy. Consequently, whenever the pan-greens run into an issue related to the China factor, it is immediately turned into talk of some kind of China threat, and people then start thinking about ways to defend Taiwan against that threat.
The pan-greens would do well to consider adjusting their thinking and behavior.
First, China policies cannot just be policies in response to China. They should be adjusted to be policies in response to the China factor.
Second, China policies should not be thought about entirely within the confines of cross-strait policies. The game plan for thinking about cross-strait policies is largely a matter of sovereign units — China, Taiwan, the US, Japan and so on. This aspect must not be left out, and indeed it cannot be omitted. However, questions such as whether Taiwan should offer scholarships to attract outstanding Chinese students or whether it should employ Chinese sports coaches on high salaries should not be dragged into the realm of cross-strait policies, taking the China threat as the top consideration that trumps everything else.