Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Straits (ARATS) Chairman Chen Deming (陳德銘) is visiting Taiwan for the first time since he took over as leader of the organization. He says he is here to take Taiwan’s pulse. Wherever he goes, he is met by public protests, and one can only speculate as to whether he knows why that is and if it helps him take the pulse of protesters.
Chen’s itinerary includes all of the major cities and visits with ministers, local government leaders and top officials from the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT), the People First Party (PFP) and large corporations. He has a busy schedule and will talk to many important people. The question is: Will the people he meets represent public opinion?
Most of the people he is meeting are pro-unification individuals in the pan-blue camp or leaders of companies doing business in China. They are the nation’s political and economic leaders, but although they include the president, the premier and many ministers, their approval ratings are in the single-digit percentages. They may be legally entitled to their positions, but they are far from representative of public opinion.
Their opinions are minority opinions and Chen would be wise not to equate their positions as being in line with what the public wants. If Chen wants to take the nation’s pulse, he would be better served by changing his itinerary and meeting with people from the opposition parties, getting out of his car and listening to what the protesters have to say, and walking the streets to see how people live. This is what is required to take the pulse of Taiwan.
Perhaps Chen will hear business leaders praising the advantages of the Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement (ECFA) and expressing their support for the cross-strait service trade agreement. That would be one voice, albeit a minority voice. A majority of the public say that they have not seen any benefits from the ECFA, but rather that they have suffered because of it. They are now very suspicious of the service trade agreement because the government has not told them why the nation should enter into the pact — it just wants the public to accept it.
Opposition parties and non-governmental organizations have exposed the government’s lies about the ECFA, and the public is worried and angry over the government’s deceit. This adds to the beat of the nation’s pulse.
Pan-blue camp politicians will show strong support for cross-strait exchanges and the Chinese government, but recent opinion polls show that 70 percent of respondents support independence. With those who are undecided removed from the polls’ results, national support for unification with China is continuing to shrink. By taking Taiwan’s pulse by only meeting with those who support unification, Chen is describing the elephant by looking at its tail.
China is an authoritarian state where whatever the top leadership says is what counts and no one else dares express a dissenting opinion. Taiwan is a democracy where a majority has to agree for anything to count. If the government makes a decision against the wishes of the majority, implementing it will not be feasible.
If Chen wants to get a feeling for Taiwan to enable him to move in the right direction, he must first gain an understanding of what makes Taiwan unique and what makes it different from China.