Through their votes and activism, young Taiwanese are protecting democracy rather than actively opposing China, according to a local academic who interviewed participants of the Sunflower movement and analyzed opinion polls. Speaking at the annual meeting of the Taiwanese Political Science Association last weekend, she added that this state of affairs remains “something that the governing Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) cannot seem to understand, even now.”
With China being an authoritarian nation, the distinction between the two sentiments could easily be blurred, but any political party or politician in Taiwan who aims to take office in 2016 must be more discerning.
Following the disastrous defeat of the KMT in the Nov. 29 nine-in-one elections, many observers, while also recognizing the government’s poor performance as a factor, were quick to interpret the results as a no-confidence vote on President Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) pro-China cross-strait policies; especially since the elections were the first official barometer since the Sunflower movement in March, which was seen as a protest spawned by deep anxiety over the nation’s closer relationship with China.
In the same vein, academics have expressed pessimistic views on the future of cross-strait relations, saying that the public has shown that it could not care less about the economy and cross-strait “mutual trust.”
Online pundits, on the other hand, have focused more on the “generational rupture” generated by the growing wealth gap and evidenced in the use of social media for procuring information and social interaction that contributed to the KMT’s rout. The generation gap is also manifested in the degree of belief in democratic values and government transparency, observers have said.
The interpretations are two sides of the same coin. It is not that younger Taiwanese favor economic isolation over interaction with China; what they are against is the lack of transparency and procedural democracy in the mechanisms of interaction. They consider the government’s dealings with China to violate not only the principle of openness that is supposed to be guaranteed by a democratic system, but also the idea of fairness, when the negotiation channels have been monopolized by big corporations and politicians who either are close to these corporations or have their own vested interests in China.
The current cross-strait negotiation framework developed and endorsed by the KMT, has been “privatized” to be led by “a clique of priests” consisting of KMT politicians and business tycoons, who take the empty, so-called “1992 consensus” more as religious ideology than negotiable agreement. Since the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) administration they have allowed the cross-strait negotiations to bypass the state’s power and platform.
As the academic cited above showed, most of the young Taiwanese activists interviewed who said they were “politically enlightened” by the Sunflower movement, while confidently harboring the consciousness of Taiwanese identity, do not object to interactions with China.
It is not cross-strait exchanges, but particularized interest exchanges through undemocratic procedures that harm Taiwan’s democratic values and system that the younger generations are resisting.
Past experiences portray the DPP as a party that is traditionally skeptical or antagonistic toward Beijing. It has strived to change that image in recent years and in the recent weeks after the KMT’s defeat by downplaying the impact of the KMT’s China policies.