'Identity problem' is not political

By Hsu Yung-ming徐永明  / 

Mon, Nov 22, 2004 - Page 8

Taiwan has a high level of consensus on the nation's independent and sovereign status. According to a survey published by the Taiwan Thinktank on Nov. 8 about the public's expectations of the US after President George W. Bush's re-election, more than 70 percent of people regard Taiwan as a sovereign and independent nation. Only 15 percent of people disagreed.

Cross-referencing those results by party membership indicates that support for Taiwan as an independent and sovereign country cuts across the political spectrum. Most people, regardless of their political affiliation, believe in it.

Since Taiwan's presidential election this year, people have said that Taiwan has a problem of political identity. But, according to this survey, as many as 62 percent of people agree with the sentiments expressed in President Chen Shui-bian's (陳水扁) Double Ten National Day speech in which he said that "Taiwan is the Republic of China (ROC) and the ROC is Taiwan."

Only 20 percent disagreed. This indicates that there may be a need to correct the conventional wisdom about Taiwan's "identity problem." The nation's identity problem may not be based on recognition of Taiwan's sovereignty, but rather on differences between various classes and political parties. Based on another cross-referencing of figures, more than half of respondents agreed with this theory, also regardless of their political affiliation.

Prior to Chen's Oct. 10 speech, there were actually discussions within the KMT about whether to use the formulation that "Taiwan is the ROC and the ROC is Taiwan" as a platform for the party's next phase of development.

It is a pity that the Central Standing Committee of the KMT did not adopt it. The survey can remind political parties and political figures that Taiwanese people's attitude to Taiwan sovereignty is maturing, that a stable consensus is being developed and that it is not dependant on political affiliation.

The spokesman of China's Taiwan Affairs Office criticized Taiwan by claiming that the formulation "Taiwan is the ROC; the ROC is Taiwan" is a channel for seeking Taiwan's independence. But, the survey shows Taiwanese people do not see it this way.

The survey shows that 57 percent of people think that this formulation is a description of Taiwan's current situation, 24 percent do not know due to their unfamiliarity with the issue, and 18 percent believe that it is a proposition of Taiwan's independence. When we said that Taiwan's identity crisis is in the past, we assumed that Taiwan and the ROC are two conflicting political symbols. But Taiwanese people have a substantial acceptance of the consolidation of these two concepts.

People used to believe that this formulation was simply a platform of one or another political party, but this survey indicates that the understanding of the Taiwanese people has changed. They now believe that this is a description of Taiwan's current situation, and this is an opinion that transcends political factions and educational background.

According to the same survey, 57 percent of people regard themselves as Taiwanese, close to 20 percent think they are both Taiwanese and Chinese, and only 14 percent think they are Chinese. Such findings conform to a long-term trend in which the proportion of people who identify themselves as Taiwanese is increasing.

While members of the pan-blue and pan-green camps still believe that there are political conflicts and contradictions on the issue of Taiwan's sovereignty, the people of Taiwan are steadily advancing to a resolution.

When the survey asked respondents which political party was best able to safeguard Taiwan's sovereignty, 28 percent thought that the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) would do better than other party. This result could be due to the DPP's clear and long standing position on sovereignty, and may also be because the DPP is the ruling party.

The KMT took second place with 13 percent. By cross-referencing the results, we see that supporters of a political party will generally believe their party will do much better in defending Taiwan's sovereignty. But People First Party (PFP) partisans actually believe that the KMT will do better.

This is an important warning for the PFP, for if they doubt their own party's ability on the sovereignty issue, they may start to shift their support to the KMT.

What is worth pondering for all political parties is that 56 percent of those polled still do not have an opinion on which party can better guard Taiwan's sovereignty. Therefore, I want to remind each party in the upcoming legislative elections to not only focus on mobilizing voters, but also propose a concrete strategy to preserve Taiwan's sovereignty.

Meanwhile, more than half of the public believes that a national referendum may be an effective tool on the sovereignty issue. That people do not trust the political parties, but rather put their faith in a national referendum is an interesting phenomenon and one that politicians should pay close attention to.

That such distrust exists should serve as a crucial element in the next developmental phase of each political party.

On the level of international politics, the US and China may think that as long as they can take care of Taiwan's political leaders, the issue of Taiwan's sovereignty can be resolved. But from this survey, we see that Taiwanese people may have a strong desire to want to express their opinion via a national referendum, and may not totally believe in any political party.

Taiwan's sovereignty issue will not to be resolved by consultations among elites, and this is an important message that the international community must recognize.

Hsu Yung-ming is an assistant research fellow of Sun Yat-sen Institute for Social Sciences and Philosophy at Academia Sinica.