EDITORIAL: Cross-strait relations must evolve

Fri, Nov 10, 2017 - Page 8

When it comes to cross-strait relations, many people at home and abroad habitually use biases and preconceptions to gauge public sentiment and make predictions.

One of the most frequently cited, and widely believed, preconceptions is that Beijing is friendly toward the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) and hostile toward the pro-independence Democratic Progressive Party (DPP).

Most analysts hold to the notion that Taiwanese place greater trust in the KMT’s cross-strait policy than in the DPP’s, reasoning that the former leads to amicability from the other side of the Taiwan Strait, while the latter brings threats or the cold shoulder.

These preconceptions have dominated discussions about cross-strait affairs for decades, so much so that anything that suggests otherwise is hastily dismissed as untrue or “fake news.”

Not for the first time, the KMT and DPP have been pointing fingers and accusing each other of orchestrating poll results to sway public opinion in favor of their respective cross-strait policies.

The “poll war” began on Oct. 30, when the Cross-Strait Policy Association published a survey in which President Tsai Ing-wen’s (蔡英文) policy received the most support from respondents at 45 percent, followed by that of Taipei Mayor Ko Wen-je (柯文哲) at 28 percent and KMT Chairman Wu Den-yih’s (吳敦義) at 18.3 percent.

The survey results infuriated the KMT, which believes that it has enjoyed a formidable monopoly on cross-strait issues. It was quick to accuse the association of releasing “fake surveys,” saying that the association has suspicious ties with the DPP, as its leadership roles were occupied by pan-green individuals in the past.

In a perceived retaliatory move, the National Policy Foundation, a KMT-affiliated think tank, on Tuesday released a survey that found most respondents — 46.6 percent — did not believe that Tsai’s policies would be helpful in maintaining cross-strait peace and stability.

It also asked respondents which of the two major parties’ China policy could better safeguard Taiwanese safety and interests, to which 36.8 percent said the KMT’s and 19.9 percent said the DPP’s.

On the surface, it does seem like the two surveys offer conflicting results. However, surveys are not completely reliable, with results depending largely on how questions are phrased and the polling method employed.

Putting aside the results, what the “poll war” indicates is a continued unwillingness, especially among proponents of closer cross-strait ties, to accommodate new and different possibilities.

People prefer to think that cross-strait ties can only be “too warm” or “too cold” and that the only ways of approaching Beijing are provocation, as traditionally employed by the DPP, or pandering, which is the KMT’s trademark.

Despite pressure from the nation’s increasingly vocal pro-independence movement, Tsai has apparently decided to break away from the traditional preconceptions and seek a new cross-strait approach: maintaining goodwill and the “status quo,” while refusing to succumb to pressure.

Maybe that is why the association’s poll showed her gaining public support.

Cross-strait ties are extremely intricate and variable. Clinging to past practices and ideologies has only stalled exchanges. It is time for all parties to blaze new trails and explore different possibilities, so that cross-strait relationships can keep evolving.