A long-term look at Tsai’s efforts

By Gerrit Van Der Wees  / 

Thu, May 24, 2018 - Page 8

This week celebrates President Tsai Ing-wen’s (蔡英文) second year in office, which has given rise to many an analysis on how she is doing and what her accomplishments are.

Opinion polls published in the Taipei Times on Monday show some interesting conclusions: According to the poll by the Taiwan NextGen Foundation and the Taiwanese Public Opinion Foundation (TPOF), 65.5 percent of respondents said they support Tsai’s reform efforts, while a poll by the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) showed that 70.6 percent said that the reform efforts are headed in the right direction and that they should be continued.

The efforts that received the most positive results were all in the social services area: long-term care, pension reform, childcare, affordable housing and minimum wage hikes.

However, the positive picture contrasts sharply with the data presented on the level of satisfaction with Tsai’s performance, which was significantly lower.

According to the TPOF poll, about 47.6 percent said they did not approve of Tsai’s leadership, while the DPP poll showed that 48.4 were dissatisfied with Tsai’s performance.

However, the next twist came when people were asked whether they would vote for Tsai in 2020 if she were to run against Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) Chairman Wu Den-yih (吳敦義).

According to the TPOF poll, she would get 54.5 percent of the vote (almost the same as she got in 2016), while Wu would receive 23.3 percent — 7 percent less than New Taipei City Mayor Eric Chu (朱立倫) of the KMT got in 2016.

So, what is going on? One can safely say that 25 percent of the voters are diehard KMT supporters. They oppose Tsai’s cross-strait policies and would oppose her domestic reforms almost no matter what.

However, this group is on the wane not only because of the colorless KMT leadership, but also because it is an aging cohort, with few young people joining it.

At the other end of the spectrum are those in the pan-green camp who support Tsai’s reform policies, who generally approve of her leadership and who can be expected to support her in the run-up to future elections. This group constitutes about 40 percent of the population.

Yet who are the others, the remaining 35 percent? It seems likely that they fall into two categories.

The first one is the more deep-green segment of the political landscape — they voted for Tsai, and are in favor of farther-reaching reforms and a faster pace. Many of them, particularly young people, are dissatisfied with what they perceive as too slow a pace in reforms, and in their view the too-cautious approach of Tsai.

The second category belongs to the more traditional middle-of-the-roaders, who are generally supportive of the reforms and Tsai’s measured leadership, but who might agree or disagree, depending on the particular issue at hand.

Tsai is caught between the deep-greens, who want things to go faster, and the middle-of-the-roaders, for whom the pace is just right.

Looking at these developments from a broader perspective, one can perhaps understand that some Taiwanese want things to go faster.

However, it needs to be emphasized that all reforms take time (“True democratic reform takes time,” Feb. 13, page 8).

Tsai has laid the foundation for a better, more fair, just, open and democratic society by initiating these reforms. It is up to Taiwanese to work together to make this happen. That is what democracy is all about.

However, even more importantly, Taiwanese must maintain cohesion in the face of the dire threat from China.

Over the past two years, Chinese President Xi Jinping’s (習近平) government has left no stone unturned in its attempts to intimidate Taiwan, militarily through exercises and circumnavigation flights; diplomatically through its relentless efforts to isolate Taiwan; and economically through its carrot-and-stick approach.

Tsai has maintained a firm, cool and balanced approach by resisting Chinese pressure, and developing innovative, pragmatic and proactive policies to maintain relations with diplomatic allies, while developing much more substantive ties with key allies, such as Japan, the US, Australia, New Zealand and the EU.

In addition, her flagship initiative, the New Southbound Policy, is starting to show real results.

Thus, the achievements so far are good. If she continues her reforms at a steady pace, the next two years are likely to be even better.

Gerrit van der Wees is a former Dutch diplomat and was the editor of Taiwan Communique from 1980 through 2016. He teaches history of Taiwan at George Mason University.