Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) presidential candidate Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) has set out her vision of a socially inclusive Taiwan that is engaged with, but separate from, China, moving her once staunchly pro-independence party toward a more pragmatic center ground.
Tsai told foreign media on Tuesday that under her administration the nation would pursue a “balanced, stable and moderate” policy toward China.
“We do not want to be antagonistic towards our neighbors, but neither will we be subjugated,” Tsai said.
The 54-year-old former academic, who served as China policymaker in the previous DPP administration, has been credited with revitalizing the party’s fortunes after its heavy loss in the 2008 elections and the subsequent jailing of former president Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) on corruption charges.
Pulling back from Chen’s pro-independence rhetoric that infuriated China and made Taiwan a potential Asian flashpoint, Tsai has focused on social issues and a pragmatic approach to China that seeks to put relations between the two into an international, rather than bilateral framework.
Her approach has put Tsai neck and neck in recent opinion polls with President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) of the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT), who is seeking a second term in January’s election on the strength of his pro-China business policies that have delivered a boost to Taiwan’s economy and have delighted foreign investors.
While a Ma victory would ostensibly be the preferred outcome for investors, his policies have faced criticism at home that China is using them to pursue its stated goal of taking Taiwan.
Many Taiwanese, especially in the DPP’s rural southern heartland, also feel they are missing out on the benefits of the China boom. Tsai said a DPP administration would take a hard look a landmark trade deal between Taiwan and China agreed to last year, the Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement (ECFA), and be very cautious about further talks under the deal.
Tsai has during the past week unveiled the party’s 10-year policy guidelines, an 18-chapter document setting out the DPP’s vision for Taiwan. They include an emphasis on job creation and building the domestic economy, a fair distribution of resources, a “green” tax to build a sustainable environment and a state-funded care system for children and the elderly.
Missing from her platform is the fiery pro-independence rhetoric that drove China to revile Chen. Her China policy is predicated on a theme of mutual benefit, while recognizing differences and avoiding economic dependence on China.
A DPP government would engage China to build a harmonious relationship, while pursuing trade and economic pacts with the US, Japan, the EU and Asian countries, Tsai told the briefing.
“The DPP sees China as an important trading partner within a global context, and we emphasize the need to balance and diversify our global interests,” she said, adding that the KMT’s policy was solely dependent on China as the engine of growth, regardless of the potential risks.
However, given the DPP’s pro-independence track record, China is clearly still wary and will be watching the elections closely.
China’s Taiwan Affairs Office yesterday suggested Tsai’s policies “are unrealistic and cannot be accepted by the mainland.”
“Once put in place, they would mean there would be no way for cross-strait consultations to proceed, and once more there would be upheaval in relations,” it said.