Recent developments would suggest that the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) is still seeking to gauge both the tempo and scale of closer engagement with China, with intra-party opinions on the issue varied and the level of mutual trust between the party and Beijing being questioned.
DPP Chairman Su Tseng-chang (蘇貞昌) set the tone this past week, saying there was “no rush” to establish a committee on China affairs and described as “rash” a DPP lawmaker’s proposal to include Chinese students in the National Health Insurance program after the initiative received negative responses from supporters.
That was a far cry from the party’s much-publicized sense of urgency which it displayed after its loss in the January presidential elections. Most analysts and DPP members said that it was the electorate’s lack of confidence with the party’s China policy, as well as its inability to deal with cross-strait issues, which was responsible for the setback.
Su pledged to improve the DPP’s understanding and interaction with China right after his victory in the party chairperson elections in May while his opposing candidates also advocated similar approaches.
Last month the DPP reinstated the Department of China Affairs, which was merged with the Department of International Affairs in August 2007, and it is now expected to establish a top tier China policymaking platform with the working title:“China Affairs Committee.”
DPP lawmakers and officials visiting China would no longer be a taboo within the party as long as they notified the party prior to their departure.
In March, New Taipei City (新北市) office director Lo Chih-cheng (羅致政), the DPP spokesperson at the time, became the first DPP official to visit China after the election when he visited Yunnan Province for a symposium on cross-strait development.
DPP Legislator Hsiao Bi-khim (蕭美琴) last week raised public attention with her participation in a seminar on cross-strait relations in Shanghai.
After returning to Taiwan, Hsiao said that the different ideologies and mentalities that underpin the DPP and the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) remained “a world apart.”
Although she had explained in length the DPP’s position on cross-strait ties, Hsiao said that the majority of Chinese academics were adamant that the Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement (ECFA) had greatly benefitted the economy of Taiwan and the recent “Both sides of the Taiwan Strait belong to one country (兩岸一國)” proposal was a “better and friendlier” initiative than the previous proposal of “Both sides of the strait belong to one China (兩岸一中).”
Beijing knows the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) well and understands how to interact with it, but it is unfamiliar with the DPP, which has always been a “noisy and diverse” party with all kinds of politicians and ideologies, Hsiao said.
“It would be difficult for the DPP and its supporters to fully trust the CCP, in particular with reference to China’s oppression of Taiwan within the international community over the past two decades. It is going to be a long process,” she said.
Some DPP politicians, including former premier Frank Hsieh (謝長廷) and former DPP lawmaker Lin Cho-shui (林濁水), argued that the DPP should clearly define its China policy, with many saying thus far it has been too “hawkish” and should now change. This needs to happen before further engaging the Chinese so that people have a sense of the DPP’s future direction, they added.