The major defeat suffered by the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) in Saturday’s elections should not be interpreted as a vote for rapprochement with China, a French expert on Taipei-Beijing relations said on Tuesday.
The elections were primarily local and involved mainly local issues, Stephane Corcuff, a French academic specializing in Taiwan studies at Sciences Po Lyon, said in an interview with the newspaper Le Monde.
“The Taiwanese did not vote for rapprochement with China,” he said. “They were not asked to comment on [President] Tsai Ing-wen’s (蔡英文) Chinese policy.”
Corcuff made the comment when asked whether he thought the DPP’s losses in the local elections meant that Taiwanese wanted closer links with China.
It is important to know that a vote for candidates of the pro-China Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT), which won 15 of the 22 city mayor and county commissioner seats, is not a vote for unification or rapprochement with China, he said.
Like the DPP, the KMT also has a policy to defend the sovereignty of the Republic of China, but the difference is that the KMT recognizes the “1992 consensus,” a tacit understanding between Taipei and Beijing that there is only “one China,” with both sides free to interpret what “China” means, Corcuff said.
However, for the DPP, Taiwan is not part of China and it rejects that interpretation, he said.
The China factor, however, did play a role in the elections, with some KMT candidates alleging that due to the DPP’s refusal to recognize the “1992 consensus,” the number of Chinese tourists visiting Taiwan has declined since the party came to power in May 2016, Corcuff said.
Those KMT candidates tried to manipulate public opinion in Taiwan by fueling fears that losing access to the Chinese market could add to the nation’s economic troubles, he said, adding that the Taiwanese economy was not that bad.
Last year, Taiwan’s economic growth was 2.89 percent, higher than in 2016 when Tsai took over as president, he said.
This year, the growth forecast is 2.48 percent, while the average unemployment rate for the first 10 months of the year was 3.71 percent, he added.
Corcuff said the DPP’s defeat was linked to voters’ discontent with the performance of the administration over the past two years.
The two premiers who served during that period were hesitant about reforms, and the changes that they did carry out, such as pension and work-hour reforms, failed to take into consideration the negative impact on certain groups, he said.
Meanwhile, Stephane Lagarde, a journalist at Radio France International who came to Taipei to observe the elections, said in an article that the DPP’s loss of control of its traditional stronghold of Kaohsiung for the first time in 20 years was a major debacle for the party.
The emergence of a “blue wave,” a term used to describe the KMT’s resurgence driven by its mayor-elect in Kaohsiung, Han Kuo-yu (韓國瑜), could be a prelude to the 2020 presidential election and has attracted great attention in China, Lagarde said.
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