The jury is still out on which factors were predominant in the Democratic Progressive Party’s (DPP) inability to regain power in Saturday’s election.
Pundits have put forth sundry explanations as to why presidential candidate Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) did not do better, from a failure to allay fears in Taiwan and abroad of the potential impact of a DPP win on stability in the region to “gatekeepers” making it nearly impossible for her to access the information she needed from the intellectuals on her team.
The extent to which those aspects undermined Tsai’s efforts remains unknown and will be better understood in time.
What cannot be denied is the impact of big business on the election. This is a serious challenge that the DPP will have to address if it is to regain high office. And that challenge will only become more formidable now that the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) has been given four more years to further liberalize relations across the Taiwan Strait.
One clear theme that emerged from the elections is that Taiwanese, in general, desire stability. Rather than jump into the unknown by electing Tsai — notwithstanding her efforts to allay those fears — voters showed a preference for continuity and went for the devil they know.
One group, above all, that made the case for continuity, or the “status quo,” was the corporate sector, which resents instability and stands to benefit tremendously from closer ties between Taiwan and China.
While it is hard to dispute the logic that buttresses big business support for President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九), we must also bear in mind that it is based on self-interest. To put it in less charitable terms, greed.
Large Taiwanese companies, like others around the world, are not impervious to the lure of the Chinese market. Countless business leaders have put values, nationalism and even critical thought aside for a chance to enter this gigantic market. Beijing has used such ambitions — and in some cases delusions — to its advantage by extracting a series of concessions in return for allowing companies to operate on its territory.
On the surface, things are no different when it comes to Taiwanese companies, only the relationship is inevitably more political, given China’s claims on Taiwan. In a sense, the situation is more analogous to Hong Kong’s relationship with Beijing. Well before the handover in 1997, Beijing began identifying the elite and key businesspeople in the territory and sought the means to co-opt them. Over time, a relationship of overdependence on China compelled business leaders in Hong Kong to toe Beijing’s line and become advocates of “one country, two systems.” The more businesses were beholden to this system, the more people stood to lose should the new “status quo” be disrupted. Stability, the No. 1 priority for the Chinese Communist Party, also became the name of the game in Hong Kong. Hence the lack of progress on universal suffrage and resentment by the Hong Kong elite, businesses and media, toward pro-democracy (and therefore “disruptive”) parties.
Through the Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement (ECFA) and closer business ties, Beijing is on the brink of repeating the process of co-optation in Taiwan. More and more, especially during the past election, we have seen top corporate leaders make public their preference for Ma and his pro-China policies.
What we are experiencing is the emergence of a symbiotic relationship, one in which the KMT depends on big business, and big business on the KMT, with China casting its shadow over both. The more businesses and shareholders become dependent on the KMT and China for profit, the stronger will be their opposition to anyone who seems to threaten to undermine stability.
And that someone is the DPP.
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