United Microelectronics Corp (UMC) founder and former chairman Robert Tsao (曹興誠) on Friday last week pledged to donate NT$3 billion (US$100 million) to help Taiwan protect itself from the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) aggression.
While still UMC chairman, Tsao gained a reputation for supporting unification with China and backing parties such as the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT), the New Party and the People First Party, which have similar leanings.
During a TV show on Monday, host Clara Chou (周玉蔻) asked Tsao which politicians he now supported.
Tsao said he had supported the New Party when it formed, had become disappointed by People First Party Chairman James Soong (宋楚瑜), and merely smiled and declined to comment on what he thought of KMT Chairman Eric Chu (朱立倫).
On the Taipei mayoral race, Tsao said he supported former minister of health and welfare Chen Shih-chung (陳時中) of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) because of his measured response to problems.
Tsao’s pledge and the change in his political leanings might have been surprising to many, although it should only be surprising if people believe that Taiwan, its relationship with China and public opinion have remained static for the past 15 years.
In 2007, frustrated with the DPP administration’s restrictions on Taiwanese companies doing business in China, Tsao proposed a cross-strait peaceful coexistence law, requiring the government to hold a referendum on unification. His reasoning was that the CCP would surely not object to a referendum on unification, but had the public rejected unification, there might have been less political divisiveness over the issue, freeing politicians to focus on improving the business environment.
In 2016, Tsao published an article calling for the CCP to be more flexible with Taipei after Beijing cut lines of communication following President Tsai Ing-wen’s (蔡英文) electoral victory. He said that former president Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) version of the “1992 consensus” and “one China, with each side having its own interpretation” made no sense, as it would require two governments, and therefore “two Chinas.”
In 2019, he published an article in which he voiced even stronger opposition to the KMT’s cross-strait policy and once again proposed a unification referendum.
Opinion polls show that over the past 30 years, the percentage of respondents identifying as Taiwanese as opposed to Chinese has shot up, while reluctance over the prospect of unification with China has increased.
Tsao is no longer a citizen of the Republic of China — he became a citizen of Singapore in 2011 — but his journey has followed a trajectory similar to mainstream public opinion over the past 15 years.
As a businessman, Tsao is interested in peace, stability and conflict resolution. He might have accepted the CCP’s treatment of Taiwan before, but its aggression under Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平) has gone a step too far. Tsao knows that peaceful coexistence is no longer on the table, that the KMT does not have the answers, and that the CCP’s threats and “united front” tactics have to be met face on.
Tsao did not specify how the donation was to be spent, but suggested it could fund national defense education and counter the CCP’s cognitive warfare, cyberattacks and hacking activities, meaning he is less interested in funding military equipment and more interested in winning the argument for Taiwan and making sure Taiwanese are not swayed by propaganda.
China’s past week of live-fire military exercises and its announcement yesterday of a new white paper insisting on unification and refusing to rule out the use of force have only added to the sense of urgency.
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