Friday, September 14, 2007

Mars and Venus at the UN Referendum Table

US State Department official Thomas Christensen, he of the speech that is causing so much commentary in the media recently, believes that credible messages from the US caused the DPP to fail to gain as much as it might have in the 2004 legislative elections here in Taiwan. It is for that reason he claims in his remarks that Taiwan's "perceptive, intelligent voters" will choose against the referendum, because the US has lined up against it -- addressing Taiwan's voters directly is apparently a goal of his speech. Here's one paragraph that lays out this thesis:

In the article Christensen says he received this information from "interviews done in Taipei" with people he sometimes identifies in the text as DPP higher-ups. I suspect that he showed up in Taipei all American-ly, got told what he wanted to hear, and then flew off.

I've run across this claim that Taiwanese voters responded to US pressure on the Chen Administration, thus handing it a loss, in previous stuff from US elites. It constitutes, I think, a fundamental misreading of the electorate. But before we come to any conclusions, let's take a look at the numbers from 2001 and 2004. Looking on the Wikipedia page for 2001 and 2004:

Blue Parties, total votes
KMT 2,949,371
PFP 1,917,836
New 269,620

Total Blue vote: 5,136,827

Green parties total votes
DPP 3,447,740
TSU 801,560

Total Green Vote: 4,249,030
Total turnout (66%)


Blue Parties total votes
KMT 3,190,081
PFP 1,350,613
New 12,137

Total Blue Vote: 4,552,831

2004 Green parties total votes
DPP 3,471,429
TSU 756,712

Total Green votes: 4,228,141
(Total turnout 59%)

Christensen's thesis cannot be supported from the vote totals. Summarizing:

2001 Blue vote: 5,136,827
2004 Blue vote: 4,552,831

2001 Green vote: 4,249,030
2004 Green vote: 4,228,141

2001-2004 difference
Blue: - 583,996
Green: - 20,889

If Christensen really wants to claim that the US affected the election, then by golly he'd better claim that US agitation kept 600,000 Blue votes at home. Because that is the only claim the numbers will support.

Christensen is aware of the real reason -- election tactics, which the DPP handled poorly in the expectation that it would win big -- but he downplays it, apparently feels that the voters in Taiwan heeded the US criticisms of Chen Shui-bian. Observe that, at the moment, the Wiki page on the 2004 LY election has extensive analysis of the reasons for the DPP's disappointing performance, but the US is not mentioned as a reason. This is because the US was not a factor in the voter decisionmaking at the local level. Not only does Christensen overestimate US influence, more practically, given that Taiwan's media is overwhelmingly Blue, voters were unlikely to get an accurate picture of US complaints in the first place.

The moral of this tale is simply this: the people who are calling the shots for the US just don't get Taiwan. And policy predicated on false pictures of reality is likely to founder......

Lai I-chung, who heads up the DPP's international affairs department, had some perceptive comments on the UN referendum imbroglio yesterday in the Taipei Times:

Instead, let's look at recent history. If we analyze Taiwan-US relations since Taiwan's democratization, we see that the US has toward the end of each four-year presidential term in Taiwan, accused the incumbent of being a troublemaker.

This was true of former Chinese Nationalist Party president Lee Teng-hui (李登輝) and it is true of Chen. In 1999, Taiwan-US relations reached a low following Lee's statement about state-to-state relations between Taiwan and China. Today it is again at a low over the referendum proposal.

This is also why it is more fruitful to try to understand the structural changes in the relationship between the US, China and Taiwan on the one hand and the situation in the Asia-Pacific region on the other than it is to discuss Chen's personal contributions to or influence on the US-Taiwan relationship.

Taiwan has developed into a democratic state and a major world economy, China is rapidly becoming a great power although the US is still the lone superpower, but occupied with its "war on terrorism." The relationship between these three states has changed dramatically since the Cold War, meaning that Taiwan-US relations as we once knew them are unable to deal with the complex and transformed situation.

We must understand this to understand why Chen and former senior US officials Michael Green and Randy Schriver all responded to the disagreement over the UN referendum proposal by suggesting a review of the structure of the existing relationship between Taiwan and the US and recommended that talks between Taiwan and the US occur at a higher level.

Read that last paragraph closely. If State wants Taiwan to do its bidding, it needs to get its people over here to talk turkey -- and on a regular basis, because these periodic dust-ups are structural, not personal, in nature.

Meanwhile, in the local news, the TSU has started to get nervous about the whole referendum issue, and wants talks with the DPP about scheduling it in conjunction with the KMT referendum. If the referendum fails, no second referendum can be held on the topic for three years, according to the law. With the referendum having the broad support of the populace -- another reason Christensen's appeal to the voters will fail -- an intraparty discourse would have all sorts of upsides: the creation of local unity, a precedent for cooperation on a matter of identity, the hammering out of something acceptable to the US, and so on. Expect more movement in that direction as the election approaches. The DPP will eventually realize it has made its point and move to other mobilization activities, toning down the whole referendum thing. President is already starting to talk about friendship and consensus on the issue.....

APPENDIX: in 1998 the Blue parties (KMT = 4,659,679 + New = 708465) totaled 5,368,144, the Green (DPP) totaled 2,966,835.


JZ said...

Many blue people left Taiwan for the mainland. Many also moved out to the US or Canada. They should return to Taiwan and help containing the separatists. Preferable, they should move to the South, because sticking together is no help either in winning elections for the legislative yuan.

Anonymous said...

The USA State Department should have hired you --- instead of that bunch of idiots ;-)

Anonymous said...

"...TSU has started to get nervous about the whole referendum issue, and wants talks with the DPP about scheduling it in conjunction with the KMT referendum..."

Do you mean that the TSU wants there to be a single UN-entry referendum agreed upon by both the DPP and the KMT? If so, it would be worth trying. Woudln't it be great to see both sides working together for the greater good of Taiwan?

It would be worth trying because the biggest risk is that neither the DPP nor the KMT version will get enough support.

In fact, that's the sole reason the KMT proposed its own version of the UN referendum in the first place-- to confuse the issue just enough to divide the wide public support for UN entry into two parts. And how many KMT politicians are willing to be seen compromising and cooperating with the DPP on a joint UN proposal or anything else?

KMT supporters neither want nor expect KMT leaders to cooperate in any way with the DPP, regadless of the issue.