Sunday, July 06, 2008

CCP/KMT United Front and the DPP

Lien Chan's best was on display today in the Taipei Times, showing the haughty nastiness that explains why he lost two presidential elections:

Lien also blamed the administration of former president Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) for refusing to push direct flights and open the country to Chinese tourists despite the consensus reached at the KMT-Chinese Communist Party forum in 2005 on cross-strait flights and tourism.

“It’s a shame that the two sides of the Taiwan Strait failed to engage in any form of exchanges in the past. Now we have learned our lesson that a responsible political party should promote cross-strait relations,” he said.
In reality the DPP attempted to engage, sometimes successfully, the expansionists across the street, not with the desire to cut off relations, but with the desire to preserve the island's sovereignty. Jon Adams has an excellent, insightful discussion of this today in the FEER blog...

All this amounts to a dramatic step toward normalization of economic and cultural relations. Many believe, of course, that’s also the first step toward Beijing’s long-term goal: political unification.

But rather than strongly oppose all of this, the DPP is laying low. It’s raising quibbles (Mr. Ma’s giving up too much too soon at the negotiating table) while agreeing in principle with the normalization process.

In fact, in some cases the DPP is actually complaining the new links don’t go far enough. The DPP mayor of Kaohsiung has griped that too few cross-Strait charter flights will be coming to her city. And party headquarters is peeved that the flights deal doesn’t yet include cross-Strait cargo flights, something high on Taiwan businesses’ wish list.

The DPP’s stance suggests two points worth raising:

First, it’s evidence of the broad consensus in Taiwan supporting closer economic links—but not political unification—with the mainland. Despite the supposed polarization between the independence-leaning DPP and unification-leaning KMT, moderates in both parties are in fundamental agreement on this direction.

That consensus isn’t recent. In fact, it has been apparent since the DPP’s Chen Shui-bian took power in 2000. Far from being a protectionist hardliner determined to throttle business opportunities, Mr. Chen actually began a process of economic normalization with the mainland that Mr. Ma is only continuing.

Cross-Strait trade and investment boomed dramatically under Mr. Chen, and his government in 2001 launched the “three mini-links” between Taiwan’s Kinmen and Matsu islands and the mainland as a first step toward broader transport links. And the Chen government spent years negotiating a deal on cross-Strait charter flights and tourists—the deal Beijing only inked when Mr. Ma came into office.

In his heart of hearts, Mr. Chen may indeed cherish the long-term goal of independence and Mr. Ma of unification—only they know for sure. But as a matter of official government policy, their stands are identical: No independence, no unification, preserve the political status quo, but expand cross-Strait economic ties.

The only difference between the two governments is on the pace and scope of normalization—Mr. Ma is willing to move more quickly (the DPP says too quickly) on a raft of issues.

But a more significant difference is Beijing’s attitude. That brings us to the second point. Despite the similarity in Messrs. Chen and Ma’s official policy positions, from Beijing’s standpoint there are large symbolic differences.

Exhibit A is Ma’s embrace of the “1992 Consensus”—a flimsy formula, never written down or formalized, to agree on “one China” while fudging its meaning. Mr. Chen’s DPP rejects that formula as a downgrade of Taiwan’s sovereignty. Exhibit B is Mr. Ma’s stress on Taiwan’s essential “Chinese-ness”—such as his description of Taiwan and China as parts of the “zhonghua minzu” (the Chinese peoples or nation). Mr. Chen never rejected that cultural link outright, but instead stressed Taiwan’s distinct culture and history in order to bolster a budding sense of Taiwan identity and pride.

To China, Mr. Ma’s shift in emphasis is critical. It suggests cross-Strait solidarity rather than separation. Here, Beijing and the KMT are allied in a culture war against the DPP—one waged through language and symbols—about what it means to be Taiwanese.

That, and not any dramatic policy shift by Mr. Ma’s government, is why cross-Strait economic relations are advancing so quickly under a KMT government.

This is one of the best discussions yet, eschewing empty hacking on the DPP that is so common in what passes for Establishment media analysis. It is exactly right. The difference between the DPP policy and the KMT policy is that the DPP had a standpoint for negotiation: sovereignty, while the KMT does not. This raises a critical issue: because the DPP had a line in the sand beyond which it would not go, it was actually in a better position to bargain with China. What exactly stops the KMT? Simply its perception of what Taiwanese voters will tolerate. In other words, with the KMT there is no clear limit to what Beijing can do to the island's sovereignty, because the KMT offers no clear boundary to the negotiations.

Ironically, the DPP is a victim of its own success. Prior to 2000 the KMT incessantly warned that Taiwan would be attacked if the DPP were elected. Then it was. Twice. And no attack came. This seemed a signal to many, I suspect, that Taiwan could move closer to China without threat.

Professor Chris Hughes was quoted in another Taipei Times article about the cross-strait influx:
Professor Christopher Hughes, a Taiwan expert at the London School of Economics, thought that the boost from tourism had been overestimated.

His initial optimism about the thaw had also waned after conversations with Chinese officials and academics.

“Their way of thinking was: ‘Taiwan’s come over to our way of thinking; Ma’s [President Ma Ying-jeou, 馬英九] going to do what we want him to,’” he said, adding that Beijing had updated its missiles opposite Taiwan. “The question is: What is Taiwan getting out of this?”
That last question is one that isn't getting asked enough. Ma has made all sorts of concessions -- the PRC tourists come over on PRC aircraft, and the Taiwan airlines don't get a bite of that market. This is serious; the Hong Kong-Taipei run was the busiest in the world, and now this new direct route not only cannibalizes many of those arrivals and places them in a new, more competitive route with lower profits, it also awards some of those trips to Chinese airlines only. Hughes' comments also show, as Adams alludes to in the end of his article, that all three sides -- China, Taiwan, KMT -- view the rapproachment in differing terms.

What is Taiwan getting out of this? At present, all the "opening" is a headlong rush of Taiwan resources into Chinese hands....


Tommy said...

I think that a deal was reached that was unfavourable to Taiwan because Ma had made a promise to have the charter flights in place by July 4. He has already indicated he can't fulfill his other campaign promises. He had to offer something to the Taiwanese to show "progress" whether there was progress or not.

The bummer for him may come in a few months. Any one of a million situations could arise. It would not be too far fetched to imagine Taiwan's two international airlines jointly making a huge deal in a few months because they have lost business on the Hong Kong route and are under pressure from rising oil prices.

Ma has to deliver. The problems for him will come if the masses start to ask what is in it for them, and all it takes is a few high-profile complaints.

skiingkow said...

Wow! Real facts and real insight! Journalism has been found and it is in this article!

I especially liked this paragraph...

Exhibit A is Ma’s embrace of the “1992 Consensus”—a flimsy formula, never written down or formalized, to agree on “one China” while fudging its meaning.

Not bad, I must say. However, I wish the disconnect of the word 'consensus' and what was actually said in that year would be emphasized more bluntly.

Not agreeing on what the main principle actually means does not a 'consensus' make. Yet, the CCP and KMT continue to use that word in the title of that meeting. It's insane!

The main issue is sovereignty. China believes "One China" includes Taiwan. The KMT state that "One China" means the ROC -- which, in reality, does not include the PRC. How do these two views possibly equate, in any way, to conform to the definition of 'a consensus'? Answer: it doesn't.

Which, goes to show you. Both parties -- intelligent as they are -- realize this disconnect. So, why are they lying about there being a 'consensus' when there was obviously NO 'consensus'? The only answer should be quite obvious to most of you.

Picture PandaMa and Hu Jintao stating to the world media that they've come to the realization that 1 + 1 = 3, and the corporate media doesn't bat an eyelash.

That is how I perceive what is happening here time and time again with the foreign press.

But this piece finally gets most (if not all) of it right. How refreshing!

Michael Turton said...

I agree, Thomas. I think that the falling profits and tightening margins are going to mean that either the routes to China, incl Hong Kong, will have to be cartelized, or else Taiwan's airlines will have to start folding up. Taiwan's domestic scale is too small if it has to compete against China in its own airspace.

Yes, Ma, Adams is one of the sharpest observers of Taiwan out there now.


Anonymous said...

Terrific commentary, Michael...

I was wondering if others have perceived the same thing I have...

My clients include top management of many of TW's multinational corps and financial institutions.

Prior to the election, the political dilaogue was very active, very electric, and I had many wonderful conversations with my clients on a raft of domestic political issues.

Now, not a single client brings up political issues of any kind. It's as if the very air has been sucked from the room.

If I elicit an opinion of the day's news, I get sidelined immediately. No one wants to talk about what they think.

I find this most disturbing, since I enjoyed two years of hearing vibrant political opinions of every stripe.

Anyone else experiencing anything similar?

Anonymous said...

Someone should add Lein Chan's name to this page:

Dirtbag traitor

Anonymous said...

To suggest an answer, Marc…

First, before the election, the blue media attributed Taiwan’s stagnant wages solely to the DPP government. Now the same media have turned flat wages into a consequence of both long-term and shorter-term global trends. I suspect that the public neither wants to admit it was had nor wants even to think the obvious through far enough to see that it was had. Avoiding political conversation is thus default strategy for preserving face-protecting mental haziness.

Second, and this is just a guess (I’ve asked no questions of anyone to try to confirm this), I get the sense that beyond or underneath the commonplace reaction of wanting to “throw the bums out”/give the other party a chance in times of economic discontent there is a conviction held by many here that all-important “harmony” – and by extension, “virtue” -- would be restored by putting the KMT back in power. The KMT produced the bygone “economic miracle,” they think; life, both economic and social, was more certain in KMT days of yore; and the KMT had power for so long that it just feels more “right” (Stockholm Syndrome-related stuff) for the Chinese Nationalists to have power again. This instinct to “harmonize” goes back at least three thousand years to the Zhou Dynasty, and while Taiwan’s frontier mentality certainly still flourishes despite fifty or so years of KMT cultural indoctrination, that indoctrination has seriously afflicted most to some degree or another among all but the younger and the eldest here.

What do responsible voters in a democracy do? We would say they seek out and parse information. But few people here say this. Unaware that opinion is being assembled and packaged for them, most people here align themselves with prevailing faddish opinions. This is their first act in a two-step process toward the acquisition of and establishment of “virtue” in its highest form – “harmony.” After conforming to prevailing opinion, they then vote for the restoration of harmony – their second act in the two-step process. And if their “harmony” candidate wins, then they have done all they can possibly do. But what if the change such voters wrought turns out to be no change at all or else a change for the worse? Then it’s time for fortune-tellers, fengshui, and trying to peep up Matsu’s butthole during the annual birthday procession; any resort is better than admitting that the quest for “harmony” produces neither a vibrant polity nor an economy that includes good wage growth.

As I said, this second reason is just a hunch; and if it does happen to be right, it’s probably right in ways somewhat at variance from what I’ve outlined in this quick sketch. Anyway, though, I think these two reasons form a plausible explanation for why the harmonizers – most blues and many middle-of-the-roaders (the partly “harmony” infected) -- are not talking politics anymore. And I think the much less infected (but still somewhat infected!) greens feel powerless and are waiting for prevailing opinion to gather itself from haze into a discernable shape that opposes the KMT. Even the green populace follows a “harmony” protocol, which is probably a smart choice right now given (a) how weak the greens are and (b) how likely it is that Ma and the KMT are just going to look worse and worse over the next couple years. Smarter to keep the powder dry…

Anonymous said...


The pro DPP/Independence people usually don't talk unless they know it is safe...and even then, in hushed tones. The blues or people who voted for Ma must be sheepishly feeling like they have nothing to talk about. Like a person who was swindled and is too ashamed to let the neighbors know they could have been such a rube.

My co workers are now firmly anti-Ma and keep repeating the mantra, "only four years".

Anonymous said...

Whoa, whoa, whoa... what the hell? Who is Jon Adams? What have his past articles on Taiwan been like? This is extremely, extremely rare, precise and concise commentary on the political situation here. Very well written. Thank you!

Anonymous said...

Welcome back to the future.

As dew over the butterfly's wings in the poet's dream, the “1992 Nonsensus” evaporated under the black red sun of pan-Chinese nationalism. The Formosan butterfly could be seared before ROC comes to its sense.... unless...

...Unless one recognizes that the ROC is but a figment of the Formosan butterfly’s imagination at the same time that it’s another inglorious name for the ongoing interim status of a Taiwan cession firmly tethered to the US through the SFPT beyond the TRA.

As both PROChicoms and ROChankoros are well aware of, sovereignty over Taiwan is withheld under Article 2 (b) of SFPT.

Fairies are keeping watch on our Formosa's cradle. Nothing can disturb our Formosa's sixty-three-year-long slumber. Hush, hush, Formosa-chan, those clowns are but ghouls acting up in your nightmares. Sleep well and sweet dreams, my lovely.

Anonymous said...

--Now, not a single client brings up political issues of any kind. It's as if the very air has been sucked from the room.--

ahh, i see some taiwanese got Honkong-syndrom already.. (you know that momment when tianamen guys tryed to begin a political discussion about China before HK was going to became chinese)

i hope they dont get "we love China" messages on their mobiles.

Tommy said...

"ahh, i see some taiwanese got Honkong-syndrom already.. (you know that momment when tianamen guys tryed to begin a political discussion about China before HK was going to became chinese)"

To be fair, HK syndrome is more related to the stifling of opposition by a) The presence of a puppet government. b) The love of money in Hong Kong and the desire to make it (the driving force of this city). The media in HK are all for the central government because so many media barons have their talons fixed in China. So the people here are treated to a daily orgy of dumbed down, rosey news items about China.

Red A said...

"This is serious; the Hong Kong-Taipei run was the busiest in the world, and now this new direct route not only cannibalizes many of those arrivals and places them in a new, more competitive route with lower profits"

Yes, it would be horrible if consumers got better choices at less cost. Personally, I really enjoy paying premium monopoly prices for a 1.5 hour flight.

And Taiwanese airlines can compete just like anyone else on these routes. Cathay manages to survive with a "home" population base far lower than Taiwan.

You know, sometimes its not just about Taiwan / China.