Since Taiwanese President Ma Ying-Jeou’s inauguration in 2008, relations between Mainland China and Taiwan have made progress, a potential momentous turn in the long wrought story of cross-strait relations. Taiwan has even raised the possibility of talks of signing a peace agreement, although nothing has come of it so far.
Still, the most visible signs of change in decades are clear. The number of cities from which there are regular charter flights is expanding, Mainland tourists can now visit Taiwan freely, and the two governments have also signed the “ECFA” (Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement).
Yet, can Ma Ying-Jeou, who promoted these achievements, sit back and wait for his reelection in 2012? It will be a touchstone that tests the current rapid development of the cross-strait policy. When Ma was campaigning in 2008, the issue of improving relations between the two political entities cross the Taiwan Strait was one of his most important political vows. It was his policy to promote economic and cultural partnership, in hopes to raise Taiwanese income.
When Ma first got into office, private consumption plummeted and his government even responded by issuing coupons to each citizen to boost consumption. But then last year, Taiwan’s economic growth rose to 8% - considerable change.However, in local elections for five major cities in Taiwan last year, the Taiwanese punished Ma Ying-Jeou at the polls. Many Taiwanese believe that apart from the cross-strait policy, he hasn’t achieved much. Others worry that this fast development will harm Taiwan’s autonomy and jeopardize its future.
Mainlanders may wonder why Taiwanese aren’t more grateful, when in fact this reaction is not that surprising. The two sides have very different social systems and their people are suddenly getting together. Such a leap forward is bound to cause a certain amount of questioning.
From a geographical point of view, China is a giant and Taiwan a dwarf. The same is true demographically: China has 1.3 billion people while Taiwan has 23 million. In Taiwan’s shoes, anybody would be afraid of facing this giant monster.
Besides, China insists on a "one China policy", without addressing precisely what this actually implies. Reunification is at the core of its education and its peoples’ feeling. To the Taiwanese, who wish to maintain their way of life and a certain degree of autonomy, Ma’s promotion of trust regarding China, under a four-year mandate, is a major challenge.
One fact should never be neglected, cross-strait relations have been at a standstill and Taiwanese consciousness rose during the ten odd years Lee Deng-Hui and Chen Shui-Bian were in office. From a political standpoint, the opening that Ma has achieved was not without effort, and it’s not easy to change horses in midstream. And it also doesn’t help that the ruling KMT party doesn’t have the final say in Taiwan.
Tsai Ying-Wen, the opposition Democratic Progressive Party candidate, wants to develop bi-lateral relations within multi-lateral ones. It’s a sign that significant numbers of Taiwanese are still wary of the “passion” of mainlanders.
Beijing roots for Ma
It’s widely known that China hopes for Ma’s reelection. The policy of sending “a procurement group” from each province everything month to Taiwan has been promoted by Chinese officials as a support of cross-strait policy. But it isn’t seen this way in Taiwan. For them “China’s united front is too active”.
This is exactly where the dilemma of cross-strait policy lies. Even though both parties say they must put aside their political differences, their policies are always based on political issues. Under such circumstances, if Ma Ying-Jeou lost the campaign or won by a narrow margin, it would be a demonstration of “non-confidence” regarding the current progress.
This is why it’s important for Chinese authorities to avoid political interference in the current spontaneous non-governmental exchanges. After all, Taiwan is different from Hong Kong or Macao. It’s up to the Chinese to take initiatives and put forward new ideas, taking into account the status quo in a pragmatic way.
Ma Ying-Jeou’s policies aren’t just responding to Taiwanese public opinion. What Taiwanese care about is the transformation and progress of Mainland China. Coming up with new ideas which can bring peace of mind to the Taiwanese and help them to trust China, would be a really effective way of helping Ma Ying-Jeou.
Chinese authorities may not be familiar with taking its people’s opinion into account, but in Taiwan it is important. And elections can be cruel.
Read the original article in French