The Social Bases of Cross-Strait Policies in Taiwan

Research has shown that Taiwanese opinion on cross-Strait policies is varied, depending on particular issues and social backgrounds. The majority of the population supports economic opening and cultural exchange, but a majority is also opposed to institutional acknowledgement and further social interactions. Individual demographic characteristics and social cleavages, namely, gender, partisanship, and socioeconomic status have played important roles in fostering differing positions and attitudes on cross-Strait policies in Taiwan.

Using data from telephone surveys conducted in 2010, I investigated Taiwanese attitudes towards various cross-Strait policies. The issues under study and the distribution of people supporting and opposing them were as follows:

(1) Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement (ECFA): 45 percent supported and 32 percent opposed

(2) On allowing Chinese students to study inTaiwan: 50 percent supported and 45 percent opposed

(3) On recognizing Chinese diplomas and degrees: 44 percent supported and 50 percent opposed

(4) On allowing self-guided individual Chinese tourists: 43 percent supported and 48 percent opposed and

(5) On increasing the daily quota of Chinese tourists on group tours: 39 percent supported and 44 percent opposed

Overall, apart from the ECFA issue of economic opening, differences of opinion on other policy issues such as educational exchange, institutional acknowledgement and social interaction were around five percent, indicating that there was no common ground on these issues.

There are different social foundations for each cross-Strait policy, sometimes converging, and sometimes diverging. Research indicates that in general men, older people, pan-blue supporters, and people of higher social status were more likely to support the KMT government’s cross-Strait policies. One the other hand, women, younger people, non-pan-blue supporters, and people of a lower social status tended to oppose such policies.

More specifically, the percentages supporting various policies among men and women were:

(1) ECFA, 48 percent vs. 44 percent;

(2) Permitting Chinese students, 55 percent vs. 46 percent;

(3) Recognizing Chinese degrees, 49 percent vs. 40 percent;

(4) Opening to individual Chinese tourists, 50 percent vs. 30 percent; and

(5) Increasing the daily quota for Chinese group tourists, 47 percent vs. 33 percent.

Comparing people of higher and lower social status, the percentages that supported the abovementioned policies among the more educated (college and above) and less educated people (high school and below) were:

(1) ECFA, 58 percent vs. 35 percent;

(2) Permitting Chinese students, 61 percent vs. 42 percent;

(3) Recognizing Chinese degrees, 55 percent vs. 35 percent;

(4) Opening to individual Chinese tourists, 54 percent vs. 37 percent; and

(5) Increasing the daily quota for Chinese group tourists, 46 percent vs. 35 percent.

After controlling various variables, the factor residing in southern Taiwan does not, in fact, have any significant effect on the people’s position on cross-strait policies. On the surface, the influence of party identification on positions regarding cross-strait policies seems to be as expected. Green supporters have a strong tendency to oppose policies towards China. But greens and blues together only make up about 50 percent of the population (Blue 34 percent, Green 17 percent). What is the position towards cross-strait policies within the other half which does not have such a strong party identification? Research shows that, given controlling demographic factors (age, gender, socioeconomic status, and ethnicity), independent voters who were neither blue nor green significantly showed far less support for cross-Strait policies than did pan-blue supporters.

Finally, what merits closer scrutiny are gender differences on support for cross-Strait policies. It was found that, firstly, a higher percentage of Taiwanese women than men opposed increasing social exchanges between Taiwan and China. On the issue of economic opening, there was no gender imbalance. However, on social issues, taking into consideration personal backgrounds (education, marriage, income, and ethnicity), females tended to oppose these issues more than males did. This was much more noticeable among pan-blue supporters. For example, among pan-blue voters only 36 percent of males opposed allowing Chinese students to study in Taiwan, while 64 percent of females did. The same gender discrepancy among pan-blue voters was noted on the issue of institutional acknowledgement and social interaction. Among pan-blue voters 38 percent of males and 62 percent of females opposed recognizing Chinese diplomas. Similarly, 36 percent of pan-blue males and 64 percent of pan-blue females opposed increasing group tourist quotas.

Why were women more likely to take such opposing positions than men for further social exchanges with China? First, it is possibly about the concern over disturbances caused to their daily lives by increased cross-Strait social interactions. Furthermore, the impression of Chinese male chauvinism might well lead many Taiwanese women to mistrust further social interaction withChina. Second, it might reflect the want for stable homes and committed relationships. Many women do not see benefit accruing from further cross-strait social exchanges. In fact, they view closer ties with China in a disadvantageous light and see themselves as becoming potential victims from closer social relations.

These past twenty years have seen Taiwanese businessmen go off to China and send money back home to their wives, who feel alienated as they tend to value marriage, stability and secure homes. This kind of cross-Strait split affects the minority of Taiwanese families today, and the impression it has left on society is very influential. Taiwanese women see a potential threat from Chinese mistresses. The media has recently made a fuss about the “Chinese mistress” effect, which has created a further distrust among women on policies of cross-Strait interactions.

Finally, it may be related to concerns on the impact on the marriage market. Increasing social interactions with China will stimulate the marriage market leaving unmarried Taiwanese women feeling that they are now in competition with Chinese women, placing the fear in the minds of Taiwanese housewives that their children may find matching partners with Chinese youths on college campus. Perhaps as a result of these factors, given the effects of party identification, socioeconomic status, and age, gender on cross-strait social policies remains an independent and significant factor in today’s Taiwanese society.

As the presidential campaign got underway, the KMT government seemed to intentionally downplay cross-Strait social policies as an election campaign issue. Otherwise it would probably not be able to win the support of the majority of voters.

Chih-Jou Jay Chen is Associate Research Fellow at the Institute of Sociology of Academia Sinica and Director of the Center for Contemporary China, National Tsing Hua University in Taiwan.