Double Ten Taiwan Roundtable

Double Ten Taiwan Roundtable


Organized by the Taiwan Studies Programme @ China Policy Institute.

A18 Si Yuan Centre, Jubilee Campus, University of Nottingham.

10th October 2013, 5-7 pm

On the occasion of the National Day of the Republic of China (國慶日), the Taiwan Studies Programme convenes a public roundtable to reflect on the ‘state of the nation’. Taiwan specialists based in the China Policy Institute, University of Nottingham, and invited external experts will reflect on developments in the domestic political scene and in cross-Strait relations during Ma Ying-jeou’s second term and offer their insights on projected developments as we move toward mid-term elections in 2014 and the conclusion of Ma’s tenure culminating in the Presidential and Legislative elections in 2016.

Among other themes, speakers will address:

  • Ma’s performance after re-election- including his low approval rating, personnel changes within government, stalled military transformation.
  • Cross-Strait relations- including the Service Pact Agreement, issues relating to the implementation of ECFA and policy consequences in Taiwan.
  • Internal struggles within the KMT- including the fall of Wang Jin-ping case and factional jockeying.
  • Emerging grassroots social movements- including analysis of the Dapu, Huaguang and Anti-Media Monopoly cases.

Provisional Schedule

  • Working Group meeting, 2-5 pm, room A20, Si Yuan Centre. Invited participants only
  • Public Roundtable, 5-7 pm, room A18, Si Yuan Centre
  • Complimentary networking dinner for speakers, 8.00 pm, location TBC.

Confirmed Speakers

  • Professor Steve Tsang, Director of the Taiwan Studies Programme and Director of the China Policy Institute
  • Jonathan Sullivan, Associate Professor, School of Contemporary Chinese Studies and Senior Fellow China Policy Institute, University of Nottingham
  • Michal Thim, PhD Candidate, Taiwan Studies Programme.
  • Chun-Yi Lee, Lecturer, School of Contemporary Chinese Studies, University of Nottingham.
  • Julie Yu-wen Chen, Lecturer University College Cork, ERASMUS and Taiwan Studies Programme Visiting Scholar.
  • Yuwen Deng, Chevening Visiting Scholar, formerly Central Party School, Beijing.

Between China and Taiwan: Not Only Politics and Economics

This is a guest post by my colleague Chun-yi Lee, who edited a fantastic special issue in China Information to which I contributed this paper with Eliyahu V. Sapir. 

In the past, when we have referred to scholarly works on cross-Strait relations, the most common topics have been the strategic triangular relationship among the United States, Taiwan and China from an International Relations perspective; the security question, both from military and economic perspectives; and certainly, trade or investment across the Strait or in greater China. In other words, the outputs of scholarly works have been mainly focused on political or economic fields, most of them adapting a grand structural analytical framework.  However, we have noticed that the focus of much scholarly work has changed. More researchers focus not only on politics or economics, apply not only structural or policy analysis, but focus more on people-to-people interaction between Taiwan and China. In other words, we have started to see ‘people’ in the studies of cross-Strait relations, not only policy papers or investment figures.

Research on Taiwanese business people (Taishang) showed the earliest interest in ‘people’ in cross-Strait research. From soon after the lifting of martial law in 1987, many Taiwanese people started to use the excuse of ‘visiting relatives’ to set up businesses in China. However, until December 15, 2008, when President Ma Ying-Jeou lifted the prohibition on three direct links (by trade, mail and air) between mainland China and Taiwan, the Taishang had to invest in China through a third area/country. Opening the three direct links also meant that people who live in mainland China could visit Taiwan, initially with tourist groups. Gradually the immigration agency in Taiwan also relaxed the restrictions on Chinese citizens from certain cities to visit Taiwan individually, which means those citizens can visit Taiwan at their own convenience; they don’t need to register as a group with travel agencies.

How have those changes affected cross-Strait relations? More civic contacts mean that Taiwanese and Chinese people understand each other more from real life, not just from governmental propaganda or imagination. Consequently, more interesting research topics in cross-Strait studies emerged. The original motivation for this issue (Special Issue on Changing cross-Strait Relations, China Information March 2013 27(1)), to call for contributions from different perspectives on cross-Strait relationship studies, arose because we have witnessed a change in the nature of the cross-Strait relationship. It is time to refresh our understanding of that relationship. The macro-structural analysis of the cross-Strait relationship will continue to play an important role; however, more attention should be given to cross-Strait people-to-people interaction. This issue includes five cutting-edge research papers. Two of them are from a macro perspective or ‘top-down’ approach, one focusing on Taiwan’s domestic policy towards China, while the other one discusses the strategic triangular relationship involving the US, China and Taiwan. Jonathan Sullivan and Eliyahu V. Sapir’s paper focuses on the changing impact of Taiwan’s domestic politics on her mainland policies. They compare three presidential terms, namely Chen Shui-bian’s two terms from 2000 to 2004 and 2004 to 2008 and Ma Ying-jeou’s first term from 2008 to 2012.  Based on different questions raised by both Presidents Chen and Ma at different times during their reigns, their paper provides a thorough and systematic analysis of the differences in discourse context throughout three presidential terms from 2000 to 2012. One interesting and important factor that they mention at the end of their paper is the strategic implication of presidents’ public speeches. They use the example that the interpretation of ‘sovereignty’ used by Chen when addressing overseas audiences is very different than his approach in front of domestic audiences. They conclude that it is important for Taiwan’s leaders to target the specific audience with strategic purpose. Richard Weixing Hu’s paper analyses the cross-Strait relationship under an international structure, though Hu argues in his paper that China has been all the time seeking to ‘de-internationalise’ the cross-Strait relationship. Hu points out that Washington is a significant player across the Strait, but her role is delicate. According to Hu, America has to find a better niche in the currently peaceful cross-Strait relationship; he also argues that though that relationship presently seems to be harmonious, the dynamics of domestic power alternation in Taiwan will possibly disturb the cross-Strait détente and thus unbalance the triangular USA–China–Taiwan relationship.

The other three papers take a ‘bottom-up’ approach, to discuss Taiwanese people’s interaction across the Strait in business affairs and in their daily life. Taishang Taishang are certainly the main actors across the Strait. Gunter Schubert presents the importance of the Taishang as the ‘linkage community’, who play a significant role in the cross-Strait relationship. Schubert indicates clearly that though there is some existing research into the influence of Taishang on Chinese politics at local level, up to date there has not a systematic study of Taishang influence on Taiwan’s high-level politics. However, cross-Strait civic interactions have not only involved economic activities. André Laliberté analyses the cross-Strait relationship from a refreshing angle, from the perspective of religion and culture, using the Tzu Chi Buddhist foundation as the entry point. In China, religion has always been a sensitive topic; however, Tzu Chi as a Buddhist foundation was accepted by the Chinese authorities in March 2008. In this paper, André explains how Tzu Chi has influenced Chinese society, as a concrete case of Joseph Nye’s ‘soft power’ concept. He also raises the possibility that the benevolence embodied by Taiwanese volunteers in China could change perceptions in cross-Strait relations. Not focusing on cross-Strait economic and political confrontation or competition, Laliberté argues that in a way China perhaps can learn from Taiwan’s experiences, to use religious charity foundations to provide social services. The final paper of this issue is from Pin Lin, who takes a sociological and anthropological look at a group which has often been overlooked: Taiwanese female migrants to China. Tracing a group of Taiwanese female migrants’ daily experiences in China from 2004 to 2005 and then 2008 to 2010, Lin presents the gap between expectation (before migrating to China) and reality (after settling down in China); his results show this group of Taiwanese women finding it difficult to mingle with Chinese society. From his respondents, Lin argues that those Taiwanese women in China are like ‘birds in golden cage’, are isolated and alien to the Chinese society.

The impact across the Strait is bilateral, both from Taiwan to China and from China to Taiwan. It also has multiple strands, combining political, economic, and sociological aspects. We believe that these papers present a balanced combination of macro and micro research in cross-Strait studies. More importantly, this issue presents an updated dynamic in the field.

Wrapping up Taiwan 2012

In the end, the result of the combined presidential and legislative elections looks like a comfortable and routine win for Ma Ying-jeou and the KMT. Sitting presidents who successfully steward an economy through a global crisis and reduce pressing security threats, seldom fail to be re-elected. Yet, those who have followed the campaign closely will know that this reduction hides a range of issues and complexities that have been documented on this blog since November 1st.

Whether you interpret it as a mandate, a signal of increasing opposition, or the result of various peculiarities, voters granted Ma another four years, with a legislative majority, to continue implementing his policy programs. The direction of cross-Strait relations has been set, but the pace of detente across the Strait is likely to slow. A strong losing effort from Tsai and the DPP means that Ma and the KMT have less latitude to implement their rapprochement policies at will.

The low hanging fruit in cross-Strait economic interactions has been harvested, and further advances will necessitate much trickier negotiations. The CCP is preoccupied with its own domestic problems and upcoming leadership transition, which is likely to lead to a holding position for the rest of the year. Thereafter, pressure may build on Ma to get serious about talking politics with Beijing. Given the strength of popular support for maintaining the status quo, and a rejuvenated opposition (despite the loss and Tsai’s resignation from the DPP leadership), Ma will face more pressure than in his first term. Assuredly, Taiwan’s political situation will continue to demand our attention.

This is the final posting on the Taiwan 2012 blog. Ballots and Bullets will continue to operate (covering various issues in international politics), and I will post there periodically. I will also contribute to the China Policy Institute’s blog.

The period covered by the Taiwan2012 blog has been difficult, as my wife was seriously ill after our daughter was born in October. It has therefore been particularly gratifying to have been able to share an interest in Taiwan with so many people. Between November 1st and this final post, the blog has generated 60,000 page views, including well over 4000 on Election Day. I would like to thank the following people for their contributions and support, and to everyone who has commented and read the blog during the last 12 weeks.

Thanks to Steve Fielding, Phil Cowley and Steve Tsang at the University of Nottingham for supporting this initiative. Students Scott Pacey, Shih-Hsin Chen, Chris Agass, and Esther Tseng have been a great help. For initial technical support, thanks to Sajhd Hussain and Cemal Burak Tansel.

Especial thanks to the following good people who have written posts for the blog (in some cases, multiple posts): Paul Katz, Sigrid Winkler, Dafydd Fell, Michael Turton, Jens Damm, Mikael Mattlin, Sheng-chih Wang, Julie Chen, Linda Arrigo, Gunter Schubert, Harry Wu, Chris Wang, Muyi Chiu, Dalton Lin, Tim Rich, Malte Kaeding, Sasa Istenic, Chun-Yi Lee, Julia Famularo, Wang Hong-zen, Jeremy Taylor, Bonnie Glaser, John F. Copper, Scott Simon, Cal Clark, Lin Pei-Yin, Ko-hua Yap, Jerome Soldani, Tony Liu, Michal Thim, David Blundell, Ann Heylen, Daniel Lynch, Youann Goudin, Steve Tsang, Esther Tseng, Myron Chiu, Stephane Corcuff, Edward Friedman, Mau-kuei Chang, TY Wang, J Michael Cole, Alex Tan, Stefan Fleischauer, Martin Aldrovandi, Bo Teddards, Gerrit van der Wees, Portnoy Zheng. I think that’s everyone, if I’ve missed you off, please mail me to rectify!

The winner of most-viewed guest post is Paul Katz, for his brilliant pastiche “And by their friends ye shall know them“.

Thanks to everyone who has helped spread the word, for example these good folks on Twitter: @TimMaddog, @Taiwanderful, @davidonformosa, @chungiwang, @Koxinga8, @KeepTWfree, @TaiwanCorner, @taiwanreporter, @filination, @Brownlaoshi, @blickpunktaiwan, @Portnoy, @TaniaBranigan, @kerim, @ChinaLetter, @paulmozur, @samgeall, @Oscar_Wang, @116East, @ChinaMehmet, @markmackinnon, @fravel, @taiwanreporter, @alicemuwu, @Brianglucroft and many others to whom I also extend my thanks.

My thanks to Michael Turton at the View From Taiwan for publicizing the blog throughout, to TJ Cheng for his similar support in the US, and to Dalton Lin of Taiwan Security Research and the many other blog owners who linked to linked to the blog (if your name should be here, please let me know).

Finally, hope to see you all in 2016, if not sooner. Happy Lunar New Year everybody, 恭喜發財。Jon

Mail me at, follow me on Twitter @jonlsullivan, or access my papers at

The 8th Legislative Yuan and the blue-green divide

The joint presidential and legislative elections in Taiwan are over and it is time to sum up the results. Without doubt, there will be plenty of opinions why the result turned out the way it did. The presidential election seemed to have overshadowed the legislative ones in terms of visibility, but the legislative elections were equally important. As Dafydd Fell pointed out in November, the legislative elections were neglected, especially in media, but as the Chen Shui-bian era showed, having a presidency “besieged” by a Blue-dominated legislature was no big gain. The discontent with the DPP that resulted in resounding defeat in 2008 can be partly attributed to administrative inefficiency while perceptions of DPP’s presidency as corrupt helped the KMT avoid its share of responsibility. In the light of this experience, it is surprising that the DPP did not put more effort in to trying to secure a legislative majority. A Ma Ying-jeou checked by DPP-dominated legislature would have been a better outcome for the DPP than Tsai Ing-wen as president with a “hostile” KMT legislative majority.

There are few basic facts about the elections: the KMT won and the DPP lost. The KMT performed worse than in 2008 but that was generally expected. The DPP performed far better than in 2008 (and that was generally expected too), but not well enough to secure the presidency and/or legislative majority. The People First Party (PFP) was very near to total failure in its pursuit of some seats in the Legislative Yuan, while scoring only slightly over the 5% threshold on legislators-at-large list (PR district) that secured them 2 seats (in addition to 1 seat in districts). However, what has been largely left unnoticed is the surprisingly good performance of the Taiwan Solidarity Union  (TSU), with support for the nationwide party list reaching almost 10%.

Support for respective political parties on legislators-at-large list serves as an important indicator for the real party preference in Taiwan’s society. The first reason is that single nationwide district that is big enough (34 seats in this case) generally produces fairly proportional results even if there is an entry threshold, which in Taiwan is 5% of votes, provided that not too many votes are “wasted” below the threshold. According to the CEC, this was the case for only slightly more than 6% of votes. The second reason is that single-mandate (FPTP) districts, through which 73 (or 2/3 of total LY seats) legislators are elected, typically produces significant disproportion and so they did this time, although to a lesser extent than in 2008. Additionally, smaller parties, including PFP and TSU, did not compete in single-mandate districts on large scale because of their slim chances of getting elected. The PFP did field a few candidates, but failed, and their only seat from districts is 1 of the 6 reserved for aborigines that are selected under the old SNTV system. The following table offers a breakdown of the legislators-at-large results.

The table shows what the overall results (that take into account the total allocation of mandates) are hiding. In terms of total number of seats, the KMT still enjoys a comfortable majority with 64 legislators (57 out of 113 is needed for a majority), although during last election term several KMT legislators lost their seat for vote-buying and other violations. Should that situation repeat, KMT will have serious reason to worry. However, the main message is that the pan-green camp is back in legislature and that when support in votes is considered it is almost as strong as the KMT. In 2008, DPP was left alone in despair and its junior partner TSU disappeared from the LY benches. Yet, in 2012, the TSU made an impressive 9.6% return.

Further research on the election results will most likely reveal that TSU made it to LY because a significant number of DPP supporters split their votes between the DPP (presidential elections, FPTP districts) and the TSU (PR district). The TSU is the more radical of the two parties in the green camp when it comes to the independence issue and growing concern on the part of the population that Taiwan is getting too close to China could be a contributing factor for casting a ballot for TSU. DPP voters also heeded the call from Tsai Ing-wen after she expressed support for the TSU and hoped that the party would exceed the needed 5%. In any case,voters that supported TSU took a leap of faith since it was far from certain that their votes will not get lost under the threshold. This is very different from strategic voting on the part of PFP supporters who voted for Ma knowing that their presidential candidate had no real chance. It is a question whether the DPP benefited from the TSU’s performance or not. However, as long as the pan-green coalition remains united, it is less relevant whether DPP could have had 3 seats more.

On a blue-green divide axis, it seems that the green camp re-emerged united in the LY whereas cooperation between the KMT and PFP cannot be taken for granted. The KMT does not need the PFP and the PFP will gain little from cooperation with the KMT unless it is ready to concede defeat and let itself absorb (back) into the KMT. An important lesson for the green camp is that both parties can benefit from mutual cooperation. In this regard there is a striking contrast between TSU and PFP that alienated its pan-blue partner by fielding its own candidate for president, hoping it would boost its performance in the LY elections only to end up with the same number of seats as the remarkably less visible TSU.

Michal Thim is currently enrolled in the International Master‘s Program in Asia-Pacific Studies (IMAS) at National Chengchi University in Taipei and research fellow at the Prague-based foreign policy think tank, Association for International Affairs.

Experiencing the Taiwanese Campaign Rally

This is the second Taiwan Presidential election I have had the pleasure to observe on site. In 2008 I spend more than two weeks on the road and managed to watch rallies and election related events in Pingtung, Kaohisung, Tainan, Changhua, Taichung, Taoyuan and Taipei. This time my trip was shorter and the election observation already began with a disappointment. The flight from Hong Kong was delayed so I missed all the great action on Super Sunday. Unfortunately Ma Ying-jeou and the KMT did not plan any large scale events such as election rallies in the last week of the campaign until the night before the election. So I decided to follow Tsai Ing-wen from the DPP to Southern and Central Taiwan.

I have to point out that what I present here is purely anecdotal evidence. Yet as many contributors to this blog have already pointed out, the election campaign started very late to get into full swing and there is a significant decrease of printed campaign advertisements and campaign literature. Thus on-site observations of campaign rallies contribute to a more comprehensive understanding of this year’s election campaign.

I attended the central rallies of the DPP in Kaohsiung on Wednesday night and in Taichung on Thursday night. I can only comment on the atmosphere and the speech given by Tsai Ing-wen in Kaohsiung. Ninety percent of speeches were made in Taiyu which I unfortunately do not understand and thus relied on very brief summaries from fellow attendants. In Taichung the situation for Mandarin speakers was slightly better. In Kaohsiung the rally began with representatives of agricultural and fishery bodies endorsing Tsai Ing-wen and proceeded with a first introduction of the Legislative Yuan candidates for Greater Kaohsiung. The Legislative Yuan candidates were introduced at the beginning in Taichung as well each giving short speeches. In Taichung the focus was on representatives from the cultural sector, particularly individuals with important positions in the music scene came out to voice their support for Tsai. Their addresses appeared to be bit long and many in the audience began to talk among themselves while a music professor went on about the positive attributes of Tsai.

The second stage in the rally was as music performance which catered more to the young participants. In Kaoshiung and Taichung the crowds appeared to be very satisfied with the two hip hop acts. In Taichung the satisfaction of the attendants was even greater as the performers incorporated a classic ‘graduation song’ into one of their pieces which the crown happily sung along.

Another round of endorsements brought party heavy weights like Hsieh Chang-ting and Chen Chu in Kaohsiung and Yu Shyi-kun and Su Tseng-chang to the stage. The crowds cheered them enthusiastically: this was particularly the case with Su Tseng-chang who seemed to be very pleased by the response. He played with the audience and swung between Mandarin and Taiyu in his address. An interesting novel element was the string focus on successful women from different sectors such as business and education who gave endorsements to Tsai, highlighting that Taiwanese women have proven their leadership qualities in various key positions. The endorsement section concluded at a high with the appearances of Vice-presidential candidate Su Jia-chyuan who forcefully addressed the audience in Taiyu. In Taichung this was preluded by the appearance of Nobel Laureate Lee Yuan-tse and a large group of intellectuals and university professors supporting Tsai. When Lee entered the stage the crowd went mad.

The third act of the rally was a slower musical number in anticipation of Tsai’s arrival. The musical acts were well-known Taiwanese singers which connected very well with the audience. In Taichung two classic Taiyu songs frequently employed by the DPP such as 伊是咱的寶貝 were performed and the audience went to sing them along for the entire time.

Then finally Tsai arrived, slowly forcing her way through the masses, greeting everyone and shaking hands. People went crazy. Yet in Kaohsiung, once she was near the stage many people began to leave. The exodus from the ground continued when she began to speak. Asking people why they left, most answered that they have seen enough and the event would be over soon anyway. Certainly many people wanted to avoid the usual traffic chaos after mass rallies, but the reaction from the crowd during Tsai’s speech was also significantly less enthusiastic compared to the appearances of Hsieh, Chen or Su. One important reason might be that she was speaking mostly in Mandarin and is less of a campaign performer. In Taichung it appeared that significantly less people left the site.

In her short speech Tsai Ing-wen focused on the importance of democracy for Taiwan and linked it to the Kaohsiung Incident. In Taichung she mentioned local issues such as transportation and  stressed the importance to come out to vote, as in the Greater Taichung mayoral election the DPP missed a victory just by a little bit. She also stressed the importance of democracy with regard to cross-strait relations. She answered the KMT claim with her as President cross-strait relations would suffer and less mainland tourists would come to Taiwan, by stating that without democracy Taiwan would be not unique and mainland tourists would not find Taiwan interesting. The reaction of the crowd in Kaohsiung to this line of argument was less enthusiastic than in Taichung. Tsai proceeded to criticise the government for its unfair economic policies and stated that happiness means first and foremost a stable job, a home to return to and a warm meal. Shortly after her speech the rallies concluded.

In comparison the participants in the south appeared to be a bit less enthusiastic about Tsai as a candidate but strongly committed to the DPP as a party. It is also important to note that it seemed to be a larger proportion of young and middle age people attending the rallies than in 2008. Both observations support the perception that Tsai might be able to attract support beyond the hard core basis of the party who would come out for the DPP no matter what.

Finally a short remark to last night’s KMT rally with the memories still fresh and less organised. Basically the rundown of the rally was similar to those of the just described by the DPP and also the 2008 rallies. Again a mixture of musical numbers and performances by dance groups catering to the youth, the introduction of Legislative candidates and endorsements by key KMT politicians. Among these were in Taipei Eric Chu, Hau Lung-pin and Lien Chan. It was telling that a sick Lien Chan with an almost disappearing voice did give a more forceful performance than Hau. Hau praised Ma for his contributions to Taipei during his mayor-ship but went into tiny details about waste water management and other issues and how much the city has saved thanks to the visionary policies of Ma. The audience had to be constantly cheered up by the two hosts at the rally. Yet over-all the atmosphere was very good. The speeches in the rally were mostly given in Mandarin, but Chu and Legislative Yuan candidates spoke in Taiyu as well, constantly reminding the audience to come out to vote. An interesting element was the comparatively strong presence of the ROC national flag. This was key ingredient of the 2012 KMT campaign and it was highlighted by a hip hop dance performance with the ROC flag as central feature.

The turn-out was very impressive with the entire Kentagalan Boulevard and its adjacent streets packed with people from different age groups. One of the highlights of the rally was a video link in which Ma, who was in Taichung at the time, spoke to supporters in Kaohsiung and Taipei. He re-uttered his classic statement that he is strongly committed to Taiwan’s future and like all Taiwanese drinks Taiwan’s water and eats its rice. He criticised Tsai and her policies as not well thought through and immature. In his speech, as well in his address to the crowd in Taipei later, he frequently switched between Taiyu and Mandarin and  delivered a forceful and convincing performance. In my opinion his performance was better than in some rallies in 2008.

Overall the traditional campaign elements employed in rallies by DPP and KMT were dominant and the parties achieved their goal to mobilise large amounts of people and energised them before voting day.

Malte Kaeding is Lecturer in International Politics at the University of Surrey

The Flying Reporters: Out of Taiwan into China

For those of us academics based in Taiwan, keeping a close watch on the elections was not too much of an effort, although I agree with the observations in some of the earlier posts having very little feeling that there was an election of significance taking place in January 2012. I also support the opinion that campaign materials only started decorating the street view at a fairly late stage, and that political achievements of the ROC alternated with the bitter-sweet having your cultural feel about Taiwan next. Regardless, we have been pretty well exposed to the stories, debacles, incidents and other election related performances over the past couple of months.

With the elections in close sight, the foreign press desks and correspondents started flying in. Early last week, the Beijing-based boys from Belgium – Flanders desk – landed at Taoyuan International Airport. The night before, I received their polite email for an interview on the update of the upcoming elections. All went well, very professional as usual, but I was totally not expecting an interview dominated by “China”: What was at stake in these elections? What was China’s opinion? How important is the role of China? To what extent does China influence these elections? Could there be a possible conflict be in the making should Tsai win? I felt like standing on a “vast wasteland” for a moment.

Through the interview I stepped into the place called television, and I became an accomplice to a world that keeps defining Taiwan in terms of China. It does not matter how strongly I may feel and argue with the reporter that the election coverage does not benefit from the China-emphasis-syndrome. But at that moment I am not supposed to challenge Television’s center of meaning as that nucleus around which ideas, values, and shared experiences are constructed. I am sure that the Taiwan election coverage reportage will be very informative. The viewing experiences of the audiences back home may or may not result in fabricating a synthetic identity and stereotype of Taiwan as another location where China is dictating the way to go.

In hindsight, as much as we are exposed to look at Afghanistan, Iran and Iraq through American lenses, the flying reporters do the same in looking at Taiwan through the China lens, turning it into a symbolic China spectacle. I’d better picked a mainland Chinese tourist tour bus as the interview spot! But I selected the Presidential Office Building on Ketagalan Boulevard. In the social context I found myself, not a bad position after all. With television’s popularity comes a union of public acceptance and the expression of power. In that sense, I choose the location well because the Presidential Office Building as a historical monument equally embodies symbolisms linked to important social values and a highly visible centrality. From now on, I will be adding another dimension to the symbolism of the place: expressive of the modern architecture built during the Japanese colonial days, its modernity today contextualizes notions of fiction, fragmentation, collage and eclecticism, steeped with a sense of ephemerality and chaos in our televised foreign landscape.

Ann Heylen is associate professor at the Department of Taiwan Culture, Languages and Literature and Director of the International Taiwan Studies Center at National Taiwan Normal University (NTNU)

5 Reasons I Overestimated Tsai Ing-wen’s Chances

1. The DPP had too much ground to make up.

The only DPP presidential administration to date, Chen Shui-bian 2000-2008, was characterised by severe governance problems (some of its own making, some because of KMT obstructionism in the legislature), permanent ideological mobilization, gridlock across the Strait, increasing international marginalization and, ultimately, corruption scandals that went right to the top. Fatigued and dis-ilussioned, voters in 2008 gave presidential candidate Ma Ying-jeou a landslide victory and the KMT a huge legislative majority. Subsequently jailed for corruption, Chen’s fall from grace left the DPP in disarray. For a time it looked as if the party would never get back to being a viable opposition, let alone challenge for power. From the ashes of these setbacks, Tsai Ing-wen slowly emerged as a figure that could re-unify a party riven by factions and who could become an electorally viable candidate. Although she failed in her bid to become Mayor of the new municipality of Xinbei, she was highly competitive. Indeed, the DPP candidates in the 2010 Municipal elections (the equivalent of mid-term elections) performed above expectations, suggesting the party had come through its challenges and was once again competitive electorally. In hindsight, the DPP’s performance (they won two of five positions) was more symptomatic of a mid-term dip for the Ma administration, which despite its landslide victory, had gotten off to a slow start. Furthermore, the DPP has always performed better in local and municipal contests than it has in national executive and legislative elections. From where it came from in the aftermath of 2008, it was unrealistic to think that Tsai, as good as she was, could do something that no DPP presidential challenger had ever done before and get 50% of the vote.

2. Its very difficult to defeat an incumbent.

In democracies the world over, it is difficult to defeat an incumbent leader, unless he or she has done an exceptionally poor job. But even then, electorates are not wont to change willy nilly. Think how unpopular George W. Bush and Chen Shui-bian were during their first terms, and yet they were still re-elected. Indeed, no sitting ROC President has ever failed to secure a second term. Lee Teng-hui was non-elected incumbent President in 1996 and was elected (in a landslide) to another four year term in the first direct election for president. In 2004, despite all the problems caused by divided government and the poor performance of his government, Chen was able to convince voters to give him another term. Ma Ying-jeou has not been a universally popular president during his first term. The speed of his détente policies have worried many Taiwanese. The relative failure of his promised economic programs has put focus on the ungeneralized distribution of the benefits of ECFA, his major policy achievement. Yet, many of the economic problems that Taiwan suffered in the last four years are common to economies around the world; for all its political isolation, Taiwan’s economy is heavily integrated into the global economy. It is unrealistic to expect it to completely avoid the fallout from a global economic crisis. Furthermore, Ma has overseen, and directly driven, a policy that has warmed cross-Strait relations to a historical high. Given that the majority of Taiwanese acknowledge China as Taiwan’s major economic and strategic opportunity/threat, we shouldn’t under-estimate Ma’s record on this issue. Of course, incumbency is not only about policy performance, and I have written here previously about the incumbency advantages that Ma enjoyed, some common to all incumbents, some specific to the incomplete dismantling of political structures from the one party era. The endurance of these features should not be ignored. At the same time, it is not at all unusual for political parties to cultivate and enjoy the support of big business, influence media or channel resources to influential supporters.

3. Campaigns don’t make that much difference

Decades of research (although primarily on the US), shows that campaigns are not usually critical determinants of electoral outcomes. There are naturally exceptions, e.g. Korea’s “internet election” in 2002, but in general, the majority of voters make up their minds before the campaign even begins. This is probably especially true of polities where the campaign period is relatively short, although this observation is dampened by the emergence of “the permanent campaign”. Tsai Ing-wen ran a brilliant campaign. She was disciplined in staying on message, developed a persona of real presidential bearing, and took maximum advantage of Ma’s missteps. She performed well in the debates and didn’t make any major mistakes. Ma’s campaign on the other hand was a series of disasters. It handed the DPP a fundraising windfall (the piggybanks), was clumsy in its attacks on Tsai’s Hakka roots, and was involved in a highly unseemly Watergate-type scandal. Despite a focus on the economy and stable relations with China, Ma’s campaign quickly and frequently strayed off message, getting involved in unnecessary and unsavoury marginalia. Ultimately, many observers, including myself, bought into the momentum of the Tsai campaign, and forgot that short-term factors like what goes on during the campaign, do not normally decide the outcome of an election. I should acknowledge that some contributors to this blog were not so easily fooled. In particular, Gunter Schubert’s analysis was spot-on.

4. Cross-Strait relations were more salient than and indivisible from other issues.

This election was about many things, including a range of economic issues (income disparity, unemployment, young people’s prospects, cost of housing, etc.) and Ma’s performance on the job (in terms of policy and personal effectiveness). But ultimately, these and many other issues, could not be separated from the issue of relations with China. Although the national identity aspect of cross-Strait relations was not anywhere near as salient as in past elections, the speed and unchecked nature of Ma’s cross-Strait détente appeared to have spooked the median voter (who unequivocally wants the status quo to endure). Ma badly misread public opinion with his Peace Accord idea, which coincided with a drop in poll support and was hastily removed from sight. The benefits that Ma promised would follow ECFA have not been generalized—big business and professionals have benefited, small businesses, farmers and blue collar workers have not. But in the latter part of the campaign, differences between the two candidates crystalized around the ‘two consenses’. Ma supports the “1992 Consensus” (one China with different interpretations) which has proven itself to be a workable platform from which to engage China. Tsai proffered the idea of a “Taiwan consensus” (there must be bipartisan agreement before further moves toward economic and other relations with China). The former is a proven basis for engaging China; the latter appeared to me to be an abstraction that was doomed to failure in its means (since when have the two blocs been able to agree on anything?) and end (acceptance of 1992 is China’s bottom line for cooperation). Ultimately, Ma was able to boil the election down to a choice between 1992/stability vs. Taiwan consensus/instability. This is a variation on a theme that the KMT, the CCP (and implicitly, the US) have been telling Taiwanese voters since 1996. And as in 1996 (Lee vs. Peng), voters choose the devil they know over the potentially risky alternative. We should also acknowledge that Taiwanese have long wanted to enjoy a role in international society commensurate with Taiwan’s status as a global economy and liberal democracy. And although it has been necessary to accept the Chinese Taipei designation to achieve it, Ma has increased Taiwan’s participation in international society. Many readers will complain that this has necessitated unacceptable sacrifices in terms of ROC sovereignty, and that what I call compromise is equivalent to selling out. But given China’s intractable bottom line (and the increasing influence that it is able to mobilize), compromises of this nature are the only choice that Taiwan has. The alternative is the melancholy marginalization of the Chen era.

5. Years of unreliable polling.

As I discussed previously, Taiwanese media polls have a poor record, with apparently “systematic idiosyncrasies” leading to consistent over-representation of support for the KMT. The last couple of elections also saw the emergence of a seemingly better alternative, the XFuture/National Chengchih University election market. Throughout the campaign there was a substantial discrepancy between the “blue-friendly” media polls and the “more neutral” election market. Based on prior bad experience with the media polls, it seemed only natural to give greater credence to what the election market was showing instead. In the event, the “unreliable” media polls were spot-on. The 4-8 point gap they consistently gave Ma from months before the election, prefigured Ma’s actual 6 point victory. This is a black eye for the election market and temporary, “vindication” of the media polls.

Mail me at, follow me on Twitter @jonlsullivan, or access my papers at

The Fall of Great Orators and Rise of the Prompter

As promised in an earlier post, I kept notes from the field on the language practices of the campaigning candidates, and there is much to say!

First, as an observer of how the candidates frame the issues for voters, it is equally interesting to stress the importance of silence. Indeed, the most important and widely commented on language act of this campaign was when Tsai Ing-wen remained quiet during the national anthem on January 1st. What also rings loudest to me is another kind of silence; the newly adopted low profile President this year, who merely walked the streets shaking hands with the electorate. This was in stark opposition to the once challenging and often flaming Ma Ying-jeou, a candidate who used to juggle languages for hours.

Second, as soon as they delivered their speeches, we were able to infer the same observations as we did in the field since 2005 over four electoral campaigns:  during Taipei and Kaohsiung mayoral elections in 2006, 2008 presidential bid and Five Special Municipalities in 2010. Once again, I propose the existence of a linguistic habitus compelling the candidates to perform in Taiwanese languages during electoral rallies independently of factors such as language proficiency, ethnic background, political leanings, geographic location etc.

This recollection underscores one of the main elements of this campaign; that is, the breaking of this electoral linguistic field. Indeed, when Taiwanese languages were supposed to be required for electoral performances, I was struck by the prevalence of Mandarin. This language shift is not only a result of the lack of proficiency or ease in these languages, but rather the fact that Ma and especially Tsai read texts rather than “performed” speeches. The former had sheets on his lectern, while the latter also introduced a new tool in the Taiwanese electoral space: the tele-prompter. My point here is that the act of reading is socially conditioned by schooling experiences, which in the R.O.C.—or at least when the candidates were in school— is exclusively in National Mandarin Language.

These facts are contrasted by all other observations. On the one hand, the old lion James Soong although he has lost his proficiency in Taiwanese languages, definitely belongs to the former generation that was able to perform 40 minute long speeches haranguing the crowd without notes. On the other hand, the eldest lion of all, the former President and for many the father of democracy in Taiwan,  Lee Teng-hui, now 89 years old, is able to read in Taiwanese in spite of the fact that it is not his mother-tongue nor the language he had to learn at school. However, he was able to render the Banciao Stadium into raptures.

Beyond these two political heavyweights, I want to stress the relevance of the existence of the electoral linguistic field with a newcomer on the stage, Lee Yuan-cheh. Indeed, it is interesting to note that in spite of his Nobel Prize and his previous position as President of the Academia Sinica— the highest authority in Academia and in which only the Mandarin language is legitimate— , he performed his very first speech on stage at an electoral rally mainly in Taiwanese. Of course, this is his mother tongue, but also the language he thought appropriate in this context. In addition, the parallel legislative campaign stresses this “contradiction” between academic curriculum and language practices during campaign activities. Indeed, the candidates loudly proclaim their legitimacy by underlining their academic background– mainly their Ph Ds and often faculty positions –but lead their campaign mostly in Taiwanese languages.

Last but not least, my final observation is that reading, as well as the use of Mandarin, was almost exclusively reserved for the presidential candidates. Even their partners for the vice-presidency performed in Taiwanese. Lectern notes and texts that were probably written by speech writing aides were the exclusive purview of Ma and Tsai, while the tele-prompter was solely for Tsai.

Preliminary interpretations point towards a constantly rising control of the communication of the candidates running for presidency by spin doctors and campaign advisers at campaign headquarters. They may be highly-educated and specialized professionals, trained mainly in western universities where multilingualism is not as much an issue as it would be if these advisers included in their framework the sociolinguistic reality of the Taiwanese society and the linguistic background of the electorate. Instead, they are conditioned by a co-lingualism of Mandarin Chinese and English, which is already present in academia, the media and the top ranking institutions of the ROC to which they all belong to.

If the Taiwanese democracy is still characterized by its vibrant multilinguism, it seems that this language pluralism is endangered by the specialized and newly cosmopolitan professionals within the campaign staff. The question then becomes, is the accomplishment of the more and more ineluctable monolinguism process of the Taiwanese electorate a step towards the “ROC-ization” of society,  and/or a first imagined “re”unification with “Chin…ese”?

Yoann GOUDIN is a Ph. D Candidate in Didactics at INALCO (Institut National des Langues et Civilisations Orientales) in Paris. He is currently a visiting scholar at the Institute of Linguistics at Academia Sinica, and recipient of the TFP (Taiwan Fellowship Program) awarded by the Center for Chinese Studies, ROC.

Taiwan Elections: Good for Democracy and Stability


Taiwan has just had a set of good elections. President Ma Ying-jeou and his Kuomintang (KMT) have won a second term with a convincing majority. But the elections had been tightly fought and the result of the presidential contest uncertain right until the end. A genuinely competitive election confirms that the democratic process is healthy and strong.

The presidential candidate who lost, Ms Tsai Ing-wen of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), proved herself a totally credible standard bearer for the DPP and gave Ma a real run for his money. This was no mean achievement as the DPP suffered a resounding defeat in both the presidential and legislative elections last time round, in 2008. It appeared so crippled then that many speculated that it would be a very long time, at least a decade, before the DPP could make a return. Under Tsai’s leadership, the DPP made itself a credible choice for the electorate this time. By making such a strong show she has done democracy in Taiwan a great service.

In line with the DPP’s long standing convention, Tsai resigned from the Chair of the Party. But let’s hope that she will return to mainstream politics in the not too distant future. Taiwan’s democratic politics will be poorer without her.

The strong showing of the DPP, which also significantly reduced the KMT’s huge majority in the legislature, is good for Taiwan, as no democracy can be strong if the party in opposition is ineffective and ineffectual.

What we now have in Taiwan is a clear mandate for another four years for Ma and the KMT – with a reminder that they should not take the electorate for granted. Exactly how it should be in a healthy democracy.

Why did Ma win so convincingly (with a 6% majority) even though polls before the elections suggested the race would be too close to call? It was probably due in a large measure to tactical voting. A key source of uncertainty for the presidential election was the impact of a third candidate, James Soong, on the floating voters. He commanded over 12% support at one stage, which fell back to about 6% in the week before polling day. In the end he garnered only 2.8% of the vote. Since Soong is a charismatic politician who broke away from the KMT, most of those who indicated support for him in the earlier stage of the electoral campaign were disgruntled KMT supporters. Once it became clear that Ma could really lose to Tsai, these voters would have to decide if they should act on their dissatisfaction of Ma and let Tsai win or vote tactically. The calculated risk Ma and the KMT took paid off in the end. Most of them must have voted for Ma.

The tightness of the presidential race also galvanized a large number of Taiwanese business people who work and live in China to return to vote. The number who did so is estimated at 200,000. This group did not previously make such an effort to return to vote in anything like such a large number. Most of them have investments in China or their careers are dependent on Taiwan maintaining good relations with China. It means a significantly larger percentage of them would vote for Ma as their business interests required them to vote for a candidate committed to keep relations with China on an even keel. With the prospect that Ma might lose becoming menacingly real, an exceptionally high number of them returned to vote for Ma. This did not figure in the pre-election polls.

The mandate Ma and the KMT has received is not one to move closer to unification with China. It is one to maintain a good and mutually beneficial working relationship with China and to steer Taiwan through the economic turbulence expected for 2012. Beijing will be well advised to see it for what it is, and not put too much pressure on Ma in the next four years to strike political deals over relations between Taiwan and China. Ma does not have a mandate to open political talks, just to keep cross-Strait relations on an even keel.

As for Taiwan, Saturday was a good day for its democratic consolidation.

Steve Tsang is Professor of Contemporary Chinese Studies, Director of the China Policy Institute and Director of its Taiwan Studies Programme at the University of Nottingham.

Reflections on election night

Last night, Friday 13th January, the candidates rallied their respective supporters – President Ma Ying-jeou of the Kuomintang (KMT) in front of his office in Taipei, Tsai Ing-wen of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) in Banciao at New Taipei City Hall, and James Soong of the People First Party (PFP) in Taichung.

For the rally with candidate Tsai, former President Lee Teng-hui (b. 15th January 1923) joined her on stage giving an endorsement worthy of a legendary politician. He was the heir of the KMT Chiang Ching-kuo presidency in 1988 and the first president elected by the Taiwan public in 1996. Lee’s appearance with Tsai and her running mate, Su Chia-chuan, was heart warming. He said, “I am standing here for Taiwan, the land I love so much.”

Leading up to the election in the past week – the candidates did the best they could to reach out to their potential voters. Tens of thousands of Taiwan citizens arrived from China to cast their ballot (it was reported 385 additional flights were scheduled from China). Young people becoming newly eligible for this election were able to participate. For the candidates, these ‘arriving’ voters were making the difference.

It was last weekend, Saturday 7th January, a unique event happened. Former president Chen Shui-bian was permitted to give his last respects to his mother-in-law, Wu Wang-hsia, who passed away a week earlier, 31st December. Six hundred police and officers escorted Chen to the Tainan funeral home. As the minivan arrived at 8:50 am, Chen immediately emerged and threw himself down on the red carpet and crawled to show his humble respect. Then given a microphone, and televised, in soliloquy he said, “When we met last, I told my mother-in-law that I did not shame my country. During my administration, three great achievements took place 1. the ‘Snow Mountain Tunnel’, connecting Taipei to Ilan, 2. Taipei 101 [world’s highest building at the time], and 3. the high speed rail service – all contributing to making Taiwan a modern efficient country.” Chen referred to himself as unfilial for not attending to her before she passed away. He gave his appreciation to his mother-in-law for supporting his marriage to her daughter, Wu Shu-jen, who provided him with a sense of “Taiwanese consciousness.” Continuing, he said, “His wife requested him to accept only half his presidential salary. She was not greedy for money as people said.” The former president seemed healthy, and his political will unabated.

For most Taiwanese the conviction and imprisonment in 2009 of the former president and his wife seemed harsh. Some opposition leaders called his treatment by the KMT, “a new white terror” referring to the way people were treated under martial law from 1949 to 1987. Yet, Chen entrapped himself by enacting stringent laws to be used again his perception of a corrupt KMT party that abused its power against the people. And in turn the KMT used the new laws to ensnare Chen.

During 2011 the KMT government utilized national funds to celebrate a hundred years since the founding of the Republic of China (ROC) by Dr Sun Yat-sen. On government buildings slogans read “100 Republic of China (Taiwan).” President Ma instituted academic seminars, trade and security conferences, and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to discuss the accomplishments of the ROC as the continuum of the 1911 revolution and its hope of liberty for the Chinese nation. Much pride echoed at these events.

An in-office president has the dual advantage of holding the reins of government, and its national legacy of pride. The opposition has the out-of-office disadvantage of finding fault with its own governmental institutions. As the KMT and ROC are so closely tied together, it is difficult to separate the two entities. And, the people of Taiwan have been educated to feel proud of their country associated with greater China. President Chen tried his best to replace the Chinese legacy with a Taiwan-centric policy, with some success, and then was ultimately blocked by the KMT ruled legislature.

For Tsai, her party attempted to localize nationalism for the Taiwanese. Yet, how can you ignore China, and the overlapping claim the ruling KMT has with China?

This evening Saturday 14th January, the election outcome showed Ma at 51.6%, Tsai at 45.6%, and Soong 2.8%. A jubilant Ma arrived on stage to declare he would continue to keep Taiwan safe. He further said that during the election he listened to the opposition parties, DPP and PFP, about their grievances and learned from them, such as the widening disparity between the rich and the poor, and the other issues raised concerning the public. For these questions, he would be vigilant and gather the leaders of the opposition parties to attend a meeting every six months “to find out what is best to do for the country.” Ma said, “I will use my life to guard the identity of Taiwan.”

Tsai addressed her people who were weeping in the Taipei rain to say she took responsibility for the election outcome, and she would resign from her DPP chairmanship. Yet, she said the party has come a long way since its ineffectiveness and near collapse four years ago. Tsai stated, “Our opposition has a powerful role to play in keeping the ruling party attending to our people’s needs.”

David Blundell is Professor of Taiwan and Asia-Pacific Studies at National Chengchi University

Five Things to Look for on Election Day

No, I’m not seeking a prize for originality here.

1. Presidential votes. Because the winner is decided by popular vote, we need to pay attention to how many votes each candidate receives in each district. Although the electoral geography is quite distinct in the north and south, no candidate can afford to disregard a district of any size. I will provide data on Saturday comparing district level returns for the last four presidential elections. As soon as the returns come in, we should get a pretty good indication of how competitive its going to be. In 2008 Ma won with 58.45% of the vote. A repeat is improbable. Depending on what happens to the Soong vote (see below), expect this election to be much closer, probably not approaching the 2004 race, which was decided by 0.2%, but close. The crucial battleground will be in central Taiwan.

2. Legislative seats. In 2008, the KMT won 71 seats (86 with their allies) to the DPP’s 27. The KMT has many advantages at this level, marshaling its vast financial resources and patronage networks. But the DPP will perform much better this time. It won’t get a majority, but it could approach parity, increasing the importance of the PFP’s performance. Soong’s motivation for standing for president appears to have been to increase momentum for his PFP legislative candidates and if they win a handful of seats, he could put himself in position to demand a Cabinet post in return for support in the legislature. The DPP was late to emphasize the legislature as a mechanism for checking KMT power; but after its experience of divided government during the Chen Shui-bian era, the number of seats in the legislature has increased in importance for the party. Depending on the final distribution of seats, a second term for Ma is likely to be much more constrained with regard to China policy. A Tsai presidency facing a KMT parliamentary majority of any notable size will likely be hamstrung from the start. The close distribution of legislative seats that many are predicting, could force the two blocs to deal with each other to a greater extent than in the past.

3. What happens to Soong’s support? In the opinion polls prior to the blackout, Soong was polling between 5 and 10%. I would be surprised if this ‘protest vote’ registered similar numbers in the actual poll. How much of Soong’s support will vote for him? I’d guess 3-4%. If he gets much more than that, Ma could be in jeopardy. Of those who previously registered support for Soong but “change their minds” at the last minute, I expect that the majority will vote for Ma; but a proportion will abstain, which benefits Tsai. The more votes Soong gets, all the better to leverage whatever he can from the number of seats PFP legislative candidates win. Personally, I’m surprised that Soong has come this far. I imagined that he would have done a deal with the KMT already. However, there is also personal animosity between Soong and Ma from way back. And, despite being cast as a “deep blue”, Soong is highly “pragmatic” and would have no qualms working with the DPP.

4. Idiosyncrasies. There is a range of things that could effect the election. There is likely to be rumblings about vote buying and fraud. Gambling rackets will no doubt be uncovered. There will be finger pointing and threats of lawsuits. Legislative candidates can face financial ruin, and incumbents with immunity go to jail,  if they lose, so its gloves off. There will be excuses for poor performance. The weather or proximity to Chinese New Year and exams will be blamed. Some voters won’t get to the polls because of traffic and this will become a conspiracy theory. Parties will blame the concurrent holding of the two elections and old arguments will be invoked. There will doubtless be some confusion in vote counting (voters have to make three choices-local and at-large legislators and the president), and demand for recounts. Hopefully there won’t be anything like the shooting of candidates (Chen Shui-bian, Shaun Lien) or fighting at the polling station.

5. How will the losers react? During the three presidential campaigns I witnessed in Taiwan, I was frequently informed that if the DPP lost, their supporters would respond with violence. In the event, the violent losers were the KMT-protesting against their own party in 2000, and against Chen following defeat in the 2004 election. Tsai Ing-wen has already outperformed expectations. That she is competitive against an incumbent with all of Ma’s advantages, and in light of the disarray the DPP was in after 2008, is nothing short of miraculous. I don’t say that DPP supporters will not be devastated if she doesn’t win the presidency, but from the greens that I have talked to, they know they are over-performing underdogs, and over-performing underdogs seldom react badly to defeat. The KMT on the other hand has history of reacting badly to defeat. As close as the race is, if Ma loses it will be a surprise; to KMT supporters it will be a desperate shock. I am pretty sure, no certain, that if Tsai wins, the KMT will demand a recount or launch a legal challenge or something. Sad to say that I wouldn’t be shocked to see a repeat of the disgraceful reaction to defeat in 2004.

Mail me at, follow me on Twitter @jonlsullivan, or access my papers at If you are in Taiwan or an armchair analyst, please email or Tweet me your observations or thoughts when I live blog election day. Will be live from 6am GMT (2pm Taiwan time) on Jan 14th until the final results are known.


Taiwan Elections 101

For the benefit of readers with little or no experience of Taiwanese elections, this is a very brief summary of how the election will proceed on Saturday.

For the first time the presidential and legislative elections will be held concurrently. This was essentially a cost-cutting measure, although I discuss other possibilities and potential implications here. For the president, voters cast a single vote for a candidate nominated by a party. The winner is decided simply by the number of votes (the ‘popular vote’), and there is no equivalent of the electoral colleges or calculation of the number of electoral districts won. A simple plurality decides the winner outright-i.e. whoever gets the most votes wins. There is no requirement to gain more than 50% of the votes and there is no run-off. In 2000, Chen Shui-bian won the presidency with just 39% in a three horse race. The president serves a 4 year term and can serve for a maximum of two terms. On the ballot the DPP challenger Tsai Ing-wen is number 1, incumbent president Ma Ying-jeou of the KMT number 2 and the PFP’s “spoiler” James Soong number 3 (numbers assigned by drawing lots).

The Republic of China (Taiwan is the common shorthand) has a unicameral legislature (i.e. a single House) with 113 seats. These seats are distributed as follows: 73 are constituency based legislators (i.e. a local representative), while 34 are at-large representatives chosen from party lists. 6 seats are reserved for Aborigines. Voters cast one vote for a local representative in single seat districts and one for the party.

Voting takes place in the district of household registration, which for many people means having to travel back to home towns from places of residence and work. The polls open at 8am and close at 4pm. In my experience, the first results start coming in about an hour after the polls shut, although because this election combines a vote for the presidency and legislature, I imagine the count will take longer than usual. I also expect that there will be more recounts required than usual, and more scope for parties and candidates to point fingers. The elections are overseen by the Central Election Commission, who have produced this basic English language video.

Mail me at, follow me on Twitter @jonlsullivan, or access my papers at

Taiwan’s Politicized Society

The China Quarterly recently asked me to review Mikael Mattlin’s book Politicized Society: The long shadow of Taiwan’s one-party legacy (2011, Copenhagen: NIAS). I’m glad they did, because it is terrific. I have excerpted the more relevant bits of the review below. If you’re reading this blog, chances are you’ll want to get hold of this book. It is highly recommended (and available as a relatively inexpensive paperback).

As I write this review, Taiwan is in the throes of a typically vibrant campaign, the first combined election for the presidency and parliament. Candidates have put forward their platforms, and attacked and defended their opponents’ and their own policies in election ads, at rallies and in televised debates. The opposition candidate, Tsai Ing-wen has mobilized dissatisfaction with incumbent President Ma Ying-jeou’s performance and put forward an alternative vision for Taiwan’s economic development and relationship with China. That she and her DPP party have become viable challengers to the current regime is a sure sign of the competitiveness and health of Taiwan’s democracy. Given this scenario, it may seem an incongruous moment to note that all is not well with democracy in Taiwan.

In this carefully reasoned and strongly argued book (which avoids regressing into polemics despite the major thrust and substantive implications of its theories), Mikael Mattlin provides the most cogent argument yet that many aspects of Taiwan’s democratic consolidation remain incomplete. Despite voting for the fifth time for their president, and the genuine prospect of a third change of party-in-power, this book explicitly articulates what many Taiwan scholars have long intimated. Namely, Taiwan possesses the veneer of democracy, but many formal and informal political structures (including those that fall under the rubric of political culture) are essentially unchanged since the one party era.

Breaking with the conventional wisdom that invokes national identity cleavages as an explanation for political polarization, Mattlin argues that incremental liberalization led by an authoritarian party state allowed it to maintain its power, by carefully choosing what would change (and what would not) and modifying its behaviour accordingly. In the absence of a complete break from the ancien regime, the KMT was able to shape the form that post-democratic political and social structures would take, and ensured that it would continue to benefit from them. At the same time, because it allowed ostensibly free and fair elections and other trappings of democracy, it was able to satisfy the majority of citizens’ desire for “democracy,” while stealthily ensuring its grip on power.

This is not a polemical text, but it doesn’t shirk from laying blame at the KMT’s door for refusing to embrace the deep seated democratic reforms that Taiwan needed to make a full transition from the one party era. This refusal is most seriously manifest in its continuing cultivation of patronage networks at all levels of society. And more obviously in the party’s essential refusal to cede power following presidential elections in 2000 and 2004. Never fully accepting that it was no longer the “in-party”, the KMT obstructed Chen Shui-bian at every turn, responding to his appointment of a KMT Premier by trying to impeach him. Pan-blue obstructionism in the Legislative Yuan brought it to a virtual standstill. And then, despite losing again in 2004, a result that the party tried its best to annul, Lien Chan visited the PRC in 2005 as if he was an elected head of state.

Clearly there is no quick fix to the serious problems that Mattlin carefully documents, and the book will not convince you that a Ma or Tsai victory in 2012 will facilitate the requisite reforms. Indeed, there is evidence in these pages that elections only serve to exacerbate politicization and ensure the continuation of a long held winner-takes-all mentality. Because Taiwan’s political culture has not developed beyond a zero sum conception of democratic competition, parties are essentially engaged in permanent mobilization efforts, hindering both governance and further democratic reform. Because underlying structural conditions that have not changed since the one party era, the procedural aspects of democracy are a thin veneer under which non-democratic behaviours persist.

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Lee Teng-hui’s Last Hurrah

Lee Teng-hui is reviled in China as a traitor to the Chinese nation. His “crime” was to recognize that the myth of “one China” was increasingly anachronistic and to move political discourse in Taiwan towards the “two states” position that has characterized Taipei’s stance since the early-mid1990s.

In Taiwan, Lee is also reviled by some in the KMT, the party he led and represented as president. Many cannot forget or forgive what they see as his role in splitting the party ahead of the presidential election in 2000, which allowed Chen Shui-bian to win. Some say Lee’s personal enmity against James Soong led him to endorse a candidate who couldn’t win (Lien Chan), prompting the more promising Soong to stand as an independent. For a party that seems to find it hard to accept that is no longer the only party in town, the memories of this defeat are bitter; particularly as Lee subsequently shifted to the left, setting up a party that would ally itself with the DPP.

For many others though, Lee Teng-hui is revered as Taiwan’s ‘father of democracy’, the man who oversaw, and personally pushed through many moves towards liberalization and democratization. Although his post-2000 contribution to Taiwanese nationalism splits citizens along partisan lines, the gravitas he commands as Taiwan’s most influential living politician is unmatched by anyone else in Taiwan. And the sense of Lee’s grand status (he is nearly 90) has increased as his health has deteriorated.

Lee is currently recovering from cancer surgery, so it was a mild surprise, and strategic masterstroke, that he turned up at the DPP’s final campaign rally this evening. And boy, did he deliver.

Tsai Ing-wen is not the typical DPP firebrand who can rev up a crowd with affective appeals to Taiwanese identity. She is cool and smart, qualities that have served her extremely well as she has developed into a candidate of real presidential bearing as the campaign has progressed. After the constant ideological mobilization of the Chen Shui-bian era, Tsai’s rational approach has been spot on. But at this moment in time, the DPP campaign needed a shot of emotion, a reminder of everything that has gone on in Taiwan’s political history. Lee Teng-hui did exactly that, with a stirring speech that had the crowd enthralled. Standing next to him on stage, Tsai Ing-wen was visibly moved and holding back the tears. For DPP supporters this was the equivalent of an address from Muhammed Ali. The text is available here.

Here is Lee in his pomp, starring in campaign ads from 1996. Lee was non-elected incumbent president standing in the first direct election for the presidency. Enjoying a large lead from the outset, Lee’s campaign set out to show him as a statesman, cool under pressure and determined. These were highly salient characteristics as China attempted to effect the outcome of the election by firing missiles just off the coast of Taiwan. In these ads, the avuncular Lee, holds forth on courting his wife, quitting smoking and the meaning of freedom.

Mail me at, follow me on Twitter @jonlsullivan, or access my papers at I will live blogging from 6am GMT (2pm Taiwan) until the last results are in (yeah, could be a long day). I want to hear from people in Taiwan or armchair analysts anywhere else. Please send your impressions, thoughts, observations etc. to me via email or Twitter on Saturday.

Identifying Consensus in the Blue-Green Continuum

Taiwanese people will vote in a few hours for their president and legislature. Much has been written on these elections, and no doubt that, considering what is at stake, much literature will follow. One word that is coming back constantly in the debate is precisely the opposite of what we expect in democracy: consensus.

Even a distant look at the elections, however, will reveal quite quickly that there are two different consensuses debated in Taiwan these days. One, the so-called “1992 consensus”, the other, the “Taiwan Consensus”. Neither of them is a new idea at all, however they’ve found a new actuality in this campaign.

Two major camps are still opposed in Taiwan today, the blues and the greens. If this division might perhaps, in the future, represent less accurately the opinions than now, it seems that this division is still operative. Before discussing each other’s version of the consensus, and propose a third one, let’s briefly remind the reader what those colored camps represent.

The blues are a nebula of forces revolving around the Kuomintang, while the greens are the sum of forces around the Democratic Progressive party. Neither group is homogeneous, but in this 2012 election the green camp appears more united than the blue one, which is divided among two candidates, Ma Ying-jeou and James Soong. The question that I want to address in this post is where is the boundary between the greens and the blues? The question is, in fact, more complex than it may appear.

A general perception is that the division line is between pro-unification and pro-independence. That is a very inaccurate perception. Most of the blues are in fact against independence, which is not equivalent to being pro-unification; and how surprising it might be for the non-specialist, most of the blues who vote for Ma are definitely not in favour of unification. It appears that only the top, Mainlander elite strata of the KMT still favors an option that runs directly against a massive support in Taiwan for the preservation of the status quo – 88.2% in September 2011 if we add up support for all variations of the status quo. In Taiwan, unification has no electoral market at all – only 1.4 % of the electorate favors unification immediately.

On the other side, the greens most often dream of independence – or, we should say, as the ROC is considered in Taiwan as a sovereign and independent regime that is not controlled by PRC – of the formal change of the nation’s name from Republic of China to Republic of Taiwan, which is the technicality behind the so-called, and misleading expression of, “Taiwan independence”. And clearly, we can say that probably the vast majority of greens oppose unification in any form.

In sum, I’d say that, instead of a unification-independence divide, the line of demarcation is rather anti-independence against anti-unification forces. Which, all in all, leads the majority to support the status quo.

What is sure too is that the immense majority of Taiwanese are against unification with the mainland. When the 2008 election of Ma Ying-jeou of the KMT – whose platform favors unification – was interpreted by many outside Taiwan as a vote for a rapprochement with China, it was largely a mistake. In 2008 the middle classes voted for better economic ties with China, and not for a pro-unification platform, which was clearly toned down by Ma during the 2008 campaign, as well as in the last year of his mandate, in 2011. He did so for fear of antagonizing an electorate that, according to official statistics, increasingly considered that the pace of negotiations across the straits was going too fast.

However, characterizing the opposition between the blues and the greens along those lines is not sufficient either. There is another variable, the so-called “consciousness”. Certainly, the line is not an ethnic one here: if roughly 80% of Taiwan’s Mainlanders are considered voting for the blues and other Mainlander candidates (including among young generations), the ethnic Taiwanese vote either for the KMT or the DPP. In other words, Mainlanders have a tendency, due to a complex psychology of fear (as refugees of the civil war) to vote along ethnic lines, but the ethnic Taiwanese do not. This fact enables the KMT to survive electorally in Taiwan – and pretty well if we think that the KMT (in concert with blue allies) has never lost its majority in Parliament. Otherwise, with just 12% of Taiwan’s population being Mainlanders, the KMT would long ago have become a minority party.

“Consciousness”, whether “Chinese” or “Taiwanese”, however, subsumes these ethnic differences, encompassing them. Yet, together with other factors, among which relations of interest, whether personal or economic, political or administrative, play a central role in Taiwanese politics. People whose Chinese consciousness prevails (they may be Mainlanders or ethnically Taiwanese or Aborigines) do identify with Taiwan and most of them consider Taiwan as their “home”, within the wider Chinese “nation”. The identification with the later is mostly cultural and not political – except in extreme cases – and they tend to oppose unification in large numbers. People whose Taiwanese consciousness prevails do not always reject a sense of proximity with the cultural China, but radically oppose the idea of unification, or sharing blood ties that necessarily lead to unification in the future, either as a historical necessity or a return to a normal situation. This latter group includes not only ethnic Taiwanese, but also a growing number of Mainlanders. In sum, we do find Mainlanders whose Taiwanese consciousness is growing, and many Taiwanese whose Chinese consciousness prevails.

Upon these factors we also have to add relations of interests, and the notion more generally understood by the term “guanxi”. Many Taiwanese who invest in China and wish to see Tsai Ying-wen of the DPP elected tomorrow keep close ties with China and with the KMT. In Taiwan’s politics, as well as in cross-Strait politics, the only certainty is that nothing is definitely defined and opposed. Everything is, rather, on a continuum.

Continuum, consensus… As I noted above, two consensuses are constantly invoked. On the surface, they are clearly incompatible. The blue camp is insisting that Taiwan and China reached a consensus on “One China, Two interpretations” in 1992, clearly meaning that each side considers to be the only one China, either the PRC on the Mainland or the ROC on Taiwan. The opposition in Taiwan replies that this consensus, if it ever existed, was reached secretly between two parties, the CCP and the KMT, and not between the two states. As such, they argue that it is a secret, partisan agreement, and thus unacceptable. In response, the DPP launched the idea of a “Taiwan consensus”, insisting that the future of Taiwan must be defined democratically and ratified by the nation’s representative bodies.

To a great extent, these two ideas are not exactly new: the “1992 Consensus” has been the object of heated debates since the early 2000s – its inventor even acknowledged inventing the notion, while the then President denied it ever existed. On its side, the “Taiwan consensus” is a new expression that designates the necessity for Taiwan to present a unified response to Chinese pressure and to decide its future by itself – but it is an idea already defended by the Lee Teng-hui and Chen Shui-bian administrations, and by all supporters of the Taiwanese national movement.

These two consensuses are certainly different and since democracy requires the construction of electoral competitors as enemies, each camp dramatizes the differences and exaggerates the traits of the other camp. This tends to obliviate, for analysts, the fact that moderate parties are situated on a central consensus, just across the boundary line from one another. Sure, the blues and the greens are in opposition on one important thing: they look in opposite directions in terms of the ultimate future of Taiwan – independence or unification. However, in practical terms, they in fact agree on several important issues: developing the economy, benefitting from closer economic ties with China, and protecting the nation’s sovereignty.

Analysts must learn not to forget differences, but not to exaggerate them either. In fact, the moderate blues and moderate greens are closely situated on the continuum. By understanding this, we not only see differently the real differences between Ma and Tsai, but also the remarkable continuities between the administrations of Lee Teng-hui, Chen Shui-bian and Ma Ying-jeou. All three tried, in their own way, to protect Taiwan’s and the ROC’s sovereignty, while actually developing greater ties with China. Between the three successive administrations, and between the two current candidates, there is an obvious consensus, which is the real consensus we should focus on.

Substantial differences exist, however, between the greens and the blues: on how negotiations with China are led and interpreted through the filter of their respective political cultures. Both camps are making a bet. The blues in power bet that the sovereignty of the ROC, at least for the years to come, will survive negotiations and rapprochement with China. The greens bet that, if they come back to power, they’ll be able to benefit from China’s economic rise (and thus, not be sidelined) without having to cede too much to China in the process.

The truth is that no one knows which of these two bets is the less unrealistic, or if either of them is realistic at all. And here lies the true, deep difference between the two camps: the blues do know that there are risks to seeing the regime’s sovereignty eroded. But, at least among the supporters of the greater China ideology who lead the KMT today, this embarrassing risk is, in a way, acceptable in the sense that, after all, the benefactor is the Chinese nation. After all, they think, “China is changing”, and “we want to be united again”. In face of this, the greens are upset to see what they consider a lack of commitment to protecting the ROC’s sovereignty. The Greens are now fully conscious that relations with China must be developed. The DPP has transformed itself into a staunch defender of the ROC, the regime that they have considered for so long as having colonized Taiwan after 1945. And a DPP committed to developing ties with China insists on reaching agreements that are validated by a consensus at home, and ratified in parliament.

As we can see, the KMT and the DPP, or the blues’ and the green’s positions are different, but are nevertheless situated on a continuum. Democracy can only be peacefully governed at the center; and Taiwan is one more good example of this.

Stephane Corcuff is Associate Professor of Chinese politics at Sciences-Po Lyon and a researcher at the Institute of East Asia (Lyon) and CEFC-Taipei. His latest book in Chinese was published in Nov. 2011 (中華鄰國-臺灣閾境性, Neighbour of China. The liminality of Taiwan) and is recommended reading.

Notes from Kaohsiung and Tainan

Earlier this week, we travelled with an international election observation group to Kaohsiung and Tainan to observe local electoral activities. After briefly visiting the newly built Kaohsiung Arena, the group proceeded directly to the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) Kaohsiung Ma Ying-jeou Campaign Headquarters. The deputy director of the headquarters provided the group with a short briefing and then answered questions put forth by observers. First, in response to a query regarding fears of vote buying, he asserted that these rumors in Kaohsiung were all false and concocted by both the media and the opposition. He also believed that the political campaign environment was fair to all parties.

Second, he was asked whether the KMT was concerned that college students would find themselves unwilling or unable to return home to vote because of the proximity of the elections to their final examinations. The deputy directly expressed his full confidence that Taiwanese youth loved their country and would put their electoral responsibilities first.

Third, an observer noted that because the presidential election date was moved from late March to mid-January, there would be an approximately four month gap between the election date and the presidential inauguration. Therefore, he wondered whether this might present a problem. The deputy explained that the gap existed because the legislature needs to be inaugurated by February 10th, and so the presidential election must be held before that time. He expressed his complete faith in the democratic process, and promised that even if his party lost the elections, the transfer of power would be peaceful.

Fourth, when asked how much money the KMT had spent on its campaign activities, the deputy director claimed that he did not know because he was not in charge of financial affairs.

A number of the observers picked up on the way in which he characterized not only the identity of the Taiwanese people, but also the country’s relationship with China. At one point, he stated that both sides were all Chinese and that China and Taiwan were indivisible.

Following this visit, the delegation traveled to the election campaign headquarters for Democratic Progressive Party legislative candidate Chao Tian-ling. An aide greeted the group and answered a number of initial questions before the candidate himself appeared.

First, when asked how much money the campaign office had spent on the election, the aide responded that they estimated that the entire campaign would cost approximately US $500,000.

Second, the aide drew a sharp comparison between their opponent, Chiu Yi, a KMT legislator infamous for his negative campaigning and mudslinging, and their own candidate. While Chiu Yi engaged in partisan bickering and smear attacks, their candidate was focused on city development, children, art and culture, policies, interacting with constituents.

Third, the aide mentioned that there are thirteen local support groups on call twenty-four hours a day to help prevent vote buying and block the spread of anonymous letters attacking the candidate.

The candidate was introduced by his old professor Dr. Wu, now the president of a local university in Kaohsiung. He related the story of how Chao told him that he was determined to run his campaign according to his Christian faith and steadfastly refuse to engage in dirty tricks or negative campaigning. He said that if he was to win the election, he wanted to do so fairly.

Chao Tian-ling expressed strong confidence that he would not only win the election, but win by a comfortable margin. He also noted that he had successfully blocked two attempts by supporters of his opponent to smear him via anonymous letters within the past week alone.

Former Deputy Minister of Education Fan Hsun-lu also greeted the observation group before their departure and welcomed them on behalf of Mayor Chen Chu.

In Tainan, the election observation tour began by visiting the Democratic Progressive Party Tsai Ing-wen local campaign headquarters. DPP stalwart Huang Kun-hu joined the event. The director of the election headquarters, Tsai Wang-chuan, was the host.

The Democratic Progressive Party expressed its concern that the administration was using government resources to support its presidential and legislative candidates. It also felt that the election environment remained unfair to the DPP, because of the KMT’s financial advantage as well as their proclivity toward vote buying. Although they asserted that the vote buying problem was alleviated under the DPP administration, they said that vote buying had reappeared during the past 3 or so years.

A campaign worker remarked to one of us afterwards that he was extremely worried about vote buying in rural Tainan. DPP heavyweight Mark Chen, a former Minister of Foreign Affairs and National Security Council head, had been asked to run in Tainan and is heavily favored to win. However, the worker said that the KMT has already swept rural areas twice in an attempt to buy votes. Each time, Mark Chen immediately dropped approximately five percentage points in the polls. If Mark Chen loses what is viewed as an extremely “safe” legislative contest, it may well raise strong suspicious of vote buying in southern Taiwan.

The election group also visited James Soong’s campaign election headquarters in Tainan. The small office was located in the bottom floor of a building owned by a supporter. Due to a lack of funds, they have relied heavily on volunteer support. Volunteers have designed and printed the campaign literature to keep costs down. A highlight of the visit was a fake movie poster that placed James Soong’s head on the body of the star of Seediq Bale. The effect was to portray Soong as a protector of the Taiwanese people as well as demonstrate his resolute nature. They revealed that they have spent only NT $200,000 (under USD $7,000) on their campaign efforts in Tainan.

There were small packets of rice sitting on a front table of the campaign headquarters. Donated by a local farmer, they carried the label 平安米, or Peace Rice. The small packets symbolized Soong’s ability to bring peace and prosperity to Taiwan.

The Soong camp argued that as a small political party, the KMT and the DPP possess an unfair electoral advantage. Despite the fact that they would admit that they are a “deep blue” party, they characterize themselves as presenting a third way for voters. They highlighted James Soong’s vast administrative experience, including his positions as personal secretary to former President Chiang Ching-kuo, Secretary-General of the KMT, and the Republic of China Provincial Governor, during which time he strongly established himself as an effective leader. They also rejected allegations of any financial misconduct during his tenure. In fact, they argued that such KMT accusations and smear tactics cost Soong the 2000 election. They added that as was the case during that time, the KMT is once again using fake or manipulated polling data to create the impression that Soong possesses low levels of support in Taiwan.

Finally, the group witnessed a quintessentially Taiwanese campaigning activity, namely 掃街 or street sweeping. Candidates, their aides, and their volunteers travel by either foot or by jeep (particularly in rural areas) to engage in grassroots campaigning and interact directly with the people. Supporters brings signs, pamphlets, flags, and occasionally even simple musical instruments. Despite the fact that he is already 76 years old, DPP legislative candidate Mark Chen insisted on walking the 7km parade route to demonstrate his excellent health. He was joined by DPP Tainan City Councilor Wang Ding-yu, who is running for re-election. The supporters walking with the candidates were both extremely friendly and boisterous. Their signs highlighted issues such as the candidates’ dedication to protecting Taiwanese sovereignty, unsurprising in staunchly nationalistic Tainan.

Strangely (although surely not a coincidence), the KMT legislative candidate followed closely behind Mark Chen, choosing to 掃街 along the exact same route at the same time. His slogan was “I’ll be standing right beside you.”

Julia M. Famularo is a Research Affiliate at the Project 2049 Institute and a fourth-year doctoral student in Modern East Asian Political History at Georgetown University. She was assisted in writing this report by Michael Chen, a political science student at Stanford. 

Campaign ads in Taiwan 2012

As voting day draws near, the candidates are making their most desperate push to mobilize voters. Inundated by campaign ads as we are in Taiwan, it’s important to examine the almost outlandish creativity and energy being dedicated by both the Kuomintang [KMT] and the Democratic Progressive Party [DPP] to persuade voters.

Let us begin by taking a chronological look at Ma Ying-jeou’s campaign. The fact that Ma was born in Hong Kong makes him an immediate target of criticism. At the outset of the campaign, his opponents even challenged him on whether he was an authentic Taiwanese. His daughters, his opponents charged, all hold American citizenship and work and live in the United States. Being the father of American citizens is an issue for his opponents, as he’s running to president of Taiwan – not the United States.

Ma’s response to such charges has been a series of KMT campaign ads that stress his Taiwanese background. Entitled “I am a Taiwanese” (我是台灣人) and “Ethnic tolerance for people is part of the Taiwan character” (多元包容台灣情), the ads emphasize that he is the son of mainland parents. “He is a new immigrant to Taiwan”, and “He is running to be president of the Republic of China [not the People’s Republic of China]”.

As for the party of Tsai Ing-wen, the DPP has sought to sharpen and build upon its well-known image of being linked to the “local spirit”. Her ads repeatedly hammer home this traditionally DPP appeal, stressing that for people who are “real Taiwanese”, the only party is the DPP.

One of Tsai’s early ads states explicitly that she is Taiwan’s future. The ad demonstrates how, even while attending the London School of Economics, she has maintained a strong and deep Taiwan identity. That ad was followed by another call boosting the party’s identification with Taiwan: “Our country is great because of you” and emphasizing to voters that, “Our country lies under your feet. It needs you to love it and change it.”

Apart from emphasizing the DPP’s traditional “Taiwan-focus”, the party began unleashing attacks right at the outset of the campaign. Given the DPP’s strong support among farmers, the party has raised the issue that “0.6 kilos of persimmons is only worth 2 NT dollars” (一斤柿子只要兩元) to attack the Ma camp for failing to give farmers a good return on their labors during his four-year term.

Ma’s camp responded dexterously, creating ads to refute Tsai’s accusations.

Ma’s ads center on the inaccuracy of the statistics used by Tsai to tarnish him. The ads called: “Where can we go to find 0.6 kilos of persimmons for 2 NT dollars?” and “One can hurt others without a weapon [referring to Tsai and the DPP]” effectively challenged the DPP accusations. And the KMT’s response to these attacks has been very personal, using clips of Tsai to demonstrate that it is she that is responsible for these false accusations, and calling the DPP a “retrograde” party(退步黨).

With ballot casting fast approaching, the Ma campaign has redoubled its efforts. In a series that might be called “Re-introducing Ma Ying-jeou”(重新認識馬英九), we are shown Ma being endorsed by average people surrounding him and discussing his frugality. However, pan-blue people we spoke to appear to consider his frugality to be a problem. Because in Taiwan, frugality is not considered the virtue it once was and may in fact be off-putting to the masses of society today.

The DPP also lays into the Kuomintang for being a wealthy party, to counter the image of frugality the KMT is seeking to implant in the minds of voters.

Meanwhile, the Ma campaign hasn’t been shy about playing the “lady card”, using Taiwan’s first lady to appeal to voters. The DPP – not necessarily in a direct response – broadcasts to voters that there is already a “lady” in the campaign – and she should be the next president.

Time will tell whether these ads really succeed in mobilizing voters, but no one can doubt the Herculean efforts being put into making them.

In this ad, the DPP emphasizes that every vote counts

Julie Yu-Wen Chen is an Assistant Research Fellow at the Institute of Political Science at Academia Sinica in Taiwan. Joey Ying Lee is a graduate student at the Department of Transportation and Communication Management Science at National Cheng Kung University in Taiwan.

Implications of the EU Debt Crisis for Taiwan-China relations

Taiwan’s presidential election is around the corner. Europe on the other hand, is suffering a terrible debt crisis. In my opinion, the European debt crisis has important implications for the increasing warmth of the cross-strait relations following Ma Ying-jeou’s election to power in 2008.

The biggest difference between the two main presidential candidates in Taiwan is an entirely different policy on cross-Strait relations. President Ma Ying-jeou of the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) acclaims the “1992 consensus”, which refers to only “one China” with different interpretations. Having created a sort of gray area based on the doctrines of the “new three Noes” — no unification, no independence and no use of force — Ma strives diligently to a pledge maintaining the “status quo” in the Taiwan Strait. With the denial of the“1992 consensus”, Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) Chairperson Tsai Ing-wen, instead, advocates a “Taiwan consensus” to build a society based on a democratic procedure and to prioritize the opinions of the Taiwanese people.

Pan-blue supporters worry that Tsai Ing-wen will give up the “1992 consensus” if she is elected. They worry that this decision will be followed by an instant downturn in cross-Strait trade and deterioration in the rapprochement that has been operating quite smoothly on the base of “1992 consensus” and regress to a zero-sum scenario. Cross-Strait trade has elevated the historical apex since Ma’s took over the presidential office. The Chinese market has occupied 40% of the Taiwanese export market according to the ministry of Economics of Taiwan government. With high dependence on China’s market, Taiwan seems to have entered the road of no return, similar to the economic integration of EU states. Whenever one member runs into a financial problem, all members suffer. As the situation appears to be coming to a head, there are two issues which we should keep an eye on:

Who will be on a knife’s edge-Taiwan or China?

Weaker European countries submit their sovereignty to the stronger ones, as Italy did due to its domestic financial turmoil, by accepting the bailout package from EU. Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconio was forced to resign by the pressure of European debit crisis and was replaced by Mario Monti, a former member of the European Commission. Greece’s Prime Minister George Panandreou resigned due to the same turmoil. It leaves no doubt which nation-states cede their sovereignty to supranational organizations. On the same page, once Taiwan has become weaker impacted by the tide of economic recession, it could degenerate into a situation where Taiwan’s sovereignty will be easily trampled upon by China.

Lack of identity

In addition to the threat of losses on sovereignty, Taiwan will likely face the risk of losing its autonomy, as happened in the process of European integration. However, Taiwan and China have different political regimes and social systems. If Ma wins the election, the Chinese might want to raise the pressure to promote the level of cross-strait discussions and agreements into the political sphere. Without a mutual collective identity, Taiwan’s government may be cautiously aware of not jeopardizing its economic developments.

The European debt crisis has brought problems that many analysts say will require a fundamental change in the way the European Union operates. While Ma touted the Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement (ECFA) with China, there has been less attention paid to trade with the US and EU markets. Don’t put all your eggs in one basket, as the old proverb goes.

In the final stage of the election, voters need to focus not solely on the vain debates of “1992 consensus” or “Taiwan consensus”, but to consider who can build a solid foundation for a better economy and democratic regime. That is the first priority.

Lan-shu Tseng is a doctoral student in the School of Politics and International Relations, University of Nottingham

The Heat is Rising- Notes from Taipei

With only few days to go, the election campaign is becoming very visible in the streets of Taipei. When wrote on this blog before Christmas that there was no election feeling on the ground in Taipei, things have by now changed quite drastically. Well, it was high time, for sure.

On my way to work this morning, 15 election campaign sound trucks passed me (I counted!), inflicting varying degrees of noise pollution upon me. The number of campaign flags introducing candidates for both the presidential and the legislative elections has exploded. Meeting new Taiwanese friends, their first question these days is invariably, “Do you know that there are elections going on in Taiwan?” – how could I not know with this media coverage? And the parties are bringing out their most fancy campaign props: my favourite item has so far been a glittery, blue blinking LED-lighted flag sporting the faces of Ma and his running mate.

Also, the foreign academic world is getting ready for the elections. Numerous conferences, workshops and presentations are going on in Taiwan to discuss what has been – or has not been – achieved during the past 3.9 years under Ma Ying-jeou, and what the potential impact of either election outcome will be. Also, a steady stream of academics from Europe, the United States, Australia and many other places is flocking into Taiwan with the aim of gathering a first-hand experience of these elections, which could leave a tremendous mark on Taiwan’s future.

What is these academics’ assessment of the presidential elections? Despite polls still suggesting last week that Ma’s victory could be within the margin of statistical error, there appears to be a consensus that Ma Ying-jeou has the better chance of bringing home the election victory. Even rather green-leaning academics have started bracing themselves for a defeat for Tsai Ing-wen.

The reasons for this assessment do not lie in the fact that Ma Ying-jeou has managed to shine as the better candidate during the campaigns. Rather, to the Taiwanese voter, so the observation, he is the known evil and his policies will come as no surprise. Tsai Ing-wen’s weak points are not only the threat her election would pose to stability across the Taiwan Strait – foreigners seem anyway to be more worried about such a development than the Taiwanese. A bigger issue for the Taiwanese is that Tsai is perceived as lacking charisma, although admittedly also Ma does not score highly in this ranking. And finally, the question worrying the Taiwanese is whether Tsai really has the backing of her party, which, of course, could decisively limit her room for action if elected president.

James Soong is the clear loser of all polls, which often leads to the question what he actually expected from running in this race. Again, foreign observers have reached a consensus there. The main motivation for Soong was to improve his People First Party’s turnout for the simultaneous legislative elections by campaigning on this national platform. However, stealing a few votes from Ma Ying-jeou is seen as an intended side effect. This being said, polls show that Soong not only manages to draw votes from the KMT, but also potential protest votes from the DPP. This indicates that Soong has become the choice for those Taiwanese disappointed by Ma Ying-jeou, but who still prefer not to give their vote to Tsai Ing-wen, as Shelley Rigger observed today during her recent talk at the National Taiwan University.

While academics are looking into their crystal balls to foretell the potential outcome of this election, one thing is for sure – watching this election can beat a Hollywood blockbuster in terms of suspense. I will have my popcorn ready in front of the TV on 14 January.

Sigrid Winkler received her PhD from the Free University of Brussels, and is currently conducting postdoctoral research in Taiwan

The PRC’s preferential policy towards Taishang and the possibility of unification

The Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) long-term aims have remained constant in its desire for eventual absorption of Taiwan. It has replaced its previous more aggressive stance with a concentration on reducing Taiwan’s de facto independence by making Taiwanese increasingly dependent on the Chinese economy. The Chinese government’s preferential policies are outlined in the law of 1988 “The Regulations for Encouraging Investment by Taiwan Compatriots”, the law of 1994 “the Law on the Protection of Investment by Taiwan Compatriots”.

However, whether the Chinese local officials’ preferential policies towards Taishang (overseas Taiwanese business people) matches the Chinese central government’s political motivation should be analysed by referring to the views of four different groups involved: the first one is from the Taiwanese government’s stance and reaction to the Chinese preferential policies for Taishang; the second one is from the attitude of Taishang; the third is from the perspective of Taiwanese people in general living in Taiwan; and the fourth relates to Chinese local government’s motivation in implementing preferential policies.

Cross-strait economic integration is predominantly achieved through inter-governmental agreement, negotiation and treaty as well as through sustained links between state and non-state actors (mainly taishang) within or across national borders. However, the bottom-up process of Taiwanese residents’ voice will to some degree affect the government’s policies.  According to the changes of the cross-Strait relationship during different periods in the past 25 years or so, as well as the political attitude of the President toward China and cross-Strait macro-economic policy, the Taiwanese government in general has responded positively to the Chinese central government’s preferential policies toward Taishang. Under domestic pressure from the opposition party and Taishang and the worry of being over-dependent on the Chinese economy out of concerns over security, the Taiwanese government has however not fundamentally changed its position on unification with its Chinese counterpart. From which one can conclude that the Taiwanese government has not been seduced by Chinese government’s preferential policies in favour of Taishang to surrender its identity or made any radical concession to China.

As for the Taishang, all of my interviewees from Taiwanese companies (conducted as part of my PhD fieldwork) were careful not to let their domestic political views or support for any of the Taiwanese parties affect the way they conduct their business in China. Such action, they explained, is simply to avoid unnecessary problems from the central government or conservative local officials. It has not affected Taishang’s Taiwanese political affiliation or sympathy. Some of the interviewees mentioned that, in some cities, Taishang with strong political views of ‘Taiwanese independence’ will be blacklisted. New Taiwanese investors have learned from their predecessors’ experiences to ‘do in Rome as the Romans do’ and try not to take sides.

This should be set against the situation as seen by the general Taiwanese population. At the same time as not necessarily sharing the political views of the Taishang and remembering that Taiwanese people in general have minimal interaction with Chinese central or local governments, one notes that data from surveys conducted by the Election Study Centre of Taiwan’s National Cheng-Chi University regarding Taiwanese people’s political attitude on independence versus unification and Taiwanese identity, shows a gradual shift in the population’s attitude. Data for 1994-2010 and 1992-2010 indicate that the percentage of the population favouring unification has decreased and that of those wanting to keep the status quo or more assertion of independence has increased. In other words, the movement of popular opinion is not necessarily progressively in one direction only. Surveys show a remarkable shift in Taiwanese self-perception over the past 18 years. The number of those identifying themselves as Taiwanese has risen from 17% to 52.6%, whereas those who see themselves purely as Chinese has dropped from 26% to 3.7%.

The number of people with a feeling of being both Taiwanese and Chinese has not dramatically changed, from 46% to 40%. It can be argued that many factors contribute to this trend, one of the main factors being a result of Chinese government’s propaganda and ‘Taiwan policy’ (DuiTai Zhengce). The Beijing government not unreasonably suspects Taiwan’s leaders of possibly pursuing a deliberate policy to “de-sinify” the island, counter to the Chinese government’s “friendly” policies (such as preferential treatment).  Nevertheless, some officials in Beijing still hope that economic interaction with Taiwan will make people in the island feel more Chinese again.

One can conclude that cross-Strait economic integration between Taiwan and China does not work completely in the Chinese mainland government’s favour and does not fully reflect its political motive for offering preferential treatment to Taiwanese investors. One way of reaching China’s political goal has been through making the Taiwanese economy become heavily reliant on the Chinese market, which may help or expedite  future political integration of the two countries. But another fundamental issue will not easily be reconciled – Taiwanese abandoning a wish for a distinct identity in terms of nationality and political sovereignty which most of Taiwanese presently feel, and being sympathetic to unification and finally giving up their resistance to the idea of one nation.

Jen-Ping Myron Chiu is a Doctoral Candidate at the University of Wales, Swansea.

The limits of observing elections in Taiwan

Joint presidential and legislative elections are coming in just few days which means that besides culminating election campaign different groups of observers started to pour in Taiwan. It would be difficult to estimate how many of them will be in Taiwan because there is no central coordination and therefore some observers were invited by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA), some by local NGOs and some come on their own.

A Conservative estimate would be several hundred. MOFA claims that in 2008 altogether 290 observers from 38 countries came during presidential elections, although it is not clear to what extent it takes various groups that were not invited by MOFA. Yet, election observation missions in Taiwan are far from those conducted by organizations such as OSCE and due to serious limitations they have very restricted if zero ability to actually asses regularity of elections.

The first burden is a legal one. The Taiwanese legal system does not recognize election observations and thus all observers have no rights to access polling stations in order to be able to monitor the election process. Moreover, foreigners as such are forbidden to come closer to election ballot than 30 meters. However, on the ground it depends much on the police officer whether observers are given access to premises. Considering that polling stations are often in schools, the 30m limit can be in reality much bigger. If lucky, observers can get to windows and observe the voting procedure from outside. That surely is not exactly what could be considered as serious election monitoring.

The second burden concerns capacities to observe election process both domestic and international. On the basic level, observers lack of sufficient training and orientation in peculiarities of Taiwan’s election rules. That significantly decreases already limited ability to observe irregularities or serious violations of the election process. From a domestic perspective, there is no institution or NGO that would provide observation training, organizations such as Citizen Congress Watch (CCW) or Taiwan Front for Human Rights in Election (TFHRE) deal with pre- and post-election period (raising level of policy debate, conducting performance assessment of legislators etc.). As far as international observers are concerned, Taiwanese organizations prefer to invite well-known experts and current or former politicians in order to attract the attention of local and international media. Yet, academic expertise does not automatically imply good observation skills. At the end of the day, it depends on the observers’ individual experiences with election monitoring whether particular mission has sufficient expertise in election monitoring or not.

This is indeed a set of serious limitations. But for MOFA it was apparently not enough when it decided first that this time it will not provide funding for some international observers (as it was the case between 2000 and 2008) only to announce in early January that observers would be invited. Better late than never, that was most likely the Ministry’s thought, nevertheless, a last minute invitation was rather embarrassing in this case. Another issue is to what extent can be group organized by MOFA regarded as truly impartial. However, the same applies to groups that are invited by local NGOs since many of them have their own political bias.

Last but not least, most of the missions operate in Taipei City or other urban areas. Thus, the impact of observation missions is also limited in geographic terms. Besides observation on the election day, missions conduct field trips to other areas of Taiwan where they visit local governments and party HQs. Useful as it is for getting familiar with the environment, it can be considered at best an associated activity with questionalbe meaning considering that information from field trip are not supplemented by monitoring on the election day. There are missions that are exceptions from the general rule. One of them is mission of Bangkok-based Asian Network for Free Elections (ANFREL) that has election observation as one of the core activities. ANFREL has skilled personnel and therefore it represent type of mission that is particularly needed. However, due to lack of funding this year’s mission will consist of only 4-5 observers with planned deployment in Chiayi. The report from 2008 mission is available here and serves as a positive example of election observation, considering legal constraints in Taiwan.

Democracy in Taiwan is by all means very positive example of democratic transition which is always difficult process with uncertain end. Yet, it is also still young democracy and professionally conducted election observations with a favorable legal framework can cause no harm, but can help to strengthen Taiwan’s democracy. A particularly painful issue in Taiwanese conditions is vote buying. During this legislative term, 15 by-elections had to be called (more than 10% of seats) and in 4 cases the reason was vote buying. None case was recorded in Taipei where most of the observers stay.

There is certainly a lot of space for improvement but nothing can change substantially until the Legislative Yuan passes a law that will define election observation, including rights and responsibilities of observers. It is role for the civic sector, including organizations like CCW, TFHRE or newly established International Committee for Fair Elections in Taiwan to lobby the Government and Legislative Yuan to remove unfavourable conditions. Until then, most of the missions will be rather engaged in “election tourism” than election monitoring.

Michal Thim is currently enrolled in the International Master‘s Program in Asia-Pacific Studies (IMAS) at National Chengchi University in Taipei and research fellow at the Prague-based foreign policy think tank, Association for International Affairs.

Can any president satisfy Taiwan’s demanding voters?

One of the fundamental questions worth asking about this election is:  Why isn’t Ma Ying-jeou winning by a comfortable margin?  He may yet emerge the victor on Saturday, but most of the credible polls reported in the days and weeks prior to the black-out period suggested a race too close to call.  Yet just four years ago, Ma defeated Frank Hsieh by 17 percentage points.  Today, he runs with all the advantages of KMT incumbency and yet his lieutenants seem anxious and concerned.  Ma’s policy record as president has not diverged substantially from what he promised in 2007-2008.  His record by objective standards seems solid and defensible.  Why, then, has he evidently lost so much support?

A conventional answer to this question would stress Ma’s perceived mismanagement of the response to Typhoon Morakot, vindictive investigations of DPP figures during Ma’s presidency, egregious campaign errors such as suggesting the possibility of political negotiations with China, and the like.  Surely all of this is important, but there may be a deeper reason for Ma’s failure to maintain political traction:  Taiwan may be becoming a polity similar to Japan in that voters are unusually well-educated by comparative standards, highly-informed, wealthy, and well-traveled, but for all of these reasons also increasingly critical of their political leaders and cynical about democratic politics.  This would be more problematic for Taiwan than for Japan because of Taiwan’s unusually challenging national security situation.  If Taiwan people are becoming disenchanted with democratic politics and unwilling or unable to give steady support to political leaders of either major party, then the task of generating a consensus on how to deal with China will be substantially more difficult.  Ma would be the second president in a row either rejected outright by the Taiwan public or endorsed with reluctance and half-heartedness.

If this is the deeper reason for Taiwan’s political ennui, a key causal factor could be globalization.  Simply put, under globalization political leaders of any country quickly lose the ability to shape the living circumstances of the people who voted them into office.  Decisions affecting the welfare of citizens are made in faraway places and combine with other decisions made in other places to produce highly complex patterns difficult even to comprehend, let alone to control.  A small and extremely open country like Taiwan would be far more affected by these phenomena than most.  Add in the factor of China determined to dictate the parameters of Taiwan’s political future and it would hardly be surprising if ROC voters were to come increasingly to perceive their presidents as incapable of leading effectively.

And yet particularly among DPP supporters in this election there still seems to be substantial enthusiasm, rooted in an apparent conviction that changing the leader can make a genuine difference.  This spirit was on display Tuesday in Taichung at a rally of Tsai Ing-wen and DPP legislative candidates.  On a sunny, warm day, streets in the center of the city were thronged with cheering supporters.  Smaller groups continued the raucous festivities well into the night.  It was not quite like the gargantuan and cacophonous rallies of 2004, but did suggest that political disenchantment may still not be institutionalized in this country and that a change in leadership could rekindle political passion.  But if Tsai is elected, would she, too, be doomed to serving only one term, unable to satisfy Taiwan’s demanding voters?  If Ma wins, can he govern effectively given what will have been a very near miss?  These questions seem critical for understanding what kind of polity Taiwan is becoming and whether it can respond effectively to the existential challenge posed by rising China.

Daniel C. Lynch is Associate Professor of International Relations at the University of Southern California and is a member of USC’s US-China Institute Executive Committee. 

Consensus under Stated Differences: Commonalities in Ma and Tsai’s Cross-Strait Policies

In less than a week, the citizens of Taiwan will vote for the next president and parliament of Taiwan. Incumbent President Ma Ying-jeou of the Nationalist Party (KMT) faces a growing challenge from his opponent Ms. Tsai Ing-wen of the opposition Democratic Progressive Party (DPP).  Like other national elections before it, Taiwan’s relationship with China is the dominant issue in this race.  Most of the media and scholars  have focused on the differences between Ma’s and Tsai’s policy proposals towards China and little attention has been placed on what they share in common and what that implies for the future of cross-strait relations.

The debate centers on the so-called “1992 Consensus” or the “one China with respective interpretations” on which President Ma’s cross-Strait engagement policy is based. The Consensus is a tacit understanding reached by Beijing and Taipei in 1992 when former President Lee Teng-hui was in the office.  It allows both sides to accept that the concept of “one China” should serve as the basis for cross-Strait interactions, even though there are major differences as to what “one China” means in practice.  Following Ma’s endorsement of the three-no policy of “no unification, no independence, and no use of military force,” relations with the mainland have improved substantially. During the past three years, the Ma administration has deepened economic ties with China and has signed more than a dozen agreements with Beijing, including a landmark trade deal: the Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement (ECFA).  To the DPP’s way of thinking, the “1992 Consensus” merely sugar coats Beijing’s version of the “one China principle” to mask its intention to annex Taiwan.  Increased cross-Strait economic ties will worsen Taiwan’s dependence on China, undermine the island country’s independence, and lead to a political settlement on China’s terms.  Characterizing the “1992 Consensus” as a nebulous pact between Beijing and the KMT, Ms. Tsai has rejected it as the basis for cross-Strait interactions.  Instead, she has proposed a “Taiwan Consensus” as the basis for future cross-Strait interactions, with content to be decided via public discussions in the future.

Despite this apparent major difference, Ma and Tsai do share considerable common ground on this issue.  First, both candidates’ policy proposals aim to preserve and protect Taiwan’s sovereign and independent status in the international community.  Although Tsai and her followers portray KMT policies as eroding Taiwan’s sovereignty, Ma’s endorsement of the “1992 Consensus” is based on the premise that the Republic of China, the official name of Taiwan, is an independent and sovereign state.  Because the “1992 Consensus” allows both sides to provide their own interpretation of what “one China” is, Taipei leaders expect that Beijing will recognize Taiwan’s legitimate existence, or at least, would not deny its legitimate existence in the international community.  Second, both candidates show no intention of pursuing a plan for cross-Strait unification, especially under Beijing’s “one country, two systems” proposal.  Tsai is affiliated with the DPP which is the only major political party on the island that has a plank of pursuing Taiwan’s de jure independence.  She naturally rejects any prospect for Taiwan’s unification with China.  Ma’s endorsement of the “1992 Consensus” aims to shelve the issue of Taiwan’s sovereignty and his three-no policy of “no unification, no independence, and no use of military force” clearly states that his administration will not pursue cross-Strait unification but rather wants to stabilize the cross-Strait status quo.  Third, while Ma’s three-no policy aims to stabilize the status quo, for her part Tsai has dialed down the DPP’s stridency on pursuing Taiwan’s de jure independence.  Instead, she has argued that Ma’s proposal to negotiate a peace agreement with Beijing will change the status quo in China’s favor.  Both candidates thus see maintaining the status quo as the optimal choice for Taiwan.  Fourth, both candidates wish to break out of Beijing-imposed diplomatic isolation and expand Taiwan’s “international space.”  Voicing the island citizens’ frustration over Beijing-imposed diplomatic isolation, President Ma has called on Chinese leaders to stop isolating Taipei in the world community.  “Only when Taiwan is no longer being isolated in the international arena,” Ma stated in his 2008 inaugural speech, “can cross-Strait relations move forward with confidence.”

These commonalities between Ma’s and Tsai’s cross-Strait policies reflect the views of the majority of Taiwanese citizens.  A recent poll shows that 75% of the island citizens now view Taiwan as an independent and separate state from China.  Given this strong national identity, it is not surprising that Beijing’s “one country, two systems” unification plan has not been well received in Taiwan.  Polls conducted on the island have repeatedly showed that very few islanders consider Beijing’s plan acceptable even though more than half of Taiwanese citizens have a favorable view on the active cross-Strait exchanges.  However, the emergence of a Taiwanese national identity and the rejection of Beijing’s unification plan do not imply a strong commitment by the island residents to Taiwan’s de jure independence.  About 90% of the Taiwanese prefer maintaining the status quo now even though they differ in their views on the island’s long-term status.  They do not want to make an outright bid for de jure independence since they know that it would bring a violent response from China and would destroy both the economic prosperity and democratic way of life they now enjoy.  Therefore, both candidates’ policy proposals reflect strong voter preferences regarding Taiwan’s future relations with China: security, equality, autonomy, and sovereignty.

What does this mean for future cross-Strait relations after the 2012 presidential election?  It is no secret that Chinese leaders prefer Ma over Tsai as Taiwan’s next president.  During the past three years, Beijing has attempted to boost Ma’s popularity through various means such as “profit concessions” during the ECFA negotiations, hoping that a favorable political settlement could be reached between Beijing and Taipei during Ma’s second term.  Most observers believe that should Tsai win, cross-strait rapprochement is likely to stall and exchanges will be suspended.   If Ma wins his re-election bid, then Chinese leaders are likely to press for cross-Strait political talks, possibly even negotiating a peace agreement.  After all, Ma’s policies are considered the most responsive to Beijing’s position.  Given clear voter preferences and Ma’s expressed views, it will be unlikely for Ma in his second term to accept Chinese leaders’ terms.   If Beijing insists that Taiwan’s autonomy must be reduced to the status of Hong Kong or Macao, it would have serious adverse effects on the much improved cross-Strait relations.  The island citizens would interpret Beijing’s unyielding stand on its version of the “one China” principle as proof of its malice towards Taiwan.  The likely consequence is that the Taiwanese people would see no other alternatives but to pursue the island’s de jure independence whatever the cost.  Thus, Chinese leaders need to show their sensitivity to the island citizens’ political preferences and be creative in their negotiation with Taipei.

T.Y. Wang is Professor of Political Science, Illinois State University, Normal, Illinois, USA.  He is the Co-Editor of Journal of Asian and African Studies.  He can be reached at <>.

A plot against first-time voters?

As many as 1.8 million Taiwanese voters in the 20-24 age group, 10 percent of the about 18 million eligible voters, are expected to cast their ballot for the first time in Saturday’s elections, a number that could be a deciding factor in what has been a neck-and-neck presidential race.

As a young democracy that held its first presidential election in 1996 after nearly half a century of authoritarian rule, the impressive voter turnout in major elections — which this year will once again be above 80 percent — is commendable, and highlights the commitment of Taiwanese to a system that became theirs after years of democratic struggle by their forefathers.

Sadly, it now appears that not all voters are equal.

Last year the Taiwanese government announced that, for the first time in the nation’s history, the presidential and legislative elections would be merged. As a consequence, the presidential election, which historically had been held on March 20, was moved up by more than two months, to January 14.

Although the authorities claimed the measure was adopted to cut expenses on expensive electoral campaigns — and no doubt holding the elections concurrently will achieve this aim — it also leaves some voters at a disadvantage. And this includes young voters.

The principal reason why the move has been called unfair to young voters is the fact that the election will coincide with the final week of exams for many students. As a large number of students of voting age go to school away from home, many will not have time to return home to vote.

Conversely, the timing of the election benefits wealthier and more mobile Taiwanese who will be returning to Taiwan for the Lunar New Year holidays, which this year fall one week after the elections.

While the divide can only be delineated imperfectly, it is generally agreed that for generational reasons (young Taiwanese tend to identify more with Taiwan than older generations, many of whom have a stronger sense of attachment to China), first-time and young voters tend to favor the opposition Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) over the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT), while the opposite applies to the more than 1 million Taiwanese who currently work in China, mostly in or around Shanghai, most of whom support the KMT over the belief that the party can better ensure their economic well-being by accelerating trade with China.

Whether the drawbacks and upshots of choosing January 14 for the combined elections were mere accidental offshoots resulting from cost-saving requirements or something more nefarious is a question that has yet to be answered. However, the International Committee for Fair Elections in Taiwan has speculated that the move may have been a calculated effort to give President Ma Ying-jeou’s KMT an advantage in the race, in which whether a few hundred thousand first-time voters can exercise their right to take part in the election can be all it takes to determine who will run the country for the next four years.

J. Michael Cole is deputy news chief and a reporter at the Taipei Times newspaper and a correspondent on China for Jane’s Defence Weekly.

[Note that the number of 1st time voters has been corrected from an earlier version of this post. Jon]

The View From Hualien

From my vantage point on the east coast of Taiwan, and frequently commuting to Taipei where I teach social sciences at a national university, I am finding the upcoming election campaigning quiet compared to past years. As I have witnessed all the elections in Taiwan since the democratization process began, this one is in a calm silence. Of course as little trucks are moving about with a loudspeaker blaring support for a candidate, it just seems perfunctory.

The Taiwan electorate will come to vote on 14th January for presidential and national legislative candidates. Nearly 14 million of Taiwan’s 23 million people will select between three presidential contenders: incumbent President and ruling Chinese Nationalist Party (Kuomintang or KMT) Chairman Ma Ying-jeou, 61, Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) Chairwoman Tsai Ing-wen, 56, and People First Party (PFP) Chairman James Soong, 69, a former KMT secretary-general.

Four years ago, Frank Hsieh, DPP presidential candidate, tried to keep his party in the Presidential Office. His lackluster campaign faltered, and Ma Ying-jeou returned that office to the KMT with a high majority of votes. In that campaign, Ma portrayed himself as the friend of the people with rural home stays, and promised that the KMT would return the island to its prosperity as in the past.

This time around, it seems Ma has become the lackluster candidate with old rhetorical style – nothing new, and offering hope of stability that only the KMT can offer. On the other hand, in the wake of the Japan earthquake and massive tsunami of 11th March 2011, the disaster at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant has triggered concern that KMT policy for Taiwan’s nuclear power could be faulty.

Tsai is campaigning on a nuclear review. She proposed to safely phase-out nuclear power by retiring the three existing nuclear plants from the 1970s (the sooner the better) and by not allowing a fourth nuclear power plant to load fuel or begin commercial operation. This, Tsai said, “would avoid adding a fourth ‘time bomb’ to the three existing plants on one of the world’s most seismic active regions.”

James Soong is campaigning as he did in 2000, and as vice-presidential candidate on a KMT ticket in 2004 – both times loosing to the DPP. In 2008, he did not enter the race, and his People First Party suffered legislative setbacks. Although not a prime contender this time, to revitalize his party, he needs to be a candidate.

All said, the political spectrum is set in motion. In the coming days, there will be rallies – yet, I believe the electorate is silently decided. Below my window, on an empty street, a campaign truck with loudspeaker, in the voice of Ma Ying-jeou, rolls by slowly. The message: “Ma, the president, is the best candidate, and the election will be decided by a mere 50,000 votes, therefore its time to act.”

The survey polls must close a week before the election. The polls are seemingly biased to promote candidates. Although it’s interesting to note, when Soong announced his candidacy, Ma’s rating above fifty percent, suddenly dropped. Meanwhile in most polls, Tsai’s ratings have shown gradual ascendancy.

David Blundell is Professor of Taiwan and Asia-Pacific Studies at National Chengchi University