20 October 2018
There is a clear consensus on independence in Taiwan, according to Tainan mayor William Lai. Photo: Bloomberg
There is a clear consensus on independence in Taiwan, according to Tainan mayor William Lai. Photo: Bloomberg

Electing to stay beyond Beijing’s reach

The message could not have been clearer this week when Beijing told Taiwan that the island’s future will be determined by China and not the people living there.

Clearer still is the deep level of misunderstanding Beijing showed about sentiment on the other side of the strait — such words only serve to push the people of Taiwan further away from the mainland, a shift that could be reflected in November’s local government elections.

Unlike Hong Kong, which is a special administrative region under Beijing’s rule, Taiwan operates independently beyond the mainland’s administrative reach.

Taiwan, officially the Republic of China, is a political identity with its own government, military and diplomatic ties with a few other nations. But China insists that Taiwan is part of the People’s Republic of China, and that the ROC has not existed since 1949.

China has failed at an official level over the last 55 years to show any understanding of Taiwan’s development, giving it a muddied picture of the public opinion on the island and making it that much harder for Beijing to win over Taipei.

Tainan mayor William Lai, from the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), told a conference in Shanghai last week that “there is a clear consensus on Taiwanese independence in the nation.”

“The DPP’s independence charter and Resolution on Taiwan’s Future were part of the trajectory of Taiwan’s history and removing the charter would not eliminate the aspirations of Taiwanese for independence,” Lai said.

His statement came a big shock to the mainland authorities because they did not believe people on the island supported independence.

Lai is a rising star in the DPP and is tipped to be a potential presidential candidate. His remarks are forcing Beijing to fine-tune its Taiwan policy to mirror a more accurate picture of public opinion on the island, rather than the views of the Beijing-friendly Kuomintang and related organizations.

Beijing officials also have to be prepared for the DPP’s possible return to the presidency in 2016 if the public votes for change. Voters could decide to the DPP another chance thanks to its tougher stand on the mainland — President Ma Ying-jeou’s eight years of pro-Beijing rule have left him with a 9 percent approval rating, making him one of the most unpopular leaders on the island.

Ma’s low approval rating is not just a reflection of the president but also a no-confidence vote on China’s Taiwan policy. To establish normal and sustainable ties with Taipei, Beijing should first acknowledge the island’s status and the island’s government rule, rather than just shouting “Taiwan is part of China”.

If Beijing doesn’t first respect Taiwan as an independent entity, the people of Taiwan people will simply express their views at the ballot box.

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EJ Insight writer

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