Forget the bluster, DPP is treading softer line on ties

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 28 August, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 28 August, 2011, 12:00am


The 10-year policy blueprint released by Taiwan's main opposition Democratic Progressive Party on Tuesday is full of contradictions, analysts say, but hints that the DPP has fine-tuned its cross-strait policy stance.

Though there were no surprises in the content of the blueprint - with three main parts dealing with cross-strait policy, domestic affairs and foreign policy - there was a change in tone, with party chairwoman Dr Tsai Ing-wen promising people on both sides of the Taiwan Strait a harmonious and stable future if she is elected president next year.

Normally, the DPP more aggressively demands that the island formally become an independent country free of its China tag.

The blueprint will provide Tsai's main policy platform as she campaigns against incumbent President Ma Ying-jeou, of the Kuomintang.

Besides promising to maintain Taiwan's economic independence by decreasing its reliance on the mainland, Tsai said the party would support the continued implementation of the Economic Co-operation Framework Agreement (ECFA) - one of several deals with the mainland reached under Ma in the past year. However, she would employ 'democratic procedures' to review it if the DPP regained power.

Compared with the party's past policy papers, the blueprint uses moderate wording in describing cross-strait relations. Taipei-based political commentator Tang Hsiung-lung said this indicated the DPP was trying to avoid irritating both Beijing and Washington.

'In her presentation, Tsai recognised the significance of the ECFA vaguely, because she knows that part was her weakest point, and the trump card of President Ma,' Tang said. 'Her stance is obviously a big change from the party's original stance: the DPP once encouraged their supporters to condemn the ECFA because they believed it was created under the 'one-China' framework.'

The Kuomintang, like Beijing, is opposed to Taiwan becoming an independent country. The so-called 1992 consensus was an oral agreement, to the effect that both sides agree there is only one China but that each has its own interpretation of what one China is.

Unlike her predecessor as party chairman, former president Chen Shui-bian, Tsai avoided stressing the party's commitment to Taiwanese independence, instead highlighting the maintenance of the cross-strait 'status quo' - something that Tang said was 'clearly aimed at getting closer to average voters'.

Tang said the DPP had changed its traditional rhetorical style. For example, in the 'cross-strait' chapter it says the two sides should seek harmony, but reserves the right to disagree in a conciliatory way.

It also avoids harsh criticism of Ma and even the mainland authorities: Tang said it showed that Tsai had realised that a vague and moderate stance would be 'the safest and most efficient way' to ease Beijing's and Washington's worries about the stability of the Taiwan Strait. 'The wording and contents of the report were carefully polished to be gentler because Tsai doesn't want to follow Chen's radical style and annoy Beijing,' Tang said. 'As she will visit Washington next month, she also needs to tell United States President Barack Obama that the DPP is no longer a critical party or a troublemaker under her rule, but a reliable and responsible political body.'

Professor Chang Ling-chen, political analyst at National Taiwan University, said Tsai's cross-strait policy was full of contradictions.

'She recognised the importance of the ECFA to Taiwan, but rejected the '1992 consensus', which is the foundation of the series of cross-strait agreements,' Chang said.

Tsai has promised to strive for free-trade agreements with the US, Japan, India, the European Union and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, along with increased international engagement through the Asia-Pacific free-trade area advocated by the Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation forum. Tsai said Taiwan should maintain its economic independence and make sure it was capable of monitoring Taiwanese investments on the mainland.

'In domestic affairs, Tsai is painting a very beautiful picture for the Taiwanese people, including increased job opportunities, an improved environment with less pollution, more public housing, etcetera, but she has still failed to detail the relevant policies,' Chang said. 'She once criticised President Ma for his inability to improve Taiwan's domestic economy - now I also doubt her capability to rule Taiwan.'

Professor Chang Wu-ueh, of Taiwan's Tamkang University, said the average voter on the island would not focus on the effectiveness of Tsai's domestic polices, but on her attitude to cross-strait relations.

'Tsai's top priority is to win the presidential election first, not making practical and effective policies,' he said. 'She is very smart to avoid directly confronting President Ma on cross-strait policy, while pleasing voters with a lot of promises about improving the domestic economy. No matter whether it will work or not, her gentle and fresh style will definitely win over a few voters.'