Beijing leaders need to understand Taiwanese feelings, expert says

Expert says the island's younger generationis too proud to be swayed by economic incentives

PUBLISHED : Friday, 07 December, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 07 December, 2012, 4:29am

The Communist Party's new leadership should ponder why more Taiwanese are unhappy despite the sweeteners Beijing has offered Taiwan under the Economic Co-operation Framework Agreement, said the former head of a key Taipei-based cross-strait exchange body.

Hung Chi-chang, a past chairman of the Straits Exchange Foundation, told a forum in Hong Kong last week: "The cross-strait talks platform set up by the Kuomintang [in Taiwan] and the Communist Party has repeatedly highlighted economic achievements and the many concessions Beijing has made, but public opinion polls in Taiwan, especially those of the younger generation, show us that they do not want to sacrifice Taiwan's sovereignty and dignity in exchange for economic benefits."

This fundamental difference explains why more formal dialogue has yet to be established despite October's much-hyped visit to the mainland by a former leader of the opposition Democratic Progressive Party, Frank Hsieh Chang-ting, Hung added.

He said Hsieh's trip "won a lot of positive reaction in cross-strait political circles", but still failed in building a platform for dialogue with Beijing.

Professor Chang Ya-chung, president of the Taipei-based Chinese Integration Association, said: "It's a fact that Taiwan's younger generation does not only not think Taiwan is a part of China, but also believes Taiwanese are not members of the same ethnic group as mainlanders."

An opinion poll by Taiwanese cable news network TVBS on October 17 found that 75 per cent of the 1,266 people interviewed on the island considered themselves Taiwanese, compared with 15 per cent who said they were Chinese.

In the 20-29 age group, 87 per cent considered themselves Taiwanese, and in the 30-39 age group, it was 84 per cent.

Chang, also a political scientist at Taipei's National Chengchi University, criticised Beijing leaders and Taiwan President Ma Ying-jeou for ignoring deep-seated feelings of the Taiwan people.

"Beijing and Taipei should work together to build a negotiating mechanism on an equal footing and with mutual respect and figure out a way out to narrow their [political] disagreements as soon as possible," Chang said.

Liu Guoshen, the head of Xiamen University's Taiwan Research Institute, said Beijing leaders should pay more attention to Taiwan's internal political problems.

"In fact, Beijing has adjusted its cross-strait policy to try to make the definition of 'one China' more flexible year by year after a long period of exchanges and negotiations in the economic, cultural and educational sectors," he said.

Meanwhile, Julian Kuo, a former DPP legislator, said people should watch whether Ma, who has been criticised for paying more attention to cross-strait relations than US-Taiwan relations, would take advantage of the momentum from the United States' "return to Asia" policy to push for a bigger international role for Taiwan.

He said that Ma would leverage cross-strait relations in Taiwan's relationship with the United States, probably explaining why he had appointed his most trusted aide, King Pu-tsung, as Taiwan's representative to the United States.

"What Ma has done is just what Beijing has done in the past," said Kuo.

"As Beijing once used the US' influence to put pressure on Taipei at the cross-strait negotiation table, now Ma has also realised that he is incapable of getting more bargaining chips unless he can get Washington involved.

"Ma promised Taiwanese people on the day of his election on January 14 that he wanted to push for Taiwan to join the [US-backed] Trans-Pacific Partnership … because he failed to get Taiwan into a free-trade area linked to Asean (the Association of Southeast Asian Nations) due to opposition from Beijing."

Additional reporting by Lawrence Chung in Taipei