Publication: China Brief Volume: 3 Issue: 15

By I-cheng Loh

In the May 6 issue of China Brief, John Tkacik called attention to Taiwan’s upcoming presidential election, and asked quite bluntly: What does it mean for the United States? I am astonished at the conclusion he appears to reach, namely, that if the Kuomintang-People First Party (KMT-PFP) ticket should win in 2004, its victory would be detrimental to U.S. national interests.

Mr. Tkacik mentioned three specific factors that seemed especially worrying: KMT candidate Dr. Lien Chan’s platform of “one China, different interpretations;” Lien’s March 30 statement regarding a “journey of peace” to the mainland if elected; and certain remarks made by Douglas Paal–the director of the American Institute in Taiwan (AIT)–that were “apparently sympathetic to those opposing President Chen Shui-bian.”

First of all, it is important to make clear how the 23 million people of Taiwan look at the future of cross-Strait relations, regardless of their political affiliation, provincial origin or economic status.

Mr. Tkacik cited assorted public opinion polls by various local newspapers to prove that “there is no consensus in Taiwan on the nation’s future.” He is obviously unaware of the continuous polling that has been commissioned by the Mainland Affairs Council (MAC) of the Executive Yuan. This polling has been carried out at regular intervals, sometimes even monthly, for almost ten years. Since the MAC is chaired by Miss Tsai Ing-wen, who is being promoted as President Chen’s running mate next year by the powerful “New Current” faction of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), the statistics released by MAC should be above suspicion.

Strangely, MAC has stopped releasing new poll data since January of 2003, although the charts and figures from 1994 up to December 10, 2002, are available to all at its official website (www.mac.gov.tw). The key question posed in these samplings–and it is one that always reflects Taiwan’s demographic profile–is a simple one: “How do you view the future of cross-Strait relations?”

The respondents, numbering around 1,000 each time, are given a range of seven choices. The choices are: (1) “independence asap,” (2) “status quo now/independence later,” (3) “status quo indefinitely,” (4) “status quo now/decision later,” (5) “status quo now/unification later,” (6) “unification asap,” and (7) “don’t know.” For statistical purposes, MAC groups (1) and (2) together as “pro-independence,” (3) and (4) as “status quo”, and (5) and (6) as “pro-unification.” Space does not permit the reproduction of these full-color charts, which are titled by MAC “Unification or independence?” However, readers are invited to view them at: http://www.mag.gov.tw/english/english/pos/p9112e/htm as well as 9112e_2.gif and 9112e_a.gif.

A comparison of the first MAC-commissioned poll, from February 1994, with the most recent, that of December 2002, indicates that public opinion in Taiwan regarding cross-Strait relations has remained remarkably stable through these years. If anything, the “status quo” group has grown, from 44.5 percent in 1994 to 54.8 percent in 2002. This growth has come more at the expense of the pro-unification group than the pro-independence camp.

Table 1: Opinion Polls on Future Relation with China