Tai­wan leader tak­ing all the wrong steps

China Daily (Canada) - - LIFE -

As many as 150,000 re­tired mil­i­tary per­son­nel, civil ser­vants and pub­lic school teach­ers took to the streets in Taipei on Sept 3 to protest against the gov­ern­ment’s pen­sion re­form plans, which they said were an in­sult to their pro­fes­sions.

The mas­sive demon­stra­tion, ar­guably the first by Tai­wan’s pub­lic sec­tor work­ers, is the lat­est chal­lenge to the is­land’s new ad­min­is­tra­tion led by Tsai Ing­wen, also chair­woman of the rul­ing Demo­cratic Pro­gres­sive Party. Pre­vi­ous re­ports sug­gested Tsai’s ap­proval rat­ing fell be­low 50 per­cent— from more than 70 per­cent— on her 100th day in of­fice.

The cri­sis was trig­gered by the au­thor­i­ties’ at­tempt to slash the gen­er­ous pen­sions for re­tired pub­lic sec­tor em­ploy­ees, whom they ac­cused of steal­ing from so­ci­ety. Given that the three groups are tra­di­tional sup­port­ers of the op­po­si­tion Kuom­intang, such re­form plans ap­pear sus­pi­cious un­der the name of pro­mot­ing so­cial jus­tice.

It is un­fair to blame re­tired pub­lic sec­tor em­ploy­ees for the is­land’s debts and fi­nan­cial cri­sis. It would be even more out­ra­geous for the Tsai ad­min­is­tra­tion to make light of the losses it caused to the ex­che­quer by us­ing pen­sion funds to bail out the stock mar­ket. Ir­re­spec­tive of what the plans’ pur­poses are, Tsai has to take the pub­lic op­po­si­tion se­ri­ously, in­stead of pur­su­ing her po­lit­i­cal am­bi­tions at the cost of re­tirees.

In fact, it is not sur­pris­ing that Tsai has en­coun­tered a wave of prob­lems just three months af­ter tak­ing of­fice af­ter the DPP swept the lead­er­ship elec­tion in Jan­uary.

Start­ing with her in­au­gu­ra­tion speech onMay 20, Tsai has been keep­ing her vague at­ti­tude on 1992 Con­sen­sus, forg­ing closer ties with the United States and Ja­pan, and dis­tanc­ing Tai­wan from the Chi­nese main­land. Tsai’s ad­min­is­tra­tion has done lit­tle to im­prove the econ­omy and peo- ple’s liveli­hoods, but ex­ploited all pos­si­ble re­sources to chal­lenge the Kuom­intang’s le­git­i­macy in or­der to strengthen its own.

Be­liev­ing that once the largest op­po­si­tion party is on the ropes it will pose no threat to its gover­nance, the DPP, which con­trols the ex­ec­u­tive and leg­isla­tive pow­ers on the is­land, might not think twice be­fore press­ing ahead with its re­forms.

But not just the pub­lic sec­tor, Tai­wan’s tourism, fish­ery and agri­cul­tural sec­tors, too, are un­happy with Tsai’s as­sertive pro­pos­als and very likely to voice their protest like the 150,000 re­tirees.

As one of the pol­icy pri­or­i­ties, cross-Straits re­la­tions also de­mand Tsai’s sin­cere ef­forts to get back on the right track. How­ever, promis­ing to “main­tain the sta­tus quo”, she has only un­der­mined cross-Straits ties by re­fus­ing to ac­knowl­edge the 1992 Con­sen­sus, which stresses that the main­land and Tai­wan both are parts of one China.

The sus­pen­sion of com­mu­ni­ca­tion and con­sul­ta­tion mech­a­nisms be­tween the two sides has dealt a blow to Tai­wan’s tourism, fish­ery and agri­cul­tural sec­tors, adding weight to the fact that marginal­iz­ing po­lit­i­cal dis­sent at the cost of peo­ple’s le­gal in­ter­ests will be counter-pro­duc­tive, and that both sides of the Straits are in­ter­de­pen­dent in many­ways. What Tsai and her DPP should do now is to ac­knowl­edge the 1992 Con­sen­sus and re­cal­i­brate crossS­traits re­la­tions to­ward peace­ful de­vel­op­ment.

The au­thor is a pro­fes­sor at the In­sti­tute of Tai­wan Stud­ies, Beijing Union Univer­sity.

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