Tuesday, October 23, 2007

A Dual Race of Taiwan’s Referendum on UN Bid

Taiwan’s referendum on UN bid is a “dual race” involving a competition between domestic as well as international politics; these two factors are influenced by each other, like a “two-level game” addressed by Harvard Professor Robert Putnam.

According to the survey conducted by the Taiwan Thinktank, the Taiwanese public put much weight on the “Join UN Referendum.” For example, the survey shows that more than 50% of the population believed that the referendum could be very helpful in maintaining the peace across the Taiwan Strait. In addition, a question regarding the KMT and the DPP shows that 87% of DPP supporters favored the Join UN Referendum, while only 35% of KMT supporters favored this referendum. These results clearly displayed different positions between the DPP and the KMT.

However, inside the KMT, the level of support towards the referendum was divided. The Join UN Referendum, besides being a key election factor, has so far created many differences in opinion within the KMT. This example was seen when Taipei City Mayor Hau Lung-pin reacted immediately against the referendum when he arrived in Singapore and when Taichung Mayor Jason Hu spoke against the referendum. The internal differences within the KMT may cause the KMT to lose its sense of propriety. As soon as the KMT’s basic values are in conflict with its election strategy, problems will certainly surface.

In addition, one can observe that the KMT supporters tend to follow the U.S. in terms of opposing the referendum. On the contrary, international pressure has no such an influence on DPP supporters. After the U.S. expressed their opposition towards the referendum, 90% of DPP supporters still supported the idea of holding a referendum on Taiwan’s UN bid. Therefore, in the race of domestic politics, international pressure is an important factor in affecting the thinking of KMT supporters, while foreign influence is not an issue for DPP supporters. In fact, the good feeling towards the U.S. has already started to decline in Taiwan. Thus, if the U.S. is unable to influence Taiwan’s domestic politics or to improve its self-image in Taiwan, what are the U.S.’s political benefits anyway? It is necessary for the U.S. to contemplate upon this.

Nonetheless, do Taiwanese people believe that the Join UN Referendum is equal to moving towards independence? There is a great discrepancy in this statement. The survey does not delve deep enough to reach a conclusion. In my view, Taiwan holding a referendum is unable to escape two types of value conclusions: the first one involves Taiwan independence and the second, democratic ideology. Interestingly, the DPP achieved the common divisor in these two values. That is, the Taiwan Join UN Referendum won simultaneously both Taiwan independence supporters and democracy advocates.

In simple terms, the Join UN Referendum will not only express a part of the value towards Taiwan independence and democratic ideology, but also the demands for international space from the Taiwanese public. The international race points a finger at U.S.-China-Taiwan relations, while the domestic race intensifies public will towards the Join UN referendum with the inclusion of disputes between political parties. It will be worthy to observe different standpoints shown by this dual race and the influence these two races have on each other.

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