The 2018 mayoral election is a litmus test for Taiwan’s China policy

The China Post

Taipei Mayor Ko Wen-je has described his recent trip to a Taipei-Shanghai forum as a successful venture, in which he broke the deadlock between Taiwan and Beijing and provided an opening for improved cross-strait tensions.

Some in the pro-independence Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) and other pan-green groups do not agree with his assessment.

DPP Lawmaker Pasuya Yao (姚文智), who had tossed his hat into the 2014 mayoral race before his party bowed out to make way for Ko, took issue with Ko’s description of cross-strait relations as those “of a family with a shared future” and of “a couple who will reconciled after an argument.” Such ideas are no longer in line with those of the DPP and it is time for Ko — who also expressed his “understanding” of Beijing’s insistence on the “1992 Consensus” — to part ways with the party, Yao said. The deep-green Taiwan Republic Office went further, slamming Ko for being a “political mistress” and demanding that he apologize for his remarks.

Ko is certainly not a politician who can be easily labeled. A self-described deep-green politician and the grandson of a victim of the Feb. 28 Incident, Ko has nevertheless professed views sympathetic to former President Chiang Kai-shek, who the pan-green camp blames for the massacre, and to Mao Zedong, founding leader of the People’s Republic of China.

However, Ko’s remarks in Shanghai might not be just another quirky contradiction, but rather part of a cool and calculated political strategy.

As Taiwan begins to feel China’s economic and political pressure – the latest example being the loss of its important diplomatic ally Panama — some in the party are publicly second-guessing the government’s China policy.

DPP Legislator Hsu Chih-chieh suggested earlier this year that Taiwan could consider a “conditional ‘1992 Consensus.’” Tainan Mayor William Lai, a DPP heavyweight, said during a visit to the U.S. that he holds a “pro-China while Taiwan-loving” stance.

As the Taiwanese public increasingly turns away from issues related to China relations (as exemplified by the lukewarm mainstream response to events such as the breaking of ties with Panama) and becomes more engrossed with pension reform, labor rights and same sex marriage, China-bashing is losing its importance as a campaign strategy.

Compared to the head of state, local government leaders are under less pressure to clarify their stance on radioactive issues such as the “1992 Consensus,” giving more room for politicians to take a more ambiguous position.

Politicians such as Ko and Lai are highlighting their pragmatic approach toward Beijing as they jockey for a place in the 2018 mayoral elections, especially in traditional Kuomintang strongholds such as Taipei. People in both Taiwan and China should watch closely the performance of the pragmatic candidates in 2018. The elections could serve as a bellwether of Taiwan’s stance on China relations.