TAIPEI, Taiwan: Chinese President Xi Jinping sought to push Taiwanese closer to unification with a new year speech mixing carrots and sticks.
That hasn’t panned out. Instead, his independence-leaning Taiwanese counterpart, Tsai Ing-wen, has enjoyed a surge in support following a brutal drubbing of her political party in local elections last year, according to public opinion surveys and interviews.
The residents of this self-governing island, with its vibrant and well-established democracy, are as much inclined as ever to resist China’s demands despite rising political, economic and military threats from Beijing.
Xi’s offer to Taiwan “is a total scam,” said Kuo Lin-han, 26, a Chinese Culture University student in Taipei.
Kuo was referring to China’s proposal of a “one country, two systems” arrangement that Xi renewed in his January 2 speech, under which Taiwan would accept Chinese sovereignty while being allowed to retain its own economic and legal systems.
That’s based on the framework Hong Kong was granted when it reverted to Chinese rule in 1997, an arrangement that has become increasingly frayed as Beijing expands its political influence in the former British colony.
Jarringly for many Taiwanese, Xi mixed his outreach with a reminder that Beijing had no intention of dropping its threat to use military force to bring the island under its control.
Xi’s speech was seized on by Tsai, who went on a four-day media blitz in Taipei that appears to have significantly bolstered her support among voters.
In a telephone survey published January 21 by the Taiwan Public Opinion Foundation, 34.5 percent of the 1,074 respondents gave her a thumbs-up, an increase of about 10 percentage points from after the November elections. Two-thirds said they want Taiwan to continue its self-rule or declare formal independence.
Separately, the Taiwan government’s Mainland Affairs Council found in a January 17 survey of 1,078 people that 75.4 percent oppose “one country, two systems,” 74.3 percent dispute the “one China” condition for formal dialogue and 77.2 percent oppose China for holding pledges that it could use force against Taiwan if needed.
Both polls had a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percent.
“The most important thing is that Xi Jinping made the speech on Taiwan and Tsai Ing-wen gave a rare response, which received a high level of support,” foundation chairman You Ying-lung said. “The China factor helps her come out of a trough.”
Younger Taiwanese had a firm sense of local identity that stands in the way of China’s idea for unification, said Wu Yi-hsuan, 27, an energy science and engineering doctoral student.