【明報專訊】A PECULIAR PHENOMENON in Taiwanese politics to reflect on is that ever since Tsai Ing-wen was sworn in as president she has been subjected to periodic evaluations of her achievements. The first was on May 20, when one month had passed since she took office. Then it was the 100-day mark of her presidency. And, as Tsai's presidency enters its fourth month tomorrow (September 20), she is due for another performance appraisal. This has been so because she has been encountering political difficulties. She has been trying to make breakthroughs on all fronts, but little success has been achieved. But there will be an opportunity for her to do so. In 21 days she will be making her first speech on the "Double Ten Day", which is the tenth of October. That will be an opportunity for her to make a strategic breakthrough amid Taiwan's great difficulty and difficult dilemma across the Taiwan Strait.
Tsai has only herself to blame for the endless string of appraisals. At a time when the Chinese Nationalist Party was mired in internal strife and was politically powerless, Tsai, who swept into office and whose party (the Democratic Progressive Party) seized control of the legislative chamber, started her presidency when the foundations had already been laid for a long list of reforms and a long period of rule. But Tsai and her team got off to a bumpy start. All the problems she is faced with are vexing, and her performance has not lived up to people's expectations. The public is disgruntled. To make a strategic breakthrough, Tsai has tried to push through reforms, only to lead to ongoing controversies in society and endless political struggles.
As a result, Tsai's honeymoon period with Taiwanese people has ended prematurely, and her approval ratings have plummeted to a new low. Her administration is sandwiched between different sides. According to the latest survey, only 31 per cent of respondents approve of the performance of Lin Chuan, the Premier of the Republic of China, while his disapproval rating has jumped to 47 per cent. At a time of widening gap between the government's approval and disapproval ratings, the big guns from the Taiwan independence camp are exerting pressure behind the scenes. Unhappy with the Premier's absence of a political allegiance, they are pressuring Tsai to appoint a new Premier from the green camp.
Apart from the aggravating problem concerning people's livelihood and a spirit of anxiety pervading society, Tsai's avoidance of the 1992 consensus has brought relations between Beijing and Taiwan to "freezing point". What concerns Taiwanese people most is the economic prospects and the sensitive issue of the room for Taiwan's diplomacy.
Unhappy that Taiwan's economy has fallen victim to political arguments since Tsai took office, which has led to a sharp decline in the number of mainland visitors, people in Taiwan's tourist industry have recently taken to the streets. Four million mainlanders visit Taiwan every year. But it is now estimated that the number will fall by 650,000 this year, which will reduce Taiwan's foreign exchange income by 36 billion New Taiwan Dollars (around 8.8 billion Hong Kong dollars). From transportation to hotel and catering, every sector in Taiwan's tourist industry is crying out for help. In fact, the mainland authorities have not so much shut out Taiwan's tourist industry as reducing the number of mainland visitors. This, however, is enough to shake Tsai's presidency.
Public discontent in Taiwan continues to grow. Its economy is still in the midst of the longest recession. The "New Southward Policy" will not be so promising as to achieve success overnight. Furthermore, relations across the Taiwan Strait, which are of crucial importance to Taiwan's economy, its people's livelihood and Taiwan's room for diplomacy, continue to be at "freezing point" and are likely to get even colder. Against such a big picture, Tsai has to make a strategic breakthrough if she is to find a way out of the dilemma. The "Double Ten Day", which is 21 days away, will present this opportunity. If Tsai is able to make use of this year's "Double Ten Day" speech and "complete the question paper on cross-strait relations" by tackling the unavoidable issue of the 1992 consensus, she will "kill three birds with one stone": break the deadlock in cross-strait relations, bring the Taiwanese economy out of its current predicament, and free her administration from the dilemma. That will be Tsai's greatest "strategic breakthrough".