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Mainland Affairs Council

2001 General Analysis of People’s Views on the Government’s Mainland Policy and Cross-Strait Relations (2002-02)

2001 General Analysis of People’s Views on the Government’s Mainland Policy and Cross-strait Relations

I. Introduction

In order to precisely gauge local people’s understanding of cross-strait relations and their views on the government’s Mainland policy, the Mainland Affairs Council contracted to local polling centers to conduct three public opinion surveys last year on related cross-strait relations and Mainland policies. A few private public opinion pollsters surveyed cross-strait relations during the same period. This report summarizes the results of 44 polls conducted by various agencies and collected by MAC for general analysis. The purpose is to understand changes in the general public’s attitudes regarding Mainland policies and cross-strait relations.

II. Public Opinion Trends

Various opinion surveys conducted last year include subjects such as the mini-three-links, the three direct links, relaxation of policies on cross-strait economic exchanges, liberalization of Mainland tourist visits, the impact from Beijing’s boycott of Taipei’s participation in the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit on cross-strait relations, expectations for cross-strait relations, and attitude on Beijing’s “one country, two systems.” The results from these polls are summarized and analyzed as follows:

1. Current views on cross-strait relations

A. Views on overall cross-strait relations

People had mixed views on cross-strait relations last year. About 30% of the people believe cross-strait relations in 2001 were more or less the same as in previous years. A quarter of respondents said relations improved in 2001, with the same percentage saying relations worsened. Regarding the situation in which PRC Foreign Minister Tang Jianxuan showed a bullying attitude to Taipei representatives at APEC Shanghai meetings in October, 68% believe that this could have a negative impact on future cross-strait relations. Asked about their forecasts for future relations between the two sides, 47% responded that things would be more or less the same, and 52% said there would be no major improvement. Moreover, 53% of the people hoped the government could send more friendly signals and take initiative in improving cross-strait relations.

B. Views on the pace of cross-strait exchanges

Regarding the pace of cross-strait exchanges, MAC findings show that about 37% of the people believe the pace is just right for the time being, roughly lower than the percentage in 2000 polls. Another 17% said the pace was too fast, compared to 20% saying it was too slow. Those who believe the pace was too fast in 2001 increased from surveys one year ago.

C. Views on Beijing’s attitude toward Taiwan

MAC findings show that when Beijing’s attitude toward the Taipei government and Taiwan people are separated, 66-70% of the people believe that Beijing is hostile to the Taipei government. But, only 47% of the people believe Beijing is hostile to the Taiwan people. These two percentages, however, dropped from the levels of one year ago.

2. People’s wishes for future cross-strait relations

A. People’s position on unification and independence

In general, people’s positions on unification and independence have no apparent change. For future relations between the two sides, MAC has classified answers into six choices for respondents to select. In the past year, the percentage of Taiwan people in favor of “maintaining the status quo to decide unification or independence in the future” remained at about 35%, representing the largest group of the six. Those supporting “maintaining the status quo and leading to unification in the future” represent 17%. Another 16% prefer permanent status quo. Those in favor of “maintaining the status quo and leading toward independence in the future” represent about 10%. Those at the extreme ends seeking quick unification or immediate independence belong to the smallest groups, with less than 10% support respectively.

However, public opinion surveys conducted by other agencies vary greatly. Support for cross-strait unification was in a range of 14% to 28%. Those in favor of independence varies from 4% to 30%. The group maintaining the status quo varies from 16% to 60%.

B. Views on Beijing’s “one country, two systems”
Most of Taiwan people are against Beijing’s “one country, two systems” and this general attitude has remained unchanged for a long time. But, barring any clear definition of “one country, two systems” in questionnaires, surveys would show greater acceptance of Beijing’s formula by local people. According to MAC analysis, when Beijing’s formula of “one country, two system” for resolving cross-strait issues is clearly spelled out (that Taiwan is a local government, subject to the rule of the Beijing government, and the ROC government no longer exists), 70-74% of the people reject this. Those who can accept this formula range from 13% to 16% in various surveys. Compared to findings in 2000, the percentage against it is falling and that in favor of it has shown a moderate rise.

Other agencies also touched on this subject in their surveys, but the questions about “one country, two systems” were either vaguely phrased of Beijing’s wordings or lack any definition at all, thus leading to great discrepancies. Those showing disapproval or no acceptance of “one country, two systems” range from 40% to 75% in different polls; though showing such great contrast, negative attitudes (disapproval or no acceptance) were recorded above 50% in most of the surveys. The positive attitude (approval or acceptance) is in a rage of 10% to 48%. And not many polls show more than 30% of the people in favor of “one country, two systems.” These findings could clearly summarize the opposition of Taiwan people toward Beijing’s “one country, two systems” formula.

3. Views on cross-strait economic ties

A. Views of the mini-three-links

Regarding liberalizing the offshore islands of Kinmen and Matsu for trial operation of the mini-three-links, more than 60% of the people support the government’s policy. However, when asked whether this will benefit cross-strait relations, people gave mixed reactions. Those considering this advantageous to cross-strait relations represent 38%, compared to 42% disagreeing.

Upon the end of the first month trial operation of the mini-three-links, 61% of Kinmen residents said they were dissatisfied with the measures under the mini-three-links liberalization. Another 41% generally affirmed this liberalization to facilitate normal exchanges between the people of the two sides. Asked to comment on the impact from the mini-three-links on security and economic development on Kinmen, 60% of the people said there has been no obvious change. Asked to comment on the requirement that those who apply for permission to travel between the Mainland and the island must have resided in Kinmen for a minimum period of six months, 56% consider this requirement unnecessary.

B. Views of the three links

Asked about their attitude to the three direct links, those who are in favor of liberalization represent 37-67% in different polls. But, about half the people surveyed expressed worries that direct transportation between the two sides could affect national security as long as the PRC refuses to renounce the use of force against Taiwan. MAC surveys find that about 80-83% of the people support conditional liberalization of direct transportation, compared to less than 10% in favor of liberalization without any conditions.

C. Views on liberalization of Mainland tourists visiting Taiwan

About 60-80% of the people support the government’s deregulation of restrictions on Mainland tourists visiting Taiwan. But, about 80% of the people are worried that Mainland tourists might overstay here that could affect social security. Another 58% of the people believe that liberalizing Mainland tourists’ visits to Taiwan could have a negative impact on national security. In addition, more than 75% of the people believe that the government should start with allowing a limited number of Mainland tourists to visit Taiwan, and gradually increase the number.

D. Views on cross-strait trade and economic policies

About 56% of the people surveyed hope the government will tightly regulate Taiwan investment on the Mainland, compared to 46% of the people who support a relaxation of the “no haste, be patient” policy. Asked about their views on the decision by the Economic Development Advisory Conference Cross-strait Affairs Committee last year to replace the “no haste, be patient” policy with “active liberalization, effective management,” 48-64% of the people support this. On allowing Mainland capital to be invested in Taiwan’s real estate market, 44-52% of the people support this.

4. Views on cross-strait talks and negotiations

As many as 70% of the people expect the two sides to resume negotiations. But, 53% of the people consider the Beijing government insincere in resuming cross-strait negotiations. Also, 43% of the people believe the Beijing government poses the major hurdle in cross-strait communications. With respect to political talks, 55% of the people do not believe that Beijing wishes to have such talks with Taiwan. Asked to comment on Beijing’s position that “Taiwan must first admit that it is a part of China before cross-strait talks are resumed,” 53% of the people said they could not accept this position.

5. Views on correlation between cross-strait relations and foreign relations

In polls conducted last year, those who give higher priority to developing cross-strait relations over foreign relations represent 31-40% of the people surveyed in various polls. Those who give equal weight to developing foreign relations and cross-strait relations range from 12% to 31% in various polls. People considering foreign relations with other countries outweighing cross-strait relations represent about 30% of the people in most polls, except one in June 2001 when the percentage dropped to 17%. Should active promotion of foreign relations result in cross-strait tensions, as many as 60% of the people hope to keep promoting pragmatic foreign relations. This trend is consistent with findings of previous years.

6. Views on the government’s cross-strait policy

In his 2000 year-end remarks, President Chen Shui-bian said, “The government adopted the ‘no haste, be patient’ policy” when the situation warranted it. In the future, the government will use ‘active liberalization, effective management’ as the principle in planning cross-strait relations.” Regarding this, 63% of the people support this. President Chen said later that the two sides would start with “cross-strait economic, trade, and cultural integration to seek a new framework for eternal peace and political integration between the two sides.” In response to this, 65% of the people expressed their support. Moreover, 47% of the people believe that President Chen’s attitude to Beijing should move along the same track as last year, compared to 19% in favor of a stronger attitude, and 11% in favor of a more concessionary attitude.

Asked to comment on President Chen’s handling of cross-strait affairs over the last year, 49% expressed positive views, compared to 31% who had a negative view. On the new government’s performance in handling cross-strait relations, reactions varied greatly, with 39-49% of the people surveyed satisfied as opposed to 31-49% who were dissatisfied.

III. Conclusion

In conclusion, public opinion over the last year can be summarized into the following findings:

1. People believe that the Beijing government’s hostility to the Taipei government and Taiwan people is lessening and future cross-strait relations will not undergo major changes. Many people hope the government can send more friendly signals and take initiative in improving cross-strait relations.

However, regarding PRC Foreign Minister Tang Jianxuan’s high-handed attitude to Taiwan representatives at the APEC meetings in Shanghai, most people believe this will have a negative impact on future cross-strait relations.

2. For future cross-strait relations, an overwhelming majority (more than 80%) tends to favor the broadly defined status quo.

From a long-term perspective, people’s attitudes on unification or independence have not shown significant swings. Those in favor of quick unification or immediate independence represent a very small percentage.

3. Most people (40% to 75%) reject Beijing’s “one country, two systems” formula. Those considering this acceptable fall in a wide range from 10% to 48% in different polls. This can be attributed to different phrasing in questionnaires.

Arguments that there is an increasing number of Taiwan people in favor of Beijing’s “one country, two systems” policy need long-term and broader observation.

4. Most people (more than 60%) support the trial operation of the mini-three-links on offshore islands (Kinmen and Matsu). Many affirm this policy liberalization that help facilitate open travel for peoples of the two sides.

A few people originally worried about the impact from the mini-three-links on local security, but after implementation, most people said they did not feel any major difference.

5. An overwhelming majority of the people (more than 80%) supports conditional liberalization of direct transportation between the two sides, compared to only 10% in favor of unconditional liberalization.

This finding indicates that the general public wishes to see more aggressive practices by the government on the three direct links, but with reservations for unconditional liberalization.

6. Most people are in favor of the government’s liberalization of Mainland tourists visiting Taiwan, and support a gradual and steady liberalization.

Survey findings show that 60% to 80% of the people support the government’s liberalization of Mainland tourists visiting Taiwan. However, 80% of the people are worried that some Mainland tourists could seek opportunities to overstay, which might affect social security. About three in every four persons support a liberalization that starts with a limited number of Mainland tourists gradually expanding to greater numbers. This leads to the conclusion that the general public affirms the government’s gradual and steady liberalization.