Tsai fast losing the mandate of Taiwan compatriots
A weeklong pilot strike during the Spring Festival holiday season forced Taiwan-based China Airlines to cancel 214 flights, which played havoc with the travel plans of about 30,000 passengers from Feb 8 to 15.
It was only on Feb 11, three days into the strike, however, that Taiwan leader Tsai Ing-wen delivered a speech asking China Airlines management and employees to hold sincere and rational talks to end the strike.
Why was Tsai so indifferent to the repercussions of the pilot strike?
According to observers and experts on the island, the pilot strike this time is the result of a power struggle within the ruling Democratic Progressive Party.
The crushing defeat in the local elections in late 2018 was a big blow to the DPP, which made many DPP members question Tsai's leadership. Lai Ching-te, a member of the DPP's "new tide faction", has forged an alliance with Koo Kwang-ming, who represents extreme separatists, in an attempt to urge Tsai to abandon her plans to stand in the 2020 elections. It is therefore evident that Tsai's authority within the party and beyond is no longer unquestionable.
To try and cement her position, Tsai sought to use the pilot strike to crack down on her rivals in the party and she has taken covert actions to intensify the power struggle within the DPP and strengthen her relationship with the United States in a bid to retain power on the island.
Since Tsai took office in 2016, many members of the "new tide faction" have occupied plum posts in public offices－CEO of China Airlines being one of them. Thanks to the "new tide faction" not taking an active part in the local elections campaign, many DPP candidates such as Chen Chi-mai, Lin Chia-lung and Su Tseng-chang, who don't belong to the "new tide faction" suffered disastrous defeats as "victims of the political tussle" within the DPP.
In the face of the aggressive behavior of the "new tide faction", Tsai, in alliance with other factions of the DPP, has promoted her allies such as Chen and Lin to high positions right after the elections in a bid to thwart Lai Ching-te's activities.
Thus, although on the surface the pilot strike may appear to be a simple labor dispute, look deeper and one will see it is a fierce factional struggle. After Chen and Lin mediated, however, the airline management and the pilots' union finally agreed to suspend the strike on Feb 14. In a way, this could be construed as a warning from Tsai to those hungry for the top positions that their ambitions will not be fulfilled.
As well as taking measures to undermine those challenging her authority in the party, Tsai has also chosen to resist the economic and social integration of the two sides of the Straits, which goes against the interests of Taiwan compatriots and is likely to dash her reelection hopes.
In 2018, the Taiwan Affairs Office of the State Council launched 31 preferential policies in order to make it easier for Taiwan residents to study, work, do business or live on the mainland. Since then, quite a few provinces and cities have introduced specific measures in this regard. For instance, Xiamen in Fujian province has introduced 60 measures including one offering Taiwan compatriots posts of assistant community director. Based on this policy, Xiamen's Haicang district has employed 43 Taiwan residents to its village administration and neighborhood committees.
But after learning of the news, Taiwan's mainland affairs council said on Dec 30 that in principle the arrangement violates the act governing cross-Straits ties and threatened to fine the Taiwan residents involved 100,000-500,000 NT$($3,243-16,213) each. Worse, the DPP expects its intimidation to deter youths from seeking jobs and better lives on the mainland despite the Tsai administration's inability to provide enough jobs for the island's residents.
Tsai's cross-Straits policy has long been unpopular among Taiwan residents, which was reflected in the DPP's defeat in last year's local elections. The growing anger and frustration at the DPP's stance and policies mean Taiwan residents are likely to inflict another blow against the DPP in the next year's elections.
The author is a professor at the Institute of Taiwan Studies, Beijing Union University.