Actually the polls reveal that public opinion in Taiwan is really quite complex, and the situation is hardly hopeless for Beijing. The number of people that identify themselves as both Taiwanese and Chinese has remained steady at about 45% since 1990, and the number of people that say that they would consider unification at some point in the future if the Mainland becomes democratic is something like 80%.
There was attrition from the KMT to DPP in the 1990′s, but that trend has ended, and the KMT is today far more “China-oriented” than it was during Lee Teng-Hui’s era.
The situation is hopeless only if you consider a strong Taiwanese identity to be in opposition to a strong Chinese identity, and the thing that both the KMT and CCP figured out is not to try to set the two in opposition. The other thing that KMT has figured out is that most people in Taiwan are really tired of arguing about the identity issue, and you can most effectively fight the DPP on this issue by not fighting. If you make people on Taiwan choose between Taiwan and China, they will choose Taiwan, so if you want them to choose China, you must arrange the question so that they are not forced to choose between the two.
Also these junkets aren’t going to change people’s minds immediately, but they may have a lot of long term effects. If nothing else they get people talking to each other and “humanizes” the other side which is good.
The problem with a lot of these news stories, is that someone goes on these junkets, you ask them if they have changed their minds, and the answer is no, and so they are marked as a failure. What they don’t look at is the effect that they have on people +10 years +20 years. I went to a government sponsored junket in the late-1980′s. It didn’t have any immediate changes in my outlook, but there were huge long term changes, and my views are probably a lot different than had I not gone.
The other thing about public opinion polls is that you have to be careful about how you use them. If your purpose is to show that Taiwan is permanently lost to Beijing, you can easily do this by asking the right questions. However, if your purpose is to understand public opinion so that you can come up with a long term strategy to change it, things get more complex. If group A uses polls to make a point, and group B uses polls to plan strategy, then group B will ultimately win.
I do think that Chen has run out of his bag of tricks. If Chen plays the “let’s join the UN as Taiwan” and KMT responds by saying “let’s not join the UN or let join as ROC,” Chen will win. However, if Chen says “let’s talk about the UN” and the KMT responds by saying “let’s talk about the economy” then the KMT will win.
The other thing that is striking to me is that Chen is talking and not Frank Hsieh, who is the DPP presidential candidate. This leads me to believe that Chen really isn’t worried about Ma Ying-Jeou, but he is trying to keep Frank Hsieh from going too far. This could cripple the DPP in the Presidental election. It’s less than a year, and so far Hsieh has not said what he is planning on doing.
The big question is what Chen will do next. He has three choices. 1) quietly drop the referendum idea 2) try to get the referendum on the ballot using signatures or 3) get the referendum on the ballot using his presidental authority. 3) is problematic because at this point the KMT can get people to abstain by making this a referendum on Chen. Chen probably wants 2) because that commits the DPP to a given platform, but 2) may have a lot of resistance from within the DPP. 1) is a possibility, and the fact that 1) is a possibility may be why both the KMT and the CCP are quiet. If the KMT and CCP start screaming about Chen, then 1) becomes impossible because too much face will be lost.
I should point out that the US saying “we don’t think a referendum is a good idea” changes the political situation considerably since it allows people to be opposed to the referendum on the UN without looking disloyal.