Hope for Pacifying the Strait

April 15th, 2008

Even in democracies, if one party holds power for long enough, scandals can occur and popular support can fade. Nevertheless, the result of the Taiwanese presidential election was a landslide victory for the Nationalist Party (KMT) that far exceeded expectations. I felt, though conscious of the heartbreaking of friends of mine in the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), that the election result may lead to a sort of optimistic outlook concerning Taiwan’s future.  

In other words, the Taiwanese voters completely discounted the possibility of a KMT victory leading to a possible China-Taiwan reunification. Otherwise they would not have opted for the KMT in the midst of China’s crackdown in Tibet.  

In fact, Ma Ying-jeou, the winning candidate, had said from the very beginning that he did not support reunification, and even suggested boycotting the Beijing Olympics. Moreover, throughout the election campaign both the KMT and the DPP candidates tried to outdo each other in the question of who had a stronger identity as a Taiwanese.  

Previously, I had been apprehensive concerning the future of Taiwan’s freedom and democracy. Democracy cannot be realized unless both the governing and opposition parties have a common vision concerning the ground rules for maintaining a democratic system.  

Democratically electing a Nazi-like party that has a totalitarian view of the state means choosing to end democracy through democratic means. In Taiwan’s case, as well, electing a government that consents to the one country, two systems arrangement means the end of freedom and democracy. Even though 10 years have passed in Hong Kong, a popular election has yet to be held. But that really is a trivial issue. The problem is that Hong Kong will enjoy freedom only for a duration of 40 more years. Whether the time that freedom is assured is 50 years or 100 years, it is still a promise to throw away the freedom of one’s grandchildren.  

I was concerned about a similar situation developing in Taiwan. Chinese President Hu Jintao made a proposal for peace talks with Taiwan. Whether such talks materialize through peaceful means (though inevitably under military and economic threat) or by the direct use of forces, Taiwan will eventually lose its freedom if, under such pressure, the president accepts the one country, two system solution. And I thought that a KMT president would be more prone to accept such compromise, and that a DPP government was a safer choice until that possibility completely disappeared. If the possibility of Taiwan accepting a one country, two system solution completely disappeared, I would not be concerned about Taiwan’s future even if a change of government took place as a result of its democratic setup. The results of the latest presidential and legislature elections gives me hope that perhaps Taiwan might have already reached this stage.  

Of course, unqualified optimism is still not warranted. The KMT will probably never again hold both the presidency and a three-quarter majority of the legislature, and it is only natural for China to try to take advantage of the current opportunity in the coming four years. I hope that China does not misread the results of the elections. China should understand the public sentiment of Taiwan behind Ma’s statement following his sweeping victory. He said, “This was a victory of the Taiwanese people.”  

China has been calling for natural, peaceful unification based on deepening of mutual economic dependence, although it is not known whether this is propaganda or its true intention. I do not mind this policy since I believe that economics and politics are fundamentally different. But strict vigilance is necessary so that intimidation and other unfair means intended for exploiting the growing economic interdependence shall not be used for political purposes against Taiwanese firms that have invested in China.  

My advice that the election results should not be misread might also apply to some China experts in the United States. It is natural for them to feel relieved with the results of the elections so that there is no worry regarding maintaining the status quo in the Taiwan Strait for the time being. However, I would like to point out that assuming, from these results, that the Taiwan problem will be resolved through future reunification seriously risks misreading the sentiment of the Taiwanese people.  

And finally, concerning the oft-mentioned danger of declaration of Taiwan’s independence occurring when the pendulum swings back in the other direction, as a result of the future workings of democracy, I would like to point out that such a danger is an illusion. Taiwan, with its conditions, is already qualified as a nation state under international law, better qualified than a hundred other members of the United Nations. The only thing missing is formal international recognition. More to the point, recognition by America and Japan.  

But the U.S. government is hamstrung by the previous joint U.S.-China communiques and Japan does not have the political power to act independently on this issue. Consequently, even if Taiwan formally declares independence, there will be no changes in the slightest from the present status. Declaration of independence adds nothing.  

As long as the KMT is closely in step with Taiwanese public sentiment that opposes reunification, it means the existence of a stable consensus concerning Taiwan’s future. And that will assure the future function of democracy. In fact, change of government will be possible in accordance with democratic procedures.