Fri, Mar 29, 2002 - Page 12 News List

Editorial: The weakness of the quiet revolution

On the surface, the national security leaks over the past week appear to have been merely a round of muckraking. Only a judicial probe will confirm whether they involve corruption. In fact, the leaks were an undiluted case of political wrangling. If we look at their deeper significance, however, the leaks are simply a matter of Taiwanese society paying for democracy obtained on the cheap.

Taiwan, unlike neighboring South Korea or the Philippines and even far-away East European countries, did not experience fierce mass protests and street fighting in the process of democratization. Only after much blood was shed did authoritarian or communist regimes lose power. Only after people paid a very high price -- many with their lives -- did their nations taste the sweet fruit of democracy. The "quiet revolution" that the Taiwanese have been so proud of in fact came too easily. The only person who actually sacrificed his life for the cause was Cheng Nan-jung (鄭南榕), who immolated himself for the cause of press freedom.

Taiwan's democracy has been endowed "from the top down" by its rulers. If the late Chiang Ching-kuo (蔣經國) hadn't issued the "goodwill of democratization," Taiwanese would not now be enjoying democracy and freedom of speech and we would still be ruled by a strongman or the military today.

The reason Taiwan's democracy is unlike that of her neighbors, which won democracy "from the bottom up," is because the Taiwanese people do not have the guts, are too compromising, and have not devoted enough effort to the endeavor. This is what we must reflect on and feel ashamed about.

Because Taiwan sacrificed so little for its democratization, she had almost no opportunity to learn from the losses such sacrifice brings.

That is why the recent leaking of state secrets is having such a massive impact on society. That is why the case has triggered a debate on the question of which is more important -- national security or freedom of the press.

For the most part, this is not an issue in advanced democracies. Only in a country like Taiwan, a "democratic toddler" with an inadequate legal system, can people have such divergent views and be at such a loss over the issue.

Now, even the loyalty of ethnic mainlanders has come under suspicion. The ethnic confrontation in Taiwanese society, while it has been subsiding, can be re-ignited at anytime.

Taiwan is also in a unique situation in that we face the massive military threat of communist China, whose ambition to gobble up Taiwan has not eased for a single day. The people of Taiwan cannot completely let their guard down.

Nor should the international community measure Taiwan by the yardstick of a mature democracy. This is to say nothing of groups that are more loyal to Beijing than to the democratically-generated Taiwan government. It is difficult for the outside world to imagine the political absurdity that exists in Taiwan.

Even so, we will not dilute the implementation of democracy because of this situation or ethnic conflict. On the contrary, we expect Taiwan to develop into an even more pluralistic and progressive society.

We would also like to advise politicians and media with ulterior motives never to abuse this situation to achieve private political ambitions, much less sacrifice the security and interests of the majority of Taiwanese for such ends. We hope politicians from both the ruling party and the opposition camp will have a basic sense of historical responsibility.

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