Tue, Mar 22, 2005 - Page 8 News List

Law takes cross-strait relations to the brink

By Wang Chien-chuang 王健壯

The "Anti-Secession" Law passed with a vote of 2,896 to zero, with two abstentions. One is justified in asking, "Can this possibly be called democracy?" Actually, it's "socialist democracy," as the Chinese communists have labeled it, but of a type that only exists in China.

After years of "moving in the direction of democracy" since the revolution, the decision-making system still exhibits a high degree of unanimity. In fact, the legislative process leading to the passage of the Anti-Secession Law suggests that the decision-making system could even be termed an "absolute unanimity system."

Anyone who has read The Past Doesn't Disappear Like Smoke by Zhang Yihe (章詒和) could divine the original form of this type of decision-making process in the period running from the anti-rightist movement to the Cultural Revolution. It seems like China's fourth-generation leaders remain tethered to the historical model of the first generation.

Although some academics hold that the structure of the Chinese communist hierarchy is not pyramid-shaped but rather consists of concentric circles, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) lies in the center. It controls other political bodies -- naturally including the National People's Congress -- and has a grip on every aspect of society.

The CCP has always maintained that power within the socialist democracy comes from the bottom up, and from the outside in. But after many years of political suppression, if the top of the hierarchy sticks to its guns, what can the bottom of the pile do to change anything? The passage of the Anti-Secession Law is a case in point. During its ratification process, what happened to those academics who had received a Western education in politics? And where were the questions from the capitalist press and magazines? Could it really be that nationalism has galvanized everyone into complete agreement with the ruling class?

These questions may well seem a little naive. But not too long ago an academic in China said, "China has such a huge population, and so many intellectuals, and yet you hardly ever hear a word of opposition. This is not only unfortunate, it is also shameful."

Such voices of opposition are loud and numerous within a capitalist democracy. But anyone who makes such noise in the decision-making system of China has their words censored, and may even be imprisoned or exiled. If this is what we can expect from this "socialist democracy," it's an insult to the very concept of democracy.

But what will be the implications of the law for cross-strait relations. Are they doomed to stay bogged down forever?

During the days of the Cuban missile crisis, US president John Kennedy received a number of letters from Soviet president Nikita Khrushchev. While some were emphatic about the Soviets' willingness to go to war, others were far softer, indicating that there was still room for talks. Kennedy and his team decided to analyze the letters to determine which passages represented the collective opinion of the Soviet Politburo, and which represented Khrushchev's own views. Then Kennedy wrote a reply, responding to the Soviet statements that were more compromising and ignoring the more bellicose sections.

In the end the Cuban missile crisis was brought to a peaceful conclusion. Although there were many factors behind this, the main reason was the willingness on the part of the leaders of the US and the USSR to put aside their hostility, and find common ground. President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) and Chinese President Hu Jintao (胡錦濤) would do well to learn from the Kennedy-Khrushchev experience. Otherwise, the current cross-strait situation could well end in war.

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