Editorial: Ma shows contempt for democracy - Taipei Times
Sat, Aug 13, 2005 - Page 8 News List

Editorial: Ma shows contempt for democracy

In an interview with a Chinese-language newspaper last weekend, Taipei Mayor Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九), speaking in his capacity as the Chinese Nationalist Party's (KMT) chairman-elect, said that until China reversed its verdict on Tiananmen, it would be impossible for Taiwan to begin negotiations about reunification. Ma's remarks are an interesting example of why so many people think him a great hope for democracy -- and why he is in fact a chip off the old KMT block, with its traditional contempt for the views of the electorate it aims to serve.

The misguided will see Ma's remarks as standing up to China in a way that outgoing KMT Chairman, Lien Chan, never would and never has. For Lien, all that ever mattered was his ambition to be president. When he found the Taiwanese wouldn't give him the job, he hoped China might make him Taiwan's Janos Kadar. Ma, on the other hand, seems principled enough to be more averse to selling out Taiwan than his predecessor. And he is also realistic enough to know that China's political system is anathema to Taiwanese. Of course it is not just Tiananmen that bothers them, but Ma has highlighted that a reversal on Tiananmen would herald such a re-drawing of the relationship of the state to its people in China as to change the current system beyond recognition.

So far, so good. Ma is prepared to tell uncomfortable truths to the Chinese and stand up for Taiwan's liberal democratic values.

But the problem here is what he means by "beginning discussions of reunification." Because it is by no means certain that a majority in Taiwan want this to happen. Mainland Affairs Council polls show barely 13 percent of people on Taiwan want reunification either now or ever. Compare that with the 19 percent of hardcore independence supporters, or the 37 percent of don't knows -- the "status quo now, decision" later brigade -- and it's clear that assuming unification negotiations are things that could start, were China to meet some criteria, seems to be assuming rather a lot. Actually, it is riding roughshod over the wishes and views of the 87 percent of Taiwanese who are more ambivalent about unification than Ma.

It should be remembered that the goal of unification -- which one could have been thrown into jail for questioning a generation ago -- was imposed on the Taiwanese by the KMT without their consultation or approval via any democratic means. No Taiwanese has ever been able to vote on whether they supported unification with China, and the assumption that they do is simply an insult. That Ma, KMT blueblood that he is, cannot begin to understand how deeply offensive his attitude is, reeking of traditional Chinese paternalism with its distrust of the views of the hoi polloi, and the thuggishness and selfishness intrinsic to the KMT, shows how thin is the veneer of Ma's democratic values. It is the same old contempt as ever.

For the record, here is the most basic demand for unification talks. Before they begin there must be a referendum on whether they should begin. It is that simple. Taiwanese have to show that they are interested in unification before there is any point in starting talks.

Why? For the obvious reason that the talks will probably not be allowed to fail, though they might be dragged out quite a long time. So to start to talk about unification is really to commit yourself to it taking place -- sometime -- and without sanction via a referendum, no government could say it had a mandate to enter into such negotiations. Any government which did try to force this on the people deserves to be faced with an insurrection.

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