Sat, Oct 08, 2005 - Page 8 News List

Editorials: There's time for talk, but not now

It's enough to make you bang your head against a wall.

When President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) invited Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) Chairman Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) and other opposition leaders to chat over coffee to further "ethnic and political reconciliation," one could almost write in advance, word-for-word, what the reaction of the opposition would be. Except, perhaps, for the wisecrack by a People First Party (PFP) henchman about the coffee being bitter.

Chen might find that there is political capital to be had out of appearing to be a sensitive new-age politician who wants everyone to talk, be friendly and reconcile only to have these overtures rejected time and again. But it is increasingly obvious that Ma, who has embraced his undistinguished predecessor's penchant for treating Chen like a door-to-door salesman, thinks he might be onto something when he looks down his nose at the diminutive president.

When he attempted to start a dialogue with former KMT chairman Lien Chan (連戰) and was rejected, Chen appeared stronger for Lien's arrogance and impossibly childish petulance. Ma, however, can play the patrician and get away with it, because in all other respects the Great Jogger is highly personable, polite and has scrupulously cultivated an image of progressive thinking, energy and inclusiveness. Even though such charisma is sorely lacking in the KMT, the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) must identify a candidate with similar characteristics to have any hope of retaining the presidency -- but not one who isn't prepared to get into a fight when necessary.

Chen's supporters might do well to ask themselves if he hasn't run out of ideas on how to deal with a re-energized opposition that just won't play ball. In the face of this rigidity, the almost daily, autistic rhetoric of "reconciliation" involving the "23 million people of Taiwan" damages the cause it attempts to champion.

In an ideal world, of course, Ma would adopt the same goodwill toward the executive that he has curiously adopted toward the nation's gay and lesbian community -- all the more laudable because of its defiance of the grisly conservatism of his KMT mentors on such matters, and the fact that the DPP has been tardy in stamping out institutional bigotry. But this is not an ideal world. Ma is playing a clever game, letting the DPP talk itself into corners and watching quietly in the wings when not making low-key commentary.

Chen must recognize that appealing for reconciliation with the pan-blue camp -- as distinct from reconciliation between ordinary people of different ethnic backgrounds -- is pointless because the rump of the KMT and PFP machines feel that there is nothing to reconcile over, let alone apologize for.

Though it may frustrate those who seek to employ ethno-nationalism to protect Taiwan from Chinese aggression, ethnic conflict has run out of currency as a political mobilizer, except among a few anachronistic brigands of "Greater China" nationalists and a small number of unelectable fringe independence advocates.

The greatest victim of the exaggeration of the role of ethnic conflict in this country is a president who is sincere in wanting to heal the wounds of the past. But by using anodyne slogans of reconciliation to court professional obstructionists, and thus belaboring an electorate that has already come to terms with the KMT's oppressive past, Chen fails to exploit the fact that ethnic conflict is now almost entirely restricted to the Grand Guignol of party politics.

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