Recently, the "new Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) movement" and other reform campaigns have focused largely on superficial issues, such as whether the party is corrupt, or whether it listens to the public's voices. It has insisted that reform is a party issue and is nobody else's business. But actually, Taiwan's biggest challenges are in its current circumstances and domestic social change.
This situation is also related to whether the understanding of the situation by academic and social groups, which are intimately connected with the DPP, is able to produce an effective response.
For example, the paradigm for interpreting Taiwan's democratic development has usually been a highly polarized one of activists versus the government. This has failed to take into account the influence of international events. This has given rise to the contradiction that exists in the so-called "one China" principle. Thus, the former Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) regime attempted to use the "one China" myth to justify its rule and resist democratic reforms such as re-election of the legislature. As a result, Taiwan's discourse on democracy has been framed in terms of a face off with the "one China" principle.
International China experts such as Charles Freeman Jr, believe that the US' "one China" policy has eased China's anxieties and helped to stabilize the Sino-US relationship, giving Taiwan space for democratic reform. So the world's security mainstream actually believes that the "one China" concept that has stabilized the Taiwan Strait is a key element to this reform. This is completely inconsistent with mainstream opinion in Taiwan.
The above discourses can explain two phenomena:
First, Taiwan's democratic development was not linked to the overall international environment at that time. Domestically, the focus was on social groups' opposition to the "one China" policy of the party-state system, at the same time as international observers regarded the "one China" policy as contributing to the stabilizing of the cross-strait environment.
Second, Taiwan's democratic discourse lacked an international perspective, making it unable to offer a response to the international view.
Taiwan needs a more complete understanding of its democratic development in light of its democratization in the 1990s and the end of the Cold War.
Take its democratization as an example. Now that the KMT has been forced to reform itself, and has become a element of the democratization process, the former model of a confrontation of opposites is no longer useful. It is now necessary to understand both the positive and negative contributions that the DPP, KMT and other parties have made.
A more comprehensive analysis is now necessary, and in practical terms, will also be useful for dealing with ethnic issues, for if an ethnic group feels that it is being made the target of reform, or that it is being sacrificed to political correctness, then the ethnic problem can never be resolved.
Of the challenges that Taiwan now faces in the international community, the most notable is the "rise" of China and the consequent reshuffle of the strategic environment in the Asia-Pacific region. At the same time, Taiwan must also face various global issues, as well as struggle over issues such as the level of its competitiveness, democratic governance and social justice.
How to achieve effective management to protect both competitiveness and social values, while at the same time avoiding being sidelined as a result of indifference to global issues, are all becoming increasingly important. The fact of China's threat, and the fact that China is also becoming a major player in the international community, makes this situation even more complex.
As a result of China's "rise," the "one China" principle, so long the main target of Taiwan's demo-cracy, has ceased to serve as a mythology supporting the KMT's legitimacy. It is now a question of a real military threat. This has begun to influence events in domestic politics, including the schedule of constitutional reform, and with the questions of national title and textbook revision now impinging on national security, it is hardly a surprise that the matter of a referendum is now inseparable from military concerns.
The influence of these problems has increased with the growth of Chinese power. Surely we have not forgotten the six sessions of constitutional amendment that took place in the 1990s. At the time, the Cold War was just over and China was still an international pariah as a result of the Tiananmen Square Massacre. Back then, constitutional amendment was not tied to national security concerns, and Beijing would never have dared make such a fuss over the titles of Taiwan's representatives.
It is because Taiwan's democratic discourse lacks an international dimension that there are international experts who say that the only responsible democracy is one that accepts the "one China" principle.
When they accuse Taiwan of wishing to escape the constraints of "one China," Taipei is unable to respond. It has proved unable to link Taiwan's democracy with the issue of regional security, let alone confirm the positive and negative impact of international issues on Taiwan's democracy.
In this situation, every reform issue in Taiwan ultimately boils down to what kind of system we need to continue exercising effective democratic government, protect national security and maintain social justice in the face of globalizing forces.
This is the heart of constitutional reform. The debate over whether Taiwan should adopt a presidential or Cabinet system of government should not be an issue of political theory, but rather needs to be considered from a more practical perspective.
At the moment, the DPP has the will but not the strength to implement reform. It is therefore necessary to remind those promoting reform that they should look more closely at the problems that Taiwan is facing, and review the inadequacies of the tools and methods used in understanding Taiwanese society in the past.
I believe that it is only by changing the paradigm of our understanding that we will be able to respond to current challenges.
Lai I-chung is the director of foreign policy studies at Taiwan Thinktank.
Translated by Eddy Chang and Ian Bartholomew
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