What price would one put on democracy? What would one trade democracy for? What would it take to sell out someone else's right to self-determination?
A pair of pandas? Better trade relations? A chance to make more money? Or even the alleged glory of being the mythical white-horse prince who could stake a claim that he brought Taiwan and China together? Democracy is the real issue in the Taiwan-China debate and the questions on democracy are the real questions? The rest is all smokescreen and obfuscation.
In a global age where national boundaries begin to blur and the world begins heading toward corporate identification and influence, the rights of the individual granted by democracy and the rule of law remain and cry out for recognition. These are the same rights the People's Republic of China (PRC) avoids discussing.
In the same vein, as Lien Chan (連戰), James Soong (宋楚瑜) and so many other pan-blue leaders fawningly run to Beijing, they appear embarrassed to even bring up the `D' word. If it is brought up, it is done in almost apologetic terms.
The distinct role that democracy must play in negotiations concerning Taiwan and China's future is crucial. Behind democracy are the paradigms and priorities that people hold for themselves and these two countries. On one side is Taiwan's experience of a long, hard struggle over a one-party state that has still not come clean on its past murders and theft. On the other side is another one-party clique steeped in suppression that justifies its control with the claim to be defender of the myth of one, indivisible China.
As a result, the Taiwan-China debate continues to be smoked over by words and phrases like "independence, inalienable, inseparable, internal problem" and even "a shared common culture."
Independence. In this debate, China has made no bones about its demand to forbid this word in discussions of the future. There can be no talk of Taiwan independence. Such a demand by the PRC is tantamount to saying both sides must agree to come to the PRC's conclusion before they begin to debate.
Still, statements of non-negotiables are a part of bargaining. Taiwan's pan-green leadership has stated its own non-negotiable by saying that both sides must come to the table as equals and have the freedom of choice of equals.
What is most surprising, however, is the complete lack of non-negotiables from the pan-blue leadership. In the old days of Chiang Ching-kuo (蔣經國), the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) at least had fire in its belly when dealing with the PRC. At that time they were bold enough to state their own three no's, "no contacts, no negotiations, no compromise."
Now in sharp contrast, KMT leaders trip and fall over each other as they run to bow and scrape to accommodate the PRC. Such kow-towing makes any rational person ask: Where has the fire gone? What has changed?
The answer lies in seeing the KMT's true past paradigms and priorities and how these were affected by democracy. The KMT that was brave enough to issue its three no's was one which gave lip service to democracy. It did this because it operated with the secure power and privilege of a one-party state similar to that of the PRC.
Hidden behind its three no's was its own basic sine qua non that saw unification only in terms of the KMT maintaining power over all. Democracy ruined that for the KMT; it broke their paradigm of privilege and destroyed their sense of entitlement to power.
Democracy is the antithesis of any one-party state paradigm. Choice and absolute control cannot coexist. Democracy allows the people to vote a government out; understanding this, the KMT knows full well why it is anathema to bring the word up with the PRC and so it bows in submission.
One cannot say the pan-blues have totally avoided mentioning democracy. To his credit, James Soong hinted at it by once saying that perhaps it might be best to put off any discussion of unification for another thirty to fifty years and just expand trade links.
Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九), in his usual way of trying to keep his feet in both boats, also hinted at the issue. In an interview he stated that he suspected that the PRC is still far away from democracy. Nowhere, however, has there been anything close to making democracy a non-negotiable part of discussions.
Why not? Why are there no non-negotiables for discussions from the pan-blue side? The scenario is strangely reminiscent of seventeenth century China, when the Qing was defeating the Ming. The loyalty of several Ming generals and leaders was bought off by the Qing. By 1679, the Qing even created the Xiu Lai ("cordial relations") compound where opposing generals and leaders could surrender and retire in comfort.
This was certainly part of the enticement they offered to followers of Cheng Chih-lung (
When Zheng Zhi-long came over to the Qing, he was expected to bring with him his son Zheng Cheng-gong and all of his troops. When they didn't come, Zhi-long's wife Tagawa committed suicide and Zhi-long didn't get a chance to enjoy his retirement. Bought loyalty, particularly between past enemies, must still deliver.
Zhi-long had promised to deliver his son; have the pan-blues promised to deliver Taiwan? Is this the real reason why they continually block bills to procure defensive weapons in the legislature?
As the PRC wines and dines the pan-blue leaders and legislators it would seem the same machinations are at work. The pan-blue leadership remains surprisingly quiet on any mention of democracy as a condition for discussions on future relations between Taiwan and China. Instead they talk of harmonious interests; how close the talk seems to Xiu Lai.
At stake here are conflicting paradigms about Taiwan. Where are each party's priorities and how does democracy fit in? Operating from a paradigm of hard won democracy, the pan-green camp maintains its right to self-determination. Since democracy by its nature allows many points of view and free choice, it has to be open to voting on unification or not. The flip side is that it is also open to vote that could reject it. The pan-blue camp refuses to allow that.
The pan-blue camp is still mired in its one-party state paradigm, the same paradigm held by the PRC. The priority of this paradigm is that the one-party state must first control all. The unification of Taiwan and China must always take precedence over democracy. Lip service can be given to democracy but control must dominate over free choice; as in Hong Kong.
Thus the KMT would rather see a Taiwan that is stripped of its democracy and a part of China than one with choice. Are the benefits and future privileges of such a metaphorical Xiu Lai really worth that?
Democracy denies privilege to any one party and places it in the hands of the people. The people can bestow the privilege of leadership on those whom they feel worthy; they can also take it away in the next election.
The issue of independence is a smokescreen. For over a half a century, Taiwan is and has been independent whether as a one-party state under the KMT or a democracy since 1996.
The real issue is the role of democracy in Taiwan's future as it relates to China. Since 1996 when the people first directly elected their president, Taiwan has utilized that freedom of choice twice. In the elections of 2000 a peaceful transfer of power took place. Last year it was confirmed. Taiwan's democracy -- won at the cost of blood, sweat and suffering -- should not be sacrificed for "cordial relations."
The KMT fought the PRC only as long as they were masters in Taiwan. Once the people exercised their democratic right to vote and voted them out of office, the blue camp lost interest in democracy. Like lost dogs seeking to lick the hand of the bully that drove them out of China, they return. An appropriate proverb might be, "Better to be someone else's live dog than a dead lion." Perhaps they will get a bone.
This paradigm also reveals the true feelings of those waishengren (
Slogans once expressed the KMT's dedication. Who cannot recall, "Gentlemen will not stand with thieves," which expressed the KMT distaste of co-existing in the UN with the PRC. As Lien Chan and others wine and dine with Chinese Communist Party leaders and vow that as brothers they will fight Taiwan's "independence" (read: democratic choice) one wonders what the new slogan will be?
Carved on Kinmen's highest mountain are the words "Remember our days at Chu." And elsewhere is found another demand. "Give me back my land." How times have changed. It now appears that the pan-blue slogan could be "Forget Chu and go for the money." Westerners had a saying, "Better dead than Red." For the pan-blues, now it's "Better Red than lose power and privilege."
As China and Taiwan approach discussions, Taiwanese voters have a right to know what paradigms and priorities each party holds. There has never been transparent accountability on the state assets taken by the KMT, nor has there been true accountability for all involved with the suppression and deaths during the White Terror period.
Will the KMT's position on democracy be added to this list?
Jerome Keating is a Taiwan-based writer.
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