Thu, Jan 19, 2006 - Page 8 News List

Editorial: Words do not stop missiles

When democracy dies, history has shown that it is all too often because no one is prepared to defend it.

In Weimar Germany, in Taisho Japan and in pre-Franco Spain, intellectuals and politicians decried the unruliness of a democratic state, the vulgarity of the liberties afforded to citizens and the relative weakness of national institutions. Such people called for a stronger, more orderly form of government -- one that could better handle the political and economic pressures their countries faced.

All of these states were in periods of transition, and in all of them politicians failed to have the foresight to put the development of strong democratic institutions above ephemeral partisan concerns.

And in each case, this failure resulted in tragedy.

Taiwan, of course, faces a unique set of circumstances. There are limits to the parallels one can draw between the mindset of the average shopper in the Ximending of 2006 and the Ginza of 1926.

But the parallel that is clear is that Taiwan's system of government suffers from fundamental structural flaws as awkward as those that doomed Japan and Germany's initial flirtations with liberal democracy.

Taiwan, luckily, does not face the kind of dire economic meltdown that contributed to the failure of other democratic states. Nor is it rent by fanatical struggles between rightist and leftist ideologies.

But in its relationship with China, Taiwan does face an existential crisis, a major economic challenge and an internal ideological struggle. As a result, the experiment of democracy in Taiwan is stuck in a twilight state -- de facto existence, de jure nothingness.

In a certain sense, this existential crisis came to a head during and after the presidential election in 2004. It is a credit to the good sense of the average citizen that that drama unfolded with relatively little bloodshed and civil strife.

Since then, the ideological struggle has continued on a tame level.

Unfortunately, what the pan-green and pan-blue camps are ignoring is this: At some point, their ideologies must be put aside in the interest of creating a sustainable system of government.

What that means is defending the imperfect system that Taiwan now has. This, of course, will mean defending Taiwan from within -- and without.

The Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) has become so intractable in its thinking with regard to domestic politics that it has rejected the Executive Yuan's budget request for next year. The pan-blues believe it is so wrong for Taiwan to purchase arms from the US that they are willing to paralyze the Cabinet to prevent the weapons deal from moving forward.

Or is it that they are so desperate to paralyze the Chen administration that they are willing to sacrifice Taiwan?

At a soiree for the nation's diplomatic corps in Taipei yesterday, KMT Chairman Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) made a point of talking to American Institute in Taiwan Director Douglas Paal about the arms issue. He told Paal that the KMT will submit a letter to the US in March outlining its position on the topic.

Paal must have been relieved. Washington can now sit back and wait, instead of working around the clock to decipher the KMT's stance on an arms deal the party has blocked 45 times.

Ma has made a point of telling Beijing that unification can only come after China moves toward a democratic system. He should remember that he could only demand this so long as the People's Liberation Army remains on the other side of the Taiwan Strait.

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