The nation's political parties have been busying themselves with a war between unification and independence proponents lately. As usual when local political forces are busy repositioning themselves and staking out territory in the local political arena, they often ignore the role that Taiwan should play in the international community. As a result, none of the nation's political parties have made a single statement regarding China's recent moves to restrict freedom of information and debate on the Internet, and the very negative impact this has on global Internet culture.
Regardless of their stance on the unification/independence issue or their individual political interests and ideology, none of the parties have any reason to remain absent from the debate on this issue.
Over the past few years, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has become increasingly active in restricting freedom of expression and information gathering. The closure of the China Daily's supplement, Freezing Point, is only one controversy in a series of events.
This incident prompted an open reaction from 13 senior CCP members that forced the party to reinstate the publication -- although it reassigned the editors to other positions. This shows how President Hu Jintao's (胡錦濤) and Premier Wen Jiabao's (溫家寶) efforts to move closer to and serve the people are encountering internal problems. Ultimately, the CCP has to deal with independent voices from the public or the media by suppressing them.
As for Taiwan, one must ask if it is in its best interest that the local political parties do not react just as more progressive voices among the Chinese public and within the CCP are beginning to speak up. Is standing idly by really the best way for Taiwan to perpetuate its own existence?
The significance of the regression of freedom of expression in China is not restricted to China's domestic politics. It also has international implications, as seen in the way major Western Internet companies kowtow to CCP demands on restrictions to freedom of speech.
Yahoo has provided Chinese authorities with IP addresses that led to the arrest of intellectual Shi Tao (
When these firms submit to the CCP's suppression of freedom of expression and information, they not only harm Chinese society and the freedoms of Chinese citizens, but they also set an extremely negative precedent for Internet freedoms on an international level. They set a negative example to other dictatorships and so do serious damage to global democratic values.
The US Congress held a hearing with Yahoo, Microsoft, Cisco and Google, and US senators have submitted legislation to restrict these companies from helping tyrants to victimize their subjects in this way again.
With the pan-blue and pan-green camps busy shaping a new unification-independence discourse, maybe they can stay aloof of the debate over freedom of expression that has emerged as a result of the conflict between the Muslim and the Western world in the wake of the "cartoon war." It is unthinkable, however, that Taiwan's political parties would not have any opinions about all that has transpired lately in China, which sits on our doorstep.
For unification proponents, the question arises of why Taiwan would want to unify with China if it continues to be such an undemocratic nation. For independence proponents, an undemocratic but powerful China becomes a perennial nightmare in the effort to guarantee Taiwan's sovereignty.
Is there nothing Taiwan's government, parties and public can do when we see the constant escalation of such vicious behavior on China's part? Couldn't we at least legislate to stop Taiwanese businesspeople in China from helping the CCP harm the democratic rights of its people?
If this kind of despotism is perpetuated in China, and its government continues to force markets and economic forces to distort the global values of freedom, then the unprecedented inflated self-importance of the Chinese government that is certain to follow after the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing will cause China to move toward "development-oriented despotism."
As China develops into a despotic state that suppresses human rights while offering a wealth of business opportunities, it will become a source of more friction and conflict with a Western world that is already ill at ease with the Chinese rise. This will in turn have a deep impact on long-term regional and global peace and stability. This is not good for Taiwan, situated as it is between great powers.
Another possibility is that many countries will emulate China's "development-oriented despotism" to create business opportunities. Maybe some countries needing Beijing in order to oppose other great powers will join an international group of countries under China's leadership. Should that happen, I'm afraid that calls for freedom in the international community will grow weaker still. This would not only mean that Taiwan -- in advocating liberal democracy -- would become ever more isolated, it would also be bad for the future of human civilization.
Knowing all this, how can Taiwan not act? If we do not speak up now, there will be a price to pay in the future. If political parties always only look to find ways to block their local political enemies, they will not only lose the opportunity to set trends, we will also have to tolerate the continuing spread of evil trends.
In view of "Taiwan first," it would be better to stand up and echo the demands of the Chinese people and the international community that the CCP reform and move toward democracy, rather than to always find ourselves at a disadvantage and trying to fend off China's negative influence. Those who hope for eventual cross-strait unification must ask themselves if it is not their unshirkable responsibility to push China toward democracy.
Regardless of whether we prefer unification or independence for Taiwan, we must ask ourselves if it isn't in the best interests of the people of Taiwan to make a joint call for China to democratize. If it is, then why are we doing nothing?
Hsu Szu-chien is an assistant research fellow at the Institute of Political Science at Academia Sinica.
Translated by Perry Svensson
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