These past weeks, many have participated in a campaign calling for the removal of President Chen Shui-bian (
There have been several requests made to determine if Chen has violated the law, but no probes have been completed.
There may be more efforts in the months ahead to topple Chen, but the purpose is more to force the ruling party to remain on the defensive until election day in 2008 -- not necessarily to change the government now. We are seeing the beginning of campaigning for the next round of elections, though it already seems to be a poll that will result in one party holding the legislature and the executive.
It may well end up a more vigorous battle over national identity than ever before, a battle more open and messy and which may corrode the inclination of voters and politicians to support the ambiguous status quo.
China, which has not done well in getting what it wants out of Taiwan, is beginning to hope again. The US seems more nervous -- rightly -- about how this will play out.
In the midst of all the domestic political turbulence, the chairmen of the two main political parties -- Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) Chairman Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) and Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) Chairman Yu Shyi-kun -- have visited the US to spell out policies that might be of interest to Washington.
There is still a year and a half before the election for president is held. Personal stances may change, events in other parts of the world may impact on an important issue, or political party leaders might decide to change a policy. The presentations we hear now may change with all this, but the broad direction each party is taking will continue.
Last week, Yu stated that the only way China will ever become a responsible stakeholder in the world is by rising democratically. Taiwan is the first democratic Chinese society, and the one most likely to influence China's democratic development.
If Taiwan were to take a pro-China approach, however, not only would the power balance in the region face a great challenge, but also the security and development of all democratic forces in East Asia would be affected.
The DPP is based in democratic principles and naturally stands on the side of Western democratic countries, which is not the same as the KMT, which envisages Taiwan's future more in terms of Chinese expectations. If the latter is elected in 2008, this could weaken Taiwan-Japan relations.
In March, Ma said that his party would stick to the "five noes": no declaration of independence; no change to Taiwan's name, flag or anthem; no writing about "two states" in the Constitution; no referendum to change the status quo of cross-strait relations; and no abolishing of the National Unification Council.
He added the "five dos." First, he would resume negotiations on the basis of the (fictional) "1992 consensus" -- one China, with different interpretations on what this meant. He would negotiate a peace agreement with China that would include confidence-building measures. He would facilitate economic exchanges leading eventually to the creation of a common market. And he would increase Taiwan's international space based on pragmatism instead of a zero-sum game.
He said he would also facilitate cultural and educational exchanges, such as allowing Chinese students to attend universities in Taiwan.
The "five noes" and the "five dos," according to Ma, could take care of cross-strait relations.
Comparing the two presentations is difficult. Yu focused on Taiwan's potential in describing the path it could take (with help, of course) in moving China toward democracy -- an important objective for the US and other states. He did not intend to raise a wide number of issues in cross-strait or bilateral matters, at least not for the moment.
Continuous attention to Taiwan's internal struggles, however, makes decisions difficult to arrive at. The lack of high-level and open dialogue makes it more difficult still, not only for the ruling party but the opposition as well.
Ma, while covering a range of matters, focused on one broad issue -- cross-strait relations. The first broad grouping of concerns involved problems to be inherited from the Chen administration; the second involved Taiwan-China dialogue itself. Regardless of how the issues play out, a Ma presidency would discover quite quickly that China will be obstructive on no small number of contentious matters.
With regard to US-Taiwan ties, there remains a need to stay abreast of changes in people and issues on both sides that might impact on that relationship.
A bilateral dialogue keeping both sides aware of domestic changes in the pre-election period will be helpful for both sides, as the presidential campaign threatens to muddy the waters considerably. At the same time, the debate on national identity will be intense, and the results very important, not just for the people of Taiwan, but for the US, China and most of East Asia.
Nat Bellocchi is a former chairman of the American Institute in Taiwan and is now a special adviser to the Liberty Times Group. The views expressed in this article are his own.
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