Sat, Nov 29, 2008 - Page 8 News List

EDITORIAL: Toward Taiwan's tipping point

Toward Taiwan’s tipping point

The term “tipping point” is becoming a cliche, but it is perfectly applicable to a political situation in which the goal of unification shared by the Chinese Communist Party and the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) demands a gradual diminishing of legal and human rights and the convergence of state and party power.

Opponents of China’s designs on Taiwan would do well to conceptualize the stages and processes that mark a devolution to autocracy, and prepare for sustained action well before any “tipping point” — irreversible movement toward autocratic rule — is reached.

President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) and members of the Cabinet have assured skeptical observers that nothing of the sort is taking place, but sober analysis indicates that his party’s headquarters is living up to its pedigree as an organization whose desire for power exceeds its desire to protect the integrity of the state. It was precisely this lack of perspective — combined with consistent acts of incompetence, greed and cruelty — that forced it to flee to Taiwan in the first place.

The question then becomes how long a system of government can withstand the designs of a party whose current leadership would reinstall a party-state apparatus at the appropriate time.

The period may be longer than independence activists fear. Progress toward any tipping point would be retarded by a number of significant factors.

The first is that few Taiwanese privilege ideology over economic stability and the nation’s reputation as a friendly, hardworking and civilized place.

The second is that democratic processes remain in place and there may be sufficient checks and balances left in the system for aberrations to be corrected and political bias minimized, though this needs to be scrutinized with the utmost diligence. In light of the annulment yesterday of the election of KMT caucus secretary-general Chang Sho-wen (張碩文) as legislator in the first trial of a vote-buying case, a degree of confidence could still be maintained in a legal system that has suffered apt criticism at home and overseas.

The third is that, as always, a China under heavy domestic pressure can be counted on to inflame opponents and alienate supporters at the times that are least advantageous to its interests.

In a way, the unrest that followed the visit of Chinese envoy Chen Yunlin (陳雲林) served as a splendid signal to the KMT government, the general public and credulous observers overseas that the process of unification is far more contested and fraught with danger than its advocates would have many believe. Chen’s agenda was by any standard rather innocuous, but the reaction to it was not. Taiwanese who oppose annexation by China will not tolerate symbolic acts of disrespect and oppression and do not fall for insincere words of comradeship — even if they are sweetened by trade deals and direct flights.

If the government accepts that decisions relating to the very sovereignty of this country cannot be made without wide consultation, then hopes for a peaceful solution to cross-strait tension — at least among Taiwanese — could be fulfilled.

But President Ma will have a much more serious political situation on his hands than he does now if he is unable to convince his critics that the sadly predictable behavior of his party can be contained and the reputations of public offices and the neutrality of officeholders defended.

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