The benefits of economic security and prosperity touted by the administration of President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) through Taiwan’s increasing integration into China are nonexistent.
On the other hand, China’s economic growth is slowing down to a point where it is facing a danger of social instability.
Unemployment is going up, and the migrant workers in the cities are heading back home to their rural hinterland, without much prospect of relief there either.
The images of demonstrations by sacked workers on foreign television are only the tip of the iceberg of growing social unrest in the country.
Since there are no institutional channels of protest, the pressure cooker of social unrest is building up steadily with no way of knowing when precisely it might blow up.
One way of dealing with this is for the regime to let competing and alternative political structures function with a view to channel such social pressures into workable and hopeful scenarios.
But this is anathema to the ruling party, fears that will threaten its monopoly on political power.
It is against this dismal backdrop that the Ma administration is going ahead with linking Taiwan’s destiny with an authoritarian and autocratic regime in China.
It is time that the Ma administration rethinks its China strategy before it is too late to extricate Taiwan from this self-destructive path.
Despite its present economic and political problems (nothing compared to China’s mess), Taiwan has been a success story.
And China can learn a thing or two from Taiwan, as Zhao Ziyang (趙紫陽) — the ousted, and now departed, communist leader who opposed the military crackdown of the 1989 democracy movement — reportedly said. This might be more instructive for China than seeking to gobble up Taiwan with help from Taiwan’s enablers.
In his conversations with Zong Fengming (宗鳳鳴), Zhao was quoted in Captive Conversations as saying that he admired the late Taiwanese president Chiang Ching-kuo (蔣經國) for initiating democratic reform in Taiwan.
He reportedly told Zong: “Chiang Ching-kuo is an amazing person; he deserves to be studied carefully. He followed a world trend and pushed democratic reform on his own.”
Zhao said: “He [Chiang] was educated in the tradition of [Chinese Nationalist Party] KMT one-party rule, and also, for many years in the Soviet Union, in the tradition of Communist one-party rule. That he was able to walk out of these old modes of thought is truly impressive.”
As impressive as it is, China is unlikely to follow that course.
It’s a pity, however, that Chiang’s own party, the KMT, appears to be going in the reverse direction of emulating some of the authoritarian trends of their communist neighbor.
Perry Link has quoted extensively from Zhao’s conversations with Zong in The New York Review of Books.
Zhao said that he believed that “What we [in China] now have is a tripartite group in which the political elite, the economic elite and the intellectual elite are fused,” and they block the country’s political reform to serve their own interests.
Chiang came to favor democracy for China because “the policy of [Chinese President] Hu Jintao (胡錦濤) and [Chinese Premier] Wen Jiabao (溫家寶) is only to hand out little favors to the common people in order to bolster their image of ‘caring for the people’ without infringing any serious interests of the elite, let alone changing the system.”
And this, in Zhao’s view, “will not solve the problem.” He felt that the “dictatorship of the proletariat” — the communist monopoly on power — has to go, replacing it with “parliamentary democracy” as the way forward.
Besides, the communist state will increasingly turn to nationalism to rally its people. And Zhao came to see that as “the greatest threat” to China’s “progress toward a modern civilization.”
Notwithstanding all the danger signals, the Ma administration is keen to ride on China’s coattails.
Taipei must know that integration with China cannot be selective. It will be the whole package of China’s political and economic system, perhaps not immediately but over a period of time.
The question then is: what precisely is the compulsion to integrate with China? There are no indications that Taiwanese are keen to be sucked in.
This is something the Ma administration would need to explain to the public.
They certainly didn’t vote the government into power to preside over the dissolution of Taiwan as a sovereign entity.
Hu is already marginalizing that entity by excluding any external input into its affairs. The new political language is one of sorting out minor differences by “Chinese people on both sides,” with the Ma administration apparently comfortable with the new terminology.
And why would they when things are so dismal politically and economically in China?
Even though China’s rulers might not have the sagacity of Taiwan’s Chiang, some of its people are not giving up on democracy despite all the dangers this might involve.
This was evident in the signing of Charter 8 on Dec. 10 by more than 2,000 Chinese nationals to bring about fundamental political change in China. Explaining the dire need for democratic reform in China, the document says: “The political reality, which is plain for anyone to see, is that China has many laws but no rule of law; it has a Constitution but no constitutional government.”
It goes on: “The stultifying results are endemic official corruption, an undermining of the rule of law, weak human rights, decay in public ethics, crony capitalism, growing inequality ... pillage of natural environment as well as of human and historic environments, and the exacerbation of a long list of social conflicts.”
One can only hope that Taiwan is not going the way China is headed by volunteering to commit political hara-kiri.
Sushil Seth is a writer based in Australia.
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