Whether or not an economic cooperation framework agreement (ECFA) between Taiwan and China is first presented to the legislature for debate, the fact remains that the Democratic Progressive Party stands to gain from any perception that the deal damages Taiwan’s political and/or economic interests.
The ECFA is a prelude to wider discussions of a political deal between the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) government and the Chinese Communist Party. We know this because the Chinese have said as much, and because it is consistent with KMT rhetoric, if not President Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) hasty campaign pledge to avoid the issue.
Ma’s promise, while sensible in the context of an election, may have weakened the KMT’s ability to be taken seriously over the long term as both a unificationist organization and a nationalist political group.
Promising not to talk about unification may put fears to rest that difficult decisions would be forced upon people sooner rather than later, but it also suggests that the party has little capacity for developing a sales pitch outlining what unification would entail — assuming, of course, that Taiwanese would have some say in the matter.
A deal with Beijing could carry serious drawbacks for Taiwan, and it would be essential for the KMT to neutralize these by appealing to the emotions through promoting a concern for the fate of ordinary Chinese (recall the impressive Sichuan earthquake aid drive) and the dignity of a unified nation. Taiwan’s leading role in China’s future would need to be elaborated on for a sophisticated Taiwanese audience that gives no weight to the language of Chinese propagandists.
Without the ability to sell such a unification package to ordinary Taiwanese — whatever the fine print may be — havoc and bloodshed will be the KMT’s reward when the critical moment comes.
Intriguingly, the KMT does not seem to understand that for Taiwanese, unification with China would require a growing identification with ordinary Chinese — not their autocratic system of government.
As a party in a democratic state, the KMT will not be able to convince skeptics that it has honorable intentions if it continues to display ignorance of the circumstances facing the bulk of the Chinese population.
If the KMT continues to ignore the plight of exploited peasants, Chinese democracy activists, ethnic Tibetans, Uighurs, Mongolians and others, and cannot champion a country that is ruled by law rather than a technocratic-military clique, then its claim to speak for and defend Taiwan after unification would be laughed at, even by its own supporters.
Democracy activists in China frequently refer to the Taiwanese experience as an inspiration, if not exactly a template. The KMT could make tremendous use of this to advance an argument for unification with the principles (if not practices) that founded the Republic of China. But in doing so, the KMT would also have to demonstrate that it can help reform China — and that, for the foreseeable future, is a terribly far-fetched prospect.
There was a time decades ago when the Nationalist camp boasted genuine intellectuals who thought it important to develop a political philosophy that would unite and strengthen the country, while resisting the advance of communism. Their efforts were not always successful, but at least there was effort.