Sat, May 23, 2009 - Page 8 News List

EDITORIAL: The KMT and Chinese democracy

John Garnaut, the China correspondent for Australia’s Sydney Morning Herald and Age newspapers, reported yesterday that the Open Constitution Initiative, a think tank in Beijing, released a report excoriating China’s Tibet policy.

Open Constitution Initiative is a grouping of Chinese lawyers and academics, and its report, said to be based on research by journalism students on the ground in Tibet and Gansu Province, accuses the central government of funding an elite, self-serving class of Han migrants in ethnic Tibetan areas, and that this class is acting against the interests of locals — and therefore all of China — by seeding conflict and demonizing foreigners and Tibetans alike.

This report is encouraging evidence that across China there is a body of informed and dedicated people working to improve governance and accountability despite Chinese Communist Party (CCP) hostility toward independent criticism. Those courageous enough to associate with organizations like the Open Constitution Initiative or sign the open letter known as Charter 08 are laying foundations for a civic and intellectual culture that can speak publicly and outside CCP control. These people deserve the support of all who care for China’s future.

As Taiwan grows closer to China, local political parties will find it increasingly difficult to avoid the question of what stance they should adopt — or what role they should play — in reforming China and what links they should maintain with such organizations. Until now, the main political parties have preferred avoidance to engagement.

With the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), the approach has been simple: Concentrate on Taiwan and leave China alone unless forced otherwise. This has tended to empower parochial elements in the DPP that refuse to acknowledge the benefits of talking to ordinary Chinese. Sadly, too many DPP politicians over the years have dabbled in parochialism that alienates foreign observers and non-aligned voters — and never more obviously than in the waning months of the Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) presidency.

The irony is that the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) government has not really improved on this record. Cross-strait flights, direct postal services, economic deals and modification of national symbols to attract Chinese praise all have their role in boosting infrastructure and saving or making money, but the most striking thing these developments have in common is their irrelevance to most Chinese.

Ordinary Chinese have gained next to nothing from cross-strait negotiations, and this, combined with the remarkable ignorance of KMT leaders on Chinese current affairs, suggests that the KMT unificationist mantra, while elitist in execution, remains terribly parochial in substance. The biggest problem with this is that the KMT is converting to a philosophy that ignores questions of civic entitlement and mixes cynical capitalism with a reinvigorated tolerance of state oppression — just what Beijing might have ordered.

It is safe to assume that President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) personally favors a strong, just and enlightened Chinese state, notwithstanding his softening on the Tiananmen Square Massacre and superficial expressions of concern for the Chinese public.

But by hoisting its unificationist colors so closely to the CCP flagpole, the rest of the KMT will one day find itself forced to choose between the interests of the CCP and those of ordinary Chinese.

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