Wed, Oct 13, 2010 - Page 8 News List

EDITORIAL: A Taiwanese template for China

During the controversy surrounding Japan’s detention of the captain of a Chinese fishing boat in the waters off the Diaoyutai Islands (釣魚台), China displayed the strength of a major power, forcing Japan to call on the US-Japan security treaty and Washington’s assistance in reining in Beijing.

The question of how to counterbalance the power of a rising China has become a matter of grave concern to the international community.

Although power in the Taiwan Strait is rapidly tilting in Beijing’s favor as its military, diplomatic and economic powers develop far beyond Taiwan’s reach, Taipei still possesses certain strengths that remain crucial when dealing with China.

Although Beijing often talks about “socialism with Chinese characteristics,” its growth has essentially followed Taiwan’s export-led development model.

As a result, the capital, technology and export experience brought in by China-based Taiwanese businesspeople has been an important catalyst for development, presenting a practical example of how Taiwan’s soft power is helping to change China.

As the emerging middle class and the number of people who have received higher education in China grow, Chinese society is reaching a turning point, as these groups pay more attention to public affairs and demand a greater part in decision-making.

This makes a clash with the one-party rule of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) almost inevitable.

As social tensions increase, China will have to move toward political reform.

Taiwan went through this process in the 1970s and 1980s. As discontent with the Chinese Nationalist Party’s (KMT) own one-party rule increased among the emerging middle class, people began to demand democracy, freedom and other rights. Despite the KMT’s efforts to suppress such demands, which led to the Kaohsiung Incident and the jailing of many pro-democracy dissidents, the party was ultimately forced to end martial law and lift the ban on establishing new political parties and newspapers.

Those moves then led inexorably to free legislative elections and the first popular election of Taiwan’s president. The KMT was unable to resist increasing social pressure and in 2000, Taiwan experienced its first peaceful transfer of power.

The Chinese leadership is now beginning to realize that economic reform will lead to similar demands for political reform, which is why Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao (溫家寶) has recently addressed the topic. Chinese President Hu Jintao (胡錦濤) also broached the subject in a speech at the fifth plenary session of the CCP’s 17th Central Committee. Clearly, the Chinese leadership understands the need for political reform. The question is how extensive it should be and at what speed it should be carried out so as not to cause social instability and minimize its impact on the CCP.

When the Nobel Committee awarded the peace prize to Liu Xiaobo (劉曉波), it was an indication of strong support for China’s democracy movement and while change will not be immediate, it is unavoidable.

The CCP needs to decide whether to attempt to obstruct democracy or facilitate its development. If it chooses the former then history will pass it by, just as it did the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. If, however, the CCP decides to embrace change then it could repeat the experience of the KMT, which suffered in the short run, but remains a political force in Taiwan.

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