Sun, Dec 12, 2010 - Page 8 News List

‘Taiwan consensus’ is a travesty

By J. Michael Cole 寇謐將

If one thing can be said of former National Security Council secretary-general Su Chi (蘇起), it is that the man is infatuated with consensuses.

It was he who, just as the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) was coming into office after the nation’s first transition of power in 2000, came up with the ambiguous — and dubious — “1992 consensus.” And it was he who, now wearing his academic hat, told a conference on Monday that what the nation needed was a “Taiwan consensus.”

In prescriptions that, on the surface (and only there) may have come across as infused with wisdom, Su said that before Taipei can approach more contentious areas of negotiation with Beijing such as Taiwan’s sovereignty, the DPP should take the initiative and work with the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) in forging a consensus.

Leaving aside the fact that Taiwan’s sovereignty shouldn’t be negotiable (especially not under coercive terms), Su then conveniently forgot recent history when, using the analogy of the “small triangle” between the DPP, KMT and the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), he posited that the triumvirate was unstable because the DPP does not talk with the other two extremes of the geometrical object.

In other words, tensions in the Taiwan Strait, or lack of communication, are solely the DPP’s fault, as if the KMT didn’t have a long history of ignoring the DPP or stalling debate at the legislature — the nation’s democratic echo chamber, if you will.

This contention also papered over the fact that CCP intransigence on certain issues, such as the “one China” principle, Taiwanese independence and, more loosely, human rights, was the principal reason why unbridled cross-strait dialogue, let alone consensus, haven’t materialized.

Moving on, Su bemoaned what he referred to as a lack of consensus within the DPP, in the process inadvertently shedding light on the very party he represented both as a government official and legislator (to say nothing of the CCP).

One reason why there are instances where the DPP is divided within itself and lacks consensus is that it reflects the democratic process from which it draws its name, as well as the very fabric of Taiwanese society.

Democracy and pluralism are messy, which inherently makes it more difficult — and at times impossible — to achieve a unified voice, especially on matters of such complexity and importance as Taiwan’s relationship with and accommodation of the authoritarian elephant next door.

This is not to say that internal divisions do not exist within the KMT (they certainly do), but the party nevertheless issues from a non-democratic, hard power, Leninist tradition, a reflex that, despite its role in the experiment of democratizing Taiwan, hasn’t altogether disappeared.

A consequence of this is that the party is less inclined to expose its dirty laundry in public than, say, the more liberal DPP, providing us with a public image — albeit a deceptive one — of internal stability and consensus.

As for the CCP, despite claims that it has adopted the instrument of intraparty democracy, its rule remains very much rigid and whatever policy consensus emerges does so out of a process that is far from democratic and which draws very little from the grassroots that inform policy in non-authoritarian systems (in other words, it is the consensus of the elite and technocracies).

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