Much has been said and written about the Nov. 27 elections for the mayors and councils of the five special municipalities. While on the surface things stayed the same, the outcome signifies a comeback for the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) and a leveling of the playing field for the 2012 presidential race.
In other words, Taiwan’s democracy is here to stay.
This is the good news. The bad news is that all too often the news media and analysts immediately try to interpret the election outcome in terms of how it would affect ties with China.
I would argue that we need to do a better job of looking at Taiwan in its own right. Of course, we have to keep the big picture in mind and see how changes in one location affect perceptions in another, but our perceptions of what is happening in and around Taiwan are too often colored by what we think the Chinese reaction might be — before anyone from China has made any statement.
A case in point is the Christian Science Monitor, which had an otherwise sound article headlined: “Gains of Taiwan’s anti-unification DPP could rattle relations with China.”
News editors and headline writers need to get away from the knee-jerk reaction that a political shift in Taiwan would “increase tension” or “raise the ire” of the leaders in Beijing. The problem with such writing is that it creates the impression that the political shift is the cause of the tension.
As we all know, Chinese leaders use “tension” and “ire” as instruments to gain advantage over the other side, whether it is Japan which experiences China’s ire over the Diaoyutai Islands (釣魚台), or the US, which was at the receiving end of China’s ire over arms sales to Taiwan and US President Barack Obama’s meeting with the Dalai Lama.
So we need to look at Taiwan in its own right and understand where the people are coming from and where they want to go with their future.
Former deputy US assistant secretary Randy Schriver succinctly summarized it in a recent seminar at the Heritage Foundation, when he said that the US should do a better job of understanding the motivations and core interests of the DPP and be careful not to repeat the mistakes the US made in the past.
During the past 20 years, Taiwanese have accomplished a momentous transition to democracy. We in the US know well that democracy brings with it expectations of a better life, not just personally, but as a country and a nation.
For Taiwanese this means that there should be progress in terms of their participation and presence in the international community. This means an end to the political isolation imposed on the nation and its people.
The US needs to keep these aspirations in mind when crafting new policies toward democratic Taiwan. While our “one China” policy has contributed to stability in the Taiwan Strait, at the same time it has perpetuated Taiwan’s international isolation. The US needs to be much more creative in helping to find a way forward for Taiwan to find its rightful place in the international community as a free and democratic nation.
Nat Bellocchi is a former chairman of the American Institute in Taiwan and a special adviser to the Liberty Times Group. The views expressed in this article are his own.