Tue, Jul 05, 2011 - Page 8 News List

Democracy is not just pretending to listen

By James Wang 王景弘

In 1987, before former president Chiang Ching-kuo (蔣經國) enacted a policy allowing retired soldiers to return to China to visit relatives, former Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) secretary-general Lee Huan (李煥) sought out Robert Lai (賴義雄), a member of the dangwai (outside the party) movement, who was in Taipei at the time, for his opinion on the proposed policy.

Lai said that based on humanitarian principles, retired soldiers should be allowed to return to China to visit their relatives. The next day, a headline in a prominent “anti-communist” newspaper reported that an overseas dissident supported the policy.

It is quite obvious why the KMT decided to use endorsement of the policy by a well-known “dissident” as a selling point. However, this little vignette also highlights an important point: Even if Chiang was an unelected authoritarian ruler, he still wanted Taiwanese to trust him and worried that the policy would increase suspicions that he was selling out Taiwan.

Although President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九), a former secretary to Chiang, talks about “no unification and no independence,” he holds his father’s dying words to “eventually unify” Taiwan with China close to his heart. He also accepts Beijing’s “one China” policy and treats the status of Taiwan as an internal Chinese affair as he struggles to improve cross-strait relations within the framework of the Chinese Civil War.

Ma received a Western education, but he ignores the fact that democracy is about responding to public opinion. He is a second-generation Mainlander, but he ignores the fact that Taiwanese are worried that a “foreign” elite is selling out Taiwan and blatantly disregards how his opinions tie Taiwan, over which Beijing does not have sovereignty, to China.

Some commentators have accused Ma of narcissism, stubbornness, shamelessness and arrogance to the point of his being ignorant and insensitive. Now that he is seeking re-election, Ma is dropping Vice President Vincent Siew (蕭萬長) in favor of a new running mate, Premier Wu Den-yih (吳敦義), because he thinks Wu has “a good way with words” and is full of “understanding and compassion for the public.”

Understanding people is nothing but the innate character of a kind person — it is not as rare as Ma might believe; indeed the streets are full of people who care for one another.

In addition, “having a good way with words” should mean the ability to communicate honestly with the public. However, Wu’s true talent lies in putting on a sincere face while avoiding difficult questions with cunning, downplaying serious issues, blaming everything on the pan-green camp, shirking responsibility and talking about policies in a way that the average person cannot comprehend, as was the case with his “grassroots economy.” These traits have not unreasonably given him a reputation for being a liar.

Ma has read the four Confucian classics, so he should know that Wu’s “way with words” is something Confucius disliked, as can be seen in the expression: “People fond of sweet talk or rhetoric are seldom benevolent or helpful.”

How can such a person be full of “understanding and compassion for the public”?

Legislative Speaker Wang Jin-pyng (王金平), who was begged to stay on in his position, was quoted in an angry tone as saying that the pairing of Ma and Wu for the upcoming elections would be a “good mix.” Stubborn ignorance and insensitivity mixed with sweet talk and rhetoric are indeed a match made in heaven.

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