The results of the next presidential election will be known on Jan. 14. Whether President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) wins again or Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) Chairperson Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) is elected, it is hard to say what will happen to Taiwan politically. This topic has recently received a lot of attention.
Former president Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) has suggested that during the presidential election debate, Tsai should ask Ma whether he will peacefully hand over power if he loses the election.
However, the problem is more complex than that. What Taiwanese, both the pan-blue and pan-green camps, should focus on is whether the move toward unification with China will be accelerated if the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) wins and whether the KMT will do everything in its power to invite China into Taiwan if it loses.
The KMT has lost the public’s trust, not only because of its poor political record, but also because the impending handover of power to a new generation of leaders in Beijing poses a new threat to Taiwan.
Many are aware that the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) will be holding its 18th Central Committee meeting on Oct. 8 next year, which will set the scene for Chinese President Hu Jintao (胡錦濤) to hand the reins of government to Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping (習近平).
Having led China for almost a decade, what will Hu want his legacy to be at the end of his time in office and how will he want to be remembered?
This is a huge issue that needs careful consideration. What might Hu do if he is not content with the way things are going between the KMT and the CCP? This is why January’s presidential election is so important.
Put simply, there are two possible outcomes. Either Ma will be re-elected or Tsai will become the new president. Let us look at the first, the graver of the two. If Ma is re-elected, Hu will make stronger demands for negotiations. What is it that the CCP and the KMT want to discuss?
At the end of 2008, Hu’s six-point proposal on cross-strait relations made things clear. Last year, the 17th Central Committee meeting of the CCP approved the 12th Five-Year Plan, which clearly listed three goals in the achievement of “peaceful unification.”
These three goals covered politics, economics, and cultural and educational exchanges.
The first involves establishing a political framework for the peaceful development of cross-strait relations, the second involves the realization of a framework for cross-strait economic cooperation and the third involves strengthening cultural and educational exchanges between Taiwan and China.
Ma began working on the last two of these goals just after coming into office.
All he has left to do now is establish a political framework which would be the “peace agreement” that China wishes to sign under the “one China” principle.
If Hu demands that a newly re-elected Ma “pay back” the CCP for all the “help” it gave Ma to get him re-elected, Ma could do two things.
First, he could join Hu in completing his “historic mission,” a course of action that would also see him complete his own. The communique that Hu and former vice president Lien Chan (連戰) devised in 2005 outlined the sequence of cross-strait integration as creating a mutual military trust mechanism, a peace agreement and then a “final solution” on cross-strait relations, with an emphasis on moving from economic integration to political unification.
We need to remember that if the majority of Taiwanese voted for him, Ma would say that Taiwanese support him in doing what Hu wants because he has been mandated to do so. What would the ramifications of this be?
The second course he could take would be to attempt to slow the pace of change and be less aggressive in his cooperation with Hu on the basis that a consensus has yet to be reached in Taiwan.
The question is how Ma, if he is not re-elected and is preparing to hand over political power, would deal with a China hell-bent on making sure Hu and Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao (溫家寶) go down in history as the ones who unified Taiwan with China.
In such a case, it is possible that Hu would impose economic sanctions — for example, ending the Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement (ECFA) that Ma is so proud of — to put pressure on him.
It is very difficult to guarantee that Ma, who has shown himself incapable of handling stress, would not be forced into entering political negotiations with China. This would be a very dangerous situation indeed.
If Tsai is elected and Ma does accept defeat, a potential crisis exists for Taiwan. From Jan. 15 until May 20, the period between the election and the date on which political power is handed over, what is to stop Ma from clinching agreements with Hu — agreements that are against the wishes of Taiwanese? How should Taiwanese respond if Ma tries to do this?
If Ma were not willing to accept defeat, would he ask for assistance from Hu, a man he regards as close to him, as they both belong to the “Chinese race” and share a cultural heritage? Would he throw caution to the wind and cause trouble by refusing to hand over power?
This is what worries Chen: a situation where political power is not handed over peacefully. What would Taiwanese do if this situation arose?
There are several worst-case scenarios which make the upcoming election such a risk. This risk does not just involve Ma and the KMT, but China — a country with absolutely no sense of democracy — which is sitting on the sidelines awaiting its prey. If China is unable to accept Taiwan’s choice of democracy and unwilling to stand back and watch its “historical opportunity” to “regain” Taiwan slip away, what will it do?
Protecting Taiwan’s democracy, preserving the way of life that exists in Taiwan, defending Taiwan’s sovereignty and providing future generations with the right to make free choices should go beyond party lines and be supported by a national consensus.
Therefore, before voting, the electorate should demand that Ma make his real intentions known. Ask him whether he would engage in political negotiations with China if he wins. Ask him whether he would promote any major pro-China policies before leaving office if he loses.
Taiwan’s democracy is a model for other Asian societies to follow and civil societies around the world should urge the international community to pay attention to Taiwan’s pivotal elections in January.
Every possible action that could compromise democratic norms should be dealt with now, for good.
This is the only way to secure Taiwan’s future.
TRANSLATED BY DREW CAMERON
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