Mon, Aug 08, 2011 - Page 8 News List

Facing non-democratic choices

By J. Michael Cole 寇謐將

However, when it comes to deciding Taiwan’s future as a nation-state, the choice isn’t democratic, as it is regulated by external threats and intimidation. Not only have those threats not disappeared with Taiwan’s democratic consolidation, the situation has grown worse as China’s military has rapidly modernized, while the credibility of US military support for Taiwan has dwindled and Taiwan’s ability to defend itself has for the most part stalled.

On the question of a people’s right to determine its own future, there is nothing democratic in being given the choice between “peaceful convergence” with authoritarian China — strongly encouraged by Washington and the proponents of accommodation — and the threat of war. When Beijing, the KMT and, if perhaps more subtly, some US officials warn that voting for the pro-independence Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) threatens to undermine stability in the Taiwan Strait, they make a mockery of Taiwan’s “democratic miracle,” whose achievement some like to take credit for. If only for the sake of intellectual honesty, advocates of such forced accommodation should abandon all claims to supporting democracy.

In that context, the China policy adopted by the Ma administration is not so much the result of democratic agreement with and within society, but rather a symptom of the bracketed choices forced upon the country. Taiwan — the real Taiwan, its people — might not agree with the content of Ma’s cross-strait policy, but what choice do they have, when the alternatives, however more palatable they might be to them, are rendered impossible by external pressure and the threat of military invasion?

Democracy, with all its imperfections, should be about the art of the possible, the quest for the best possible outcome and not solely a mechanism by which to choose the least bad option.

Everybody knows, or ought to know, that in the present situation the word “peaceful” is a pack of lies. There is nothing peaceful in being forced against your will to accommodate a murderous, controlling and paranoid regime that does not recognize your existence.

So limited has the choice of Taiwanese on the matter become, however, that the latter option, repulsive as it may be, has become the lesser of two evils, at least if we believe the rhetoric that a vote for the DPP is somehow a vote for war. Taiwan over the years has been forced into a corner by a complicit and narrow-minded international community and is now compelled to pick from a narrow set of only bad choices. This hardly fits the definition of democracy.

The truth is, the great majority of Taiwanese do not want convergence with China, at least not a China that continues to be ruled by the increasingly repressive Chinese Communist Party. Those who claim the contrary, the so-called experts who “know” what Taiwanese “want” from a safe distance, are simply highlighting the fact that they are utterly disconnected from the realities on the ground.

J. Michael Cole is deputy news editor at the Taipei Times.

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