On Aug. 13, former National Security Council secretary--general Su Chi (蘇起) was elected chairman of the Taipei Forum Foundation. Su expressed hope that the think tank would become a platform for dialogue between the pan-blue and pan-green camps and help consolidate a “Taiwanese consensus” to support the government in future cross-strait interactions.
He clearly pointed out the difficulties facing the next president. Whether President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) of the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) is re-elected or Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) Chairperson Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) wins the election, it will be impossible for a Taiwan in a perpetual state of domestic conflict to resist a constantly growing China. However, this is a long-standing problem that can hardly be resolved by a private think tank. Solving it will require good will from both the government and opposition.
Over the past three decades, China has seen an average economic growth rate of nearly 10 percent. The country’s strength has grown constantly and the resources at its disposal have expanded rapidly. Today, its total economic output is second only to the US. This has broadened the difference in economic strength between Taiwan and China, and the situation has remained unchanged since Ma took office in 2008. China’s GDP was 2.2 times bigger than Taiwan’s in 1991, but last year, that had expanded to 13.9 times. The gap is still widening.
In the past three years, the Ma administration’s “bandwagon strategy” to follow China has lacked tactical depth, while Ma’s only bargaining chip with Beijing is the DPP’s stance. Thus, he uses the DPP — in the role of “bad cop” — when demanding that Beijing offer some political benefits to the KMT government — the “good cop.” This has resulted in serious confrontation and distrust between the parties.
For example, when Ma received a British delegation in 2009, the delegates asked him whether the KMT had come under Chinese pressure for political talks. Ma said that would not happen, because he didn’t think Beijing would like to see the DPP regain power.
The differences in the cross-strait policies between the government and opposition are unavoidable — this is normal in any democratic country. Still, they should try to reach a consensus on national status to create the conditions for positive democratic competition. In the past three years, Ma and Tsai had only one debate — on the signing of the Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement (ECFA) last year — and they have had no substantial -discussion on how to build consensus. However, KMT representatives have had several summits with the chairman of the Chinese Communist Party. As president and leader of the legislative majority, Ma should be more open-minded and display greater vision in pushing for dialogue with the opposition if he wants to unite Taiwan.
In terms of national status, the several constitutional amendments in the 1990s meant that the Republic of China’s (ROC) Constitution now represents the will of Taiwanese as a whole, while the ROC national system is also the national system of Taiwan. Despite confrontation and agitation during elections, the result of these developments has been that public opinion has formed an increasingly clear Taiwanese consensus.
There are three basic components to this consensus.
First, Taiwan is already an independent and sovereign state and its national title is the ROC. The ROC is Taiwan, Taiwan is the ROC.
Second, Taiwanese hope to maintain the status quo of an independent and sovereign state. They are unwilling to push for unification in the current phase, nor are they currently willing to change the national title.
Third, the future of cross-strait relations are open, but Taiwan’s future must be decided by its population.
Even if Ma really wants “eventual unification,” he still affirms that Taiwan is an independent and sovereign state and insists that its future must be decided by Taiwanese. The DPP’s 1999 Resolution on Taiwan’s Future also states that Taiwan is an independent and sovereign state, but it’s national title is the Republic of China and that any change to Taiwan’s status as an independent and sovereign state must be decided by Taiwanese through a referendum.
The Taiwanese consensus, then, is very clear, but elections have intensified confrontation, making the parties unwilling to cooperate.
To avoid domestic conflict and to unite Taiwan, the next president should use the consensus to unite the pan-blue and pan-green camps, while relying on democracy to move beyond the unification-independence conflict. More specifically, the biggest parties in each camp should sign a “pact for determining the national future through a democratic referendum” and use this as a bargaining chip in the country’s dealings with China. It would be a pact between political parties that would terminate the ongoing democratic civil war and that would offer a solid basis for uniting the country and stabilizing cross-strait relations.
Tung Chen-yuan is a professor at National Chengchi University’s Graduate Institute of Development Studies.
TRANSLATED BY EDDY CHANG
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