The present government’s Third-Term Plan for National Development in the New Century (2009 to next year), referred to in short as the New Third-Term Plan, set itself the major goals of speeding up liberalization in the market system, augmenting the value of social capital and promoting energy savings and carbon reduction, as well as building public infrastructure, creating stronger global linkages and focusing on the growth of clean high-tech industries, such as biotechnology and cultural resources.
How much debate has the presidential campaign focused on such issues in the run-up to the election? How far are the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) or President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) now being held to account over such basics? What would their defenses look like? The run-up to the election not centering on such questions might well be taken as a sign of the failure of Taiwan’s earlier democratic impulse.
Yet at the turn of the century, international opinion on Taiwanese politics bandied about such terms as “political miracle,” “the great transition” or “the first Chinese democracy,” and applauded Taiwan’s ability to avoid social conflict in its move toward political liberalism.
US academic Shelley Rigger said that Taiwan “proves that a determined nation can attain democracy, freedom and prosperity peacefully.”
We should remember this now, but we should also keep in mind two other important facts. First, China threatened and bluffed, but could not halt Taiwan’s transition; second, from that point an increasingly KMT-dominated politics has moved away from any forthright statements of independence and, of course, downplayed the earlier democratic urgency.
Taiwanese politicians continued wholesale focus on China into the present pre--election weeks fails democracy in Taiwan, because it repeatedly accomplishes four things that weaken democracy.
First, it distracts the population. The China-Taiwan relationship cannot be dealt with at home, it is a global issue that at best can only be trimmed and “soft-powered” from Taipei. None of the presidential candidates, not Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) Chairperson Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文), Ma, People First Party Chairman James Soong (宋楚瑜) nor any of their advisors have enough power to effect cross-strait outcomes, and at the present, no-one has done much to critique the so-called “1992 consensus,” other than to debate how it might be applied.
The rhetoric that presents the parties not supporting unification, Ma, or supporting separatism or independence, Tsai, is entirely misleading — there might well be a compromise position of good sense between these extremes that is not an end-game, but can hold for some time, perhaps for long enough to move to a later resolution when Chinese incomes and social changes have forged internal political changes that will push the relationship in entirely different ways. However, the point is that no resolution can come directly out of this election, whatever its result.
Second, it forces Taiwanese politics into a game of personality played between two or maybe three leaders, and ignores the party policies and ministries that would result from this. The leader is thus likely to be selected for the wrong reasons, and his or her success or failure will be decided for equally wrong reasons.
A Liberty Times editorial (“Taiwan’s eggs are all in one basket,” Sept. 10, page 8) made the sound argument that Ma and the KMT’s policies have -increasingly relied upon closer economic relations with China. This is clearly true and the case was well made. However, this sort of argument should not act simply as a “scare tactic” to build support for Tsai; rather, it should be a prelude to a real, public examination of the “China policies” of both main parties in terms of the social, economic and cultural future of the nation. This should be the focus of democracy during election times in Taiwan.