During her farewell speech at a meeting of the Democratic Progressive Party’s (DPP) Central Executive Committee on Wednesday last week, outgoing DPP Chairperson Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) said that party members should gain a better understanding of China and use interactions with China to help the nation find a solution for dealing with Beijing. This is a challenge that the DPP cannot avoid, and it is part of the party’s responsibility toward the nation.
Tsai’s statement is a valuable gift to the DPP, and it will help formalize, normalize and “decriminalize” exchanges between the DPP and China.
As the biggest opposition party, it is necessary for the DPP to gain a thorough understanding of what is going on in China to be able to correctly interpret and respond to cross-strait issues if it wants to expand social support for the DPP.
There is no need for DPP members to worry that normal interactions with China will result in accusations from pro-independence activists of being pro-Chinese.
Seven years ago, in my oral test at National Taiwan University’s Graduate Institute of National Development, I said that as a supporter of independence, I must understand China. In the same way, the DPP, a party that supports a sovereign and independent Taiwan, must not avoid gaining an understanding of China and should even consider interacting directly with the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).
Some within the DPP feel that Tsai’s suggestion should prompt a second party debate on China policy. I’m not opposed to such a move, but long-term studies and analysis are even more important. The DPP should set up a China research department, study the establishment of a mechanism for formal exchanges and visits, and interact with China from a global perspective.
In 2007, the DPP’s central leadership abolished the party’s China affairs department, and that is a pity. Organizational party reform should establish a department dedicated to studying China, with a focus on accumulating information on CCP officials and analyzing changes in China’s political atmosphere, economic development plans and relations with neighboring countries.
The DPP should formalize, normalize and open up interaction with institutions in China based on the different institutions’ characteristics, equal status and political and economic area.
This could be achieved through regular exchanges and visits by think tanks, while exchanges could be directed through DPP-ruled cities and counties.
These exchanges should be regulated to maintain the initiative, and the goal should be to defend against China, not to oppose China, and to work against China’s unification strategy from within that system.
When it comes to the positioning of Taiwanese companies in the Chinese market, the DPP has a clear strategic opportunity because the government is restricted by the Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement (ECFA) and because negotiations over the bilateral Trade and Investment Framework Agreement with the US are bogged down due to controversy over US beef imports.
If the DPP wants to call itself an opposition party with governing experience and retake the right to define Taiwan’s progressive values, it must be able to thoroughly understand and analyze the WTO agreement.
Hung Chi-kune is a member of the Democratic Progressive Party’s Central Executive Committee.