The recent dismissal of former Chongqing Chinese Communist Party (CCP) secretary Bo Xilai (薄熙來) has rocked the established order of the CCP.
Coming just before a scheduled political transition in the country’s leadership later this year, it inserts an element of uncertainty that few had foreseen.
When news of high-level misconduct and alleged involvement of Bo’s wife in the murder of a British citizen surfaced, the top leadership acted quickly, removing Bo from his posts and ordering the arrest of his wife, Gu Kailai (谷開來), on suspicion of complicity in murder.
There are those who might be tempted to think the Chinese authorities took the right steps and have the situation under control. However, to a more critical mind, and to many Chinese, this episode is yet another example of the high-level corruption that appears to be endemic in China.
As Joseph Fewsmith of Boston University said recently in an interview with the New York Times: “I think that this could have a deep and delegitimizing impact on China, not now, but in the long run.”
This problem also has an impact on cross-strait relations: The Taiwanese government is currently developing closer ties with a government that is increasingly losing credibility with its own people. In other words, there comes a time when such ties will eventually start to work to Taiwan’s detriment.
In its engagement with Beijing, the administration of President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) needs to establish much better firewalls and improved hedging, so the nation is less adversely affected when things go wrong in China. This is not easy, given the interwoven economies and the multi-layered interaction between the two countries.
However, there are a number of steps that can be taken to shield Taiwan from the negative effect of a downturn or political turmoil in China.
One measure would be to significantly diversify the nation’s economy away from China and establish closer connections with other economies, both in the region and globally. By putting its eggs in different baskets Taipei would thereby minimize exposure to any downturn in China.
A second measure would be to apply democratic principles and demonstrate transparency in legislative matters and judicial proceedings.
Too often over the past few years, judicial and legislative processes have been reminiscent of the authoritarian past. If the nation wants to distinguish itself as a vibrant democracy it needs to introduce reforms that would transform the legislature and judiciary into shining examples of democracy. The present system still leaves much to be desired.
A third measure would be to maintain high standards on human rights within the country and also to take a critical stance on human rights violations in China. For example, it would mean speaking out on the imprisonment of lawyer Ni Yulan (倪玉蘭), like US Ambassador to China Gary Locke did a few days ago.
It would also mean criticizing Chinese repression in Tibet and “East Turkestan.”
Only if Taiwan makes it clear where it stands on such issues will it gain the respect of Chinese and be considered an example for China.
The Bo case is yet another indicator that the present system of government in China is unsustainable over the long-term. Major changes are bound to happen sooner rather than later and those will be accompanied by instability.