Taiwanese academics should be careful what they wish for. By saying that Taiwan would only enter political negotiations with China on an ultimate solution to the cross-strait standoff if and when China democratizes, they are backing themselves into a corner that will be difficult to get out of, and that has quite a few pitfalls.
It is understandable that Taiwanese academics at a cross-strait forum recently held by the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) and Chinese Communist Party (CCP) would use this tactic as a stalling action for entering political talks with Beijing. After all, it does not look likely that China will become a democracy anytime soon, and placing this as a prerequisite for political talks is a surefire way to put those talks on the back burner.
However, that being said, if China were to give its people a say in who is to become their next leader, then Taiwan would have no choice but to engage in political negotiations that would end its sovereignty and allow it to be annexed by China.
How would Taiwan be able to back out of this situation if, for so many years, it has said it would only talk of unification with China after the Middle Kingdom becomes a democracy? Being subjugated by a so-called democratic country would be no better than being annexed by an authoritarian one; the result would be the same --— destruction of Taiwanese sovereignty.
That being said, what is the benchmark for democracy? There are Chinese leaders who already claim their country is democratic because people have some say in who gets voted onto local councils. That is obviously a farce, but what if China were to go further, without actually going the distance? What if China instituted a huge system of computerized voting machines that gave everybody the right to vote for a president or premier, but somehow always delivered the leaders that a small clique of CCP leaders wanted? What if people were allowed to vote for different factions in the CCP, but other parties were still banned?
Obviously, the situation is more complex than simply saying China has to become a democracy before Taiwan can consider unification talks. China could fake democratic values, or manage democracy, like so many other dictatorships out there. Only China would probably do a better job of it, with a huge security apparatus to ensure that all votes and political campaigns ran smoothly and kept things as stable — in the eyes of a select few — as possible.
Another thing to consider: Why do academics think that China would be friendly to Taiwan if it were to become a democracy? Chinese have been taught nationalism for generations. It has been drilled into their minds that Taiwan is Chinese territory, that Japan owes them a debt in blood and that the US must be expelled from the Asia-Pacific region for China to gain its rightful place. Chinese voters would be no less likely to show their hawkish sentiment than US voters who slather over warlike words from presumptive US Republican presidential challenger, Mitt Romney, when, on the campaign trail, he suggests launching a war against Iran or sending troops into Syria.
A democratic China just might be a China ready to invade Taiwan at the drop of a hat. So academics should really be careful what they wish for, because it might leave Taiwan with very little room for maneuver if their wishes did come true.