A strong feeling of community is a prerequisite for Taiwan’s freedom. Taiwanese are, for very good reasons, proud of their country and this contributes to a sense of community. This sense of community was displayed in London during the Olympic Games when Taiwanese reacted strongly to the removal of their flag in London’s busy Regent Street.
However, as such a reaction is not enough to ensure Taiwan’s continued freedom, Taiwanese should engage themselves more in political debates.
The feeling of community among Taiwanese appears to be stronger than that of the politicians they have elected. Taiwanese strongly identify themselves with Taiwan, as surveys clearly show.
As a governing party, the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) has failed to create a stronger feeling of community at the political level, despite golden opportunities in several areas including cross-strait relations, democratic development, necessary improvements of the legal system and in safeguarding the sovereignty of Taiwan or even the Republic of China (ROC).
The KMT has failed to take the initiative and kick-start a debate about a common vision for Taiwan and a dialogue about the values on which Taiwan should be built upon. Instead it has preferred to walk down its well-known avenue of sinification, which is increasing the divisions in Taiwan.
However, one should also have the courage to place some of the blame on Taiwanese themselves.
Democracy starts with conversation and Taiwanese really need to engage themselves more in talks and debates about the harder issues, big and small, confronting Taiwan.
A kick-start of a debate about Taiwan’s future is hampered by a prevalent distaste for discussing political issues among friends and family. Even when Taiwanese stay in Europe, they fear taking a stand.
Although I have personally experienced progress over the many years that I have been visiting Taiwan, Taiwanese lag behind Europeans. This is a shame, because Taiwan holds such potential.
Political debates seem to have become even more important over the past five years as there are plenty of reasons to engage in public discourse. The legal system needs some heavy house cleaning, especially considering the various lawsuits against Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) figures and the treatment of former president Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁).
China’s influence in the Taiwanese media is growing stronger and, according to Freedom House, the democratic development of Taiwan has deteriorated. It dropped from No. 43 in the 2008 rankings to No. 47 this year.
Taiwanese can also search for reasons in the international community. The relationship between Taiwan and China is increasingly leaving the international community with the impression that Taiwan is moving toward China, a conclusion that does not resonate with Taiwanese and a political direction that may hurt Taiwan in the long run. The international community feels this because of the actions of official representatives, such as Premier Sean Chen (陳冲) who clarified that the “one country, two areas” policy is in accordance with the ROC’s Constitution.
In addition, the development of cross-strait relations show that ECFA is a purely internal Chinese matter. This is obvious from the recent cross-strait agreement on investment protection and promotion, where Taiwan did not receive the international arbitration it wanted. Also, the ECFA agreement still has to be submitted to the WTO.
Despite this, Taiwanese appear to be believe Taiwan will continue to prosper. They may show their discontent by slamming President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) in popularity polls, but he was unpopular even before the January election and he still got elected.
However, it is collective tomfoolery to believe that Taiwan will continue to prosper and that Taiwan’s international position and democracy are not being harmed by the current KMT government. Equally, it is naive to believe that the current economic hardship is only temporary.
An improved dialogue is needed in Taiwan about Taiwan’s sense of community. Taiwan is a small country in a big world and therefore the Taiwanese public and politicians — in both the KMT and the DPP — should break the stalemate and kick-start a debate about Taiwan’s future.
Michael Danielsen is the chairman of Taiwan Corner.
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