Thu, Mar 14, 2013 - Page 8 News List

Beijing does not believe its rhetoric

By J. Michael Cole 寇謐將

The refrain has been heard time and again: Only a small minority of pro-independence “splittists” oppose the eventual “reunification” of Taiwan and China to reinvigorate the Great Chinese Race.

If that were indeed the case, then politicians in Beijing should be unhesitant to take up the following challenge: to field the best possible candidate they can come up with to run for president — OK, let us be fair to them, as “governor,” or “leader” — of Taiwan in the 2016 election.

Of course, this scenario would be contingent on a number of variables. Chief among them would be for the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) to abandon its opposition to universal suffrage and elections (loosely defined here) at more than just the village level.

Another would be for the vote to be restricted to people of voting age on all the territories controlled by Taiwan. After all, the object of this exercise is to determine the willingness of Taiwanese to join China, and not the desire among Chinese (ostensibly high) to unify with Taiwan.

For the sake of this little experiment, let us assume that Beijing chooses to play along and also agrees not to threaten military action should the elections fail to yield its desired outcome — a CCP win. “Free” and “fair” elections, inasmuch as those are possible in Taiwan.

To ensure a level playing field, let us even give the Chinese candidate campaign coffers equal to those of its principal opponents, the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) and the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), which would thus give rise to a three-way race.

Odd though this may seem, communist parties, as well as authoritarian regimes that seek to export their political systems abroad, have not always been opposed to political pluralism and democratic elections.

As Anne Applebaum notes in Iron Curtain, an important new work on the Soviet Union’s penetration of Eastern Europe following World War II, communists believe in their own doctrine and also believe that the majority will eventually acquire a consciousness, accept “historical destiny” and vote for a communist regime. Only after repeated failures at the polls did communist regimes, backed by Moscow, adopt more draconian measures to impose their will on the populace.

In that respect, it would be reasonable to ask if Beijing today might not be at the point where, like the Soviet Union through the 1950s, it is powerful enough and its politico-economic system attractive enough that it can persuade others to emulate it, if not join it, as it hopes Taiwan will do one day.

However, given the current trends in Taiwanese consciousness, self-identification and desire for independence, the “status quo” or unification, it is clear that a CCP candidate, even the best one, would face a formidable challenge.

In fact, the CCP would come in a very distant third and would probably succeed only in stealing a small number of votes from the extreme of the pan-blue camp that, for lack of alternatives, either votes for the KMT (far too conservative and “centrist” in their view) or marginal pro-unification parties that have exactly no chance of prevailing at the polls.

Granted, it could also attract votes from the business sector, especially firms that can make a profit in China, but those would be largely insufficient to have a serious impact on the outcome of the election.

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