The Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) has always strived to embrace different opinions and internal debates on any topic, which its sees as one of its proud traditions.
However, when a member’s comments — in a recent example, on the DPP’s China policy — make headlines, stir controversy and force party officials and senior politicians to respond, something needs to be done.
Yao Jen-to (姚人多), a speechwriter for former DPP presidential candidate Tsai Ing-wen’s (蔡英文) election campaign last year, said at a forum this week that Taiwan’s independence is no longer a marketable ideology among voters.
While most DPP politicians tried to play down Yao’s comment as a personal opinion, his observation triggered a backlash from various sides, with the strongest opposition coming from pro-independence groups.
Yao was not the only DPP member to comment on the party’s China policy, which many observers said was “the primary reason for losing last year’s presidential election,” while former premier Frank Hsieh (謝長廷), former DPP chairman Hsu Hsin-liang (許信良) and former presidential advisor Koo Kwang-ming (辜寬敏), among others, have criticized the party’s leadership over what they perceived as inaction.
The debate over losing the election could go on forever, but there is little doubt that the DPP’s China policy is one of many obstacles it has to tackle if it wants to return to power, which was why Su pledged that a policy-making China Affairs Committee would be established.
However, little has been done.
The committee has become a nominal establishment since it lacks key players, such as Tsai and Hsieh. The latter appears to be going his own way by visiting Beijing in October last year and unveiling his “constitutions with different interpretations” (憲法各表) initiative, and challenging party comrades to submit their own China-policy proposals instead of sitting on the sidelines dishing out criticism.
Feeling that they could no longer wait, a group of DPP politicians in their 30s and 40s are planning to unveil their own China policy proposals before a party congress next month.
Su can afford to be patient with the pace of policy formulation, since time is needed to assess new Chinese President Xi Jinping’s (習近平) policy toward Taiwan and there will be no major election in Taiwan before the end of next year. It is also possible that he has been having trouble coming up with any feasible proposals.
Either way, the DPP let slip a golden opportunity to coordinate, incorporate and absorb ideas and initiatives from across the political spectrum on cross-strait relations when it postponed the establishment of a platform, which could have been the China Affairs Committee.
The formulation of a “new” China policy will not be easy for the DPP. Beijing has almost never agreed with the party about anything and some DPP members say it is not possible for the pro-independence party to present a new set of China policies, unless it wants to mirror the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) and abandon its founding spirit.
However, with comments like Yao’s and Hsieh’s creating unnecessary tension and controversy, it is time for the DPP to become serious about establishing a platform or a mechanism for its members to brainstorm and debate about its China policy, in the same way it did in 1998.