The constitutional amendments made in 1997 may be the most important as far as democratization is concerned. The partial suspension of the Taiwan Provincial Government, which was supposed to be a localization measure, eventually led to the mergers and upgrading of the five larger municipalities, the effects of which cannot yet be clearly judged. As the legislature’s power to approve or veto the president’s nomination for premier was abolished, the Constitution became a more presidential system, laying the groundwork for the following political turmoil.
Two political concepts that were often quoted at the time but heard less frequently since are: “consolidation of democracy” and “society in crisis.” However, democracy and human rights have regressed a long way during the six years of President Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) time in office. Although more people have come to identify themselves as Taiwanese, the increasing influence of China has injected a new element of crisis into society.
Although the “China factor” is a major cause of the the current situation, there are other aspects to consider:
First, the “China factor” is mainly a matter of Beijing’s political ambitions wrapped up in economic clothing. The industrial practice of taking orders in Taiwan and making the goods in China has generated fictitious GDP figures and the same economic predicament remains when companies do their manufacturing in Southeast Asia.
Second, cross-strait issues are in essence one link in the global political and economic structure. This interrelationship is demonstrated by the way in which German dependence on Russian natural gas has indirectly influenced Western countries’ attitudes to the crisis in Crimea.
Sad to say, Taiwan has very little status in the international legal order. What it does have depends on the US’ Taiwan Relations Act and other de facto international forces. The nation may be even less visible than Crimea on the global scene, and its government has never formally stated its position in the international community by declaring the sovereignty of the Republic of China or Taiwan. On the contrary, it has put the noose of the so-called “1992 consensus” around its own neck and is prepared to tell China to kick the stool out from under its feet.
This touches on a key concept. Although the “China factor” has a forceful effect due to Beijing’s political power and economic influence, the current situation is a very real crisis. If external influences are overemphasized, it will be easy to blame others while overlooking the many internal factors that have influenced the crises.
Ma’s narcissistic determination to establish a legacy in cross-strait relations may well turn the means and procedures to which he resorts in order to meet with Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平) into a series of nightmares that generate crises in Taiwan. Popular mobilizations in opposition to the cross-strait trade in services agreement and the confrontation between the government and opposition parties, are only the starting point of this wave of confrontations. Even if Ma’s government succeeds in pushing through legislative approval for the service trade agreement, who knows how many promises Ma will have to make and how many more maneuvers he will have to pull before he gets to meet Xi? Such a meeting would have potential ramifications in terms of negotiations, and its results would certainly be a catastrophe for Taiwan.