Following the landslide victory by the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) in last year’s nine-in-one elections, there has been ample commentary and analysis of the outcome’s impact on cross-strait relations.
Some analysts have said that — as these were local elections — they were not a reflection on President Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) cross-strait policies.
I disagree: These were indeed local elections, but the results reflected a widespread discontent with the lack of good governance at both the local and national level, anger at the lack of transparency and the chumminess with big business and a rejection of the president’s accommodating policies toward China.
However, it was not a vote against good relations with China. The DPP also favors good relations with China, but not at the expense of Taiwan’s economic and political independence.
The vote was a rejection of the way in which the Ma administration has approached relations with Beijing: going too far, too fast and undermining Taiwan’s sovereignty, freedom and democracy.
So, what is the best way forward?
Some pessimistic analysts predict that the Chinese Nationalist Party’s (KMT) loss, and a possible victory for the DPP in the presidential and legislative elections in January next year would put cross-strait relations “on hold,” or would increase the prospect of souring relations with the People’s Republic of China, leading to additional tensions in the area.
There I disagree too: I believe that this change of political landscape in Taiwan opens the possibility for a new beginning, as it brings to the fore a party that is more truly representative of Taiwanese.
The KMT came from China with Chiang Kai-shek (蔣介石) in 1949 and was often too steeped in its Chinese Civil War heritage.
The DPP does not carry this baggage, and can be trusted to defend the interests of Taiwanese as a whole.
However, a solution to cross-strait issues does require more than a new, and truly representative, ruling party in Taipei.
As argued in two excellent articles (“Washington’s obsolete Taiwan policy,” by Michael Turton in The Diplomat on Sunday, and “Debunking the myth of inevitability in the Taiwan Strait” by J. Michael Cole in Thinking Taiwan on Tuesday), it requires a new paradigm, a new way of addressing the Taiwan Strait issue.
It requires a new way of thinking in Beijing, whereby it ceases to perceive Taiwan as part of the old Chinese Civil War against the KMT, but starts to think of it as a new and friendly neighbor, with which it can build a constructive relationship.
The relation between the UK and the US comes to mind.
More than 200 years ago, Britain still claimed sovereignty over the US and fought the War of 1812, but now they are the best of friends and have a “special relationship.”
It also requires new policies in Washington and European capitals, where the current thinking is still too steeped in the old “one China” concept, imposed by the fact that in the 1970s there were two competing regimes vying to represent China.
Neither the Chinese Communist Party nor the KMT represented Taiwanese at the time. Taiwanese did not get full and fair representation until the transition to democracy in the early 1990s.
The fact that there is now a fully free and democratic Taiwan should be ample reason for the international community, including China, to move toward normalization of relations with the nation, so it can be a full and equal member of the international family. That would indeed lead to true and lasting stability across the Taiwan Strait.
Gerrit van der Wees is editor of Taiwan Communique, a publication based in Washington.
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