Taiwan is a vibrant democracy. That has become obvious from the primary campaign for the presidential elections scheduled for Jan. 11 next year. Much is at stake: Taiwan’s future as a free and democratic country, which is under immense threat from its giant neighbor, the People’s Republic of China.
The people of Taiwan have worked hard to achieve their democracy, and are eager to fulfill the dream of being accepted by the international community as a full and equal member. How to move forward, and how fast, toward that goal has become a dividing line in the democratic camp: Which road is best for Taiwan?
On one side stands President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文), who has carved out a trajectory of carefully moving toward Taiwan’s ultimate goals on the basis of gradual reforms, and — for now — an acceptance of the “status quo” across the Taiwan Strait.
However, this is a dynamic “status quo,” which aims to strengthen Taiwan’s democracy, and solidify its relations with like-minded countries that adhere to the same values of democracy and human rights.
Tsai’s moderate approach has won praise from the international community, in particular the US, Europe and other like-minded countries such as India, Japan, Australia and New Zealand.
On the other side stands former premier and former Tainan mayor William Lai (賴清德), who advocates a faster pace and a more proactive approach in moving toward cementing Taiwan’s place in the international community as a free and independent nation.
Lai also favors faster implementation of reforms, particularly in the judicial system. Lai has broad support among the deeper-green part of Taiwan’s political spectrum.
What then is the best way forward?
Of course it is up to Taiwanese to make the ultimate decision, but as a lifelong friend of Taiwan who has been closely involved in the movement for human rights and democracy for many decades, I would like to humbly submit the following considerations:
First, I might mention that I know Tsai and Lai. Both are extremely dedicated people, and have a clear vision for Taiwan’s future and how to get there. Their love for Taiwan is unquestionable. The difference between the two is the pace of their approach.
Second, it is essential that those who support democracy and a free future for Taiwan remain united. If the pan-green camp is divided, this would open up the possibility of a win by the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT), which would be a step backward and detrimental for the future of Taiwan and its people.
Third, the China threat is real. Through influence operations, military threats, economic measures and political intimidation, China will continue its efforts to isolate Taiwan internationally and attempt to force the nation into its unwelcome embrace.
Because of these considerations, it is essential for Tsai and Lai to resolve their differences and form a united team that would be strong enough to face the hurdles and immense pressures ahead.
A Tsai-Lai ticket headed by Tsai would be the formula that would have the highest probability of success. It would contain the elements of stability and continuity as represented by Tsai, and at the same time incorporate the promise of a new push and a more progressive approach, as represented by Lai.
Gerrit van der Wees is a former Dutch diplomat. From 1980 through 2016 he served as the editor of Taiwan Communique. Since 2012 he has taught the history of Taiwan at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia.
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