Although there were few surprises in President Chen Shui-bian's (陳水扁) New Year message this year, it made it difficult for Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) Chairman Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) to pick a fight. In the end, Ma resorted to playing the economy card, but this fell flat, as it was totally irrelevant. Chen himself had said all along that this New Year's address was just as important as his speech upon winning the election, and much can be read into this.
The speech was basically a reiteration of the principle of the sovereignty of Taiwan and a restatement of the Democratic Progressive Party's (DPP) core values. By putting Taiwan back in the spotlight, the speech was a blow to the pan-blue camp and an antidote to the pan-green camp's blues. Chen opened the speech by alluding to the ideas of Taiwan's image, Taiwan's hopes, Taiwan's spirit and Taiwan consciousness. Having focused on the theme of national identity, he pointed out that the main driving force behind Taiwan's historical development was the 23 million people who live here. This was clearly an appeal by the president to the people of Taiwan, looking to them for backing as he tried to distinguish Taiwan from the party-state and from China.
Chen continued, saying that the KMT government of the past 60 years had been an "immigrant regime," a point that was not lost on Ma, who was sitting right there in the room. Chen also alluded to the long period of martial law that the KMT regime oversaw, and rather impertinently used the term "foreign power," from which the new KMT chairman has sought to disassociate his party. Chen went on with his theme, highlighting the significance to Taiwan's democracy of the handover of political power from the KMT to the DPP, saying that this placed sovereignty in the hands of the people and contrasting the idea of power in the hands of the people with power in the hands of an immigrant regime. This is not a path that Taiwan should tread again.
Without naming names, Chen implied that Ma was promoting the return of the "immigrant regime" under the guise of "uniting Taiwan" and "establishing a normal democratic society." The distinction between power in the hands of the people and a foreign regime is the difference between who is in control and whose word counts. Ma has said to the foreign press that he sees unification with China as the KMT's ultimate goal, and he has always viewed pro-independence activity as an unpardonable offence. In the past, Ma has been anti-communist, but now we see him in a new incarnation, "anti-communist but not anti-China." This means that he adheres to the policy of uniting with the communists against the pro-independence factions in Taiwan, which is tantamount to removing freedom of choice from the Taiwanese people. Not only does this go against the idea of putting power in the hands of the people, it shows quite clearly that Ma hasn't changed much since the days of martial law.
What this all means is that the difference between the DPP and the KMT, or between Chen and Ma, is the distinction between democracy and its absence.
With this as his foundation, the president then continued to make distinctions based on the ideas of sovereignty, democracy, peace and equality, emphasizing the differences between the pan-green and pan-blue camps. On one side there is Chen and the support of the majority of Taiwanese, and on the other is a complete lack of democracy with the KMT and the Chinese Communist Party. Chen's point in all this is that Taiwan's problems are not the result of the struggle between the pan-greens and the pan-blues, but the struggle between the greens and the reds. And isn't the failure of the passage of the arms procurement budget a direct result of this?
The president is committed to "always standing on the side of justice," and this is what the Taiwanese people expect of him. In this New Year's speech Chen expressed the government's resolve and its commitment to following through on it. That is where the real significance of the speech lies.
Chin Heng-wei is editor-in-chief of Contemporary Monthly magazine.
TRANSLATED BY PAUL COOPER