President Chen Shui-bian's (陳水扁) New Year message included an apology, a demand for clean governance, an emphasis on Taiwan's self-awareness and criticism of the threat posed by China. But he no longer talked about striving for economic prosperity or promoting cross-strait relations.
Rather, he spent more than half the speech on the dialectical relationship between economic development and social fairness and justice, stressing the need to transform and upgrade the nation's industries. The government, he said, must practice efficient management to reduce the risks in opening up to China.
Replacing empty slogans with a more solid discourse is the biggest difference between this speech and Chen's previous efforts. Over the past six years, the Democratic Progressive Party's major problem has not been corruption, but its ruling philosophy. Government agencies have lacked a common sense of values and direction, and they have tended to work at cross purposes. Their policies change whenever they have a new chief, hence, there is no cumulative effort or sense of achievement.
Take the policy of "active opening, effective management," which was adopted at the conclusion of the Economic Development Advisory Conference in 2001. I was a member of the review committee on investment in China, which was dominated by the position that since Taiwan couldn't control investment in China anyway, it might as well allow it. That illustrated Chen's point that there was no interest in "effective management."
It was meaningless for the government to strive for prosperity during the global economic downturn a few years ago. The government was right to construct a social security network, expand vocational training and add jobs to the public sector while carrying out financial reform.
But the pan-green camp's legislators were severely attacked on TV talkshows, so they were pressured into joining their pan-blue rivals in forcing the government to come up with a specific remedy for the economic downturn. The executive simply bowed its head, not daring to reply. Why? They had no clear beliefs.
During the Great Depression, then-US president Franklin Roosevelt did exactly what Chen has proposed: build unemployment insurance and pension systems, reform the financial sector and provide job opportunities in public construction. He did not offer subsidies. Instead, he called on the public to believe in the nation: "In our personal ambitions we are individualists. But in our seeking for economic and political progress as a nation, we all go up, or else we all go down, as one people." His New Deal is praised to this day.
In response to Chen's speech, Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) Chairman Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) said the president should strive for prosperity, not fight political battles. It is evident that his vision is rooted at the economic level. To Ma, it is the duty of industry to strive for economic development, and the government's role is to create an environment that safeguards fair competition.
Chen's new direction is a balance of economic and social development. If we can take this path, the public will be able to enjoy not only freedom and democracy, but also health insurance and retirement pensions, a fair tax system, a clean environment and sound education. Only when people feel Taiwan loves them can they love Taiwan.
The pan-green camp's supporters must have confidence and patience. The pan-blue camp's supporters must also be optimistic. Eventually, we will "go up" as a whole. The catch is that Chen must view his speech as a philosophy and carry it through.
Jason Liu is a professor in the Department of Chemical Engineering at the National Taiwan University of Science and Technology.
TRANSLATED BY EDDY CHANG