LETTERS: Focus on the environment

Mon, Nov 26, 2007 - Page 8

The discourse of the two main contenders for the presidential election can be described fairly simply. The Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) argues that the economy and Taiwanese competitiveness is suffering from the "antagonistic" approach of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) and requires leadership that would prioritize the economy. Accordingly, it supports greater rapprochement with China, which it regards as a cash cow waiting to be exploited.

The DPP would like to see gradual economic opening, but not at the expense of Taiwanese political sovereignty, dependent upon economic independence, a policy first promoted by president Chiang Ching-kuo (蔣經國). Both positions lack credibility.

The KMT spends much time trying to convince people that the economy is bad -- their rationale for a change of administration. It employs language to convince "ordinary working people" that it understands (or demands?) that the average person does not care about politics, sovereignty or even identity. After all, "it's the economy, stupid." The KMT hopes that by repeating this slogan often enough, most people will start to believe it despite the economic indicators to the contrary.

The DPP has only been able to make piecemeal and superficial changes. It is now promoting an ambiguous policy of protecting sovereignty. If the DPP is going to make any progress in the legislative or presidential elections it must reformulate its conception of sovereignty away from the nation state as a political entity. Instead it should replace sovereignty with self-determination and put the environment at the heart of this articulation.

A new concept of the nation state as an environmental unit is needed, based upon all people in Taiwan sharing the responsibility to maintain the environment, since we all equally pay for the contingent effects of unchecked development, pollution and waste. For example, Taiwan's carbon emissions are shameful, a matter far more pressing than the name of the country or UN recognition. Citizenship should be dependent upon the responsibilities of living in the limited shared environment and not from abstract political conceptions of identity.

The DPP needs to clearly argue that its desire to protect Taiwan comes from the imperative necessity to protect the environment. Thus sovereignty and self-determination are not derived from national identity, culture or ethnicity but rather the occupation of Taiwan's geographically defined ecological habitats. Since China's ecology is not connected directly to Taiwan, that provides the rationale for continued differentiation between the two administrative areas.

If the rationale of the DPP is to protect the environment of Taiwan, it also provides breathing space by disentangling the party from an ideological commitment to a concept of difference to China. To demonstrate the party's seriousness about this matter, the first step should be to investigate the alleged physical attack by the Yunlin County commissioner on attorney Robin Winkler at a meeting to discuss Formosa Plastic's proposed development in that county. In this way it could demonstrate the hollowness of the glib Clintonesque reference to the economy and replace it with the more relevant and pertinent "It's the environment stupid."

Ben Goren