While he was in office, president Lee Teng-hui (李登輝) published a book entitled The Road to Democracy: Taiwan’s Pursuit of Identity (台灣的主張). It was appropriate and justified for Lee to write about democracy. In it, he laid out his intentions and concerns as a leader, as well as showing his determined character.
The political effect of the book was to give the public a clear view of where the nation was headed, and thus a sense of security. Although many people voiced their opposition to what Lee stood for, they could direct those opinions against concrete positions.
This allowed Lee — as a democratically elected president — to speak in the name of those who voted for him and expound his notions of governance. Those who held different opinions could express their views, too. The interaction between these varying opinions contributed to strengthening the nation’s democratic system.
But for President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九), doing things this way is outmoded. Right after Ma took office, opposition parties started accusing him of being an agent of China. At the time they could not produce much proof to back up the accusation, but since then, more evidence has come to light through Ma and his government’s policies.
As things stand, if the Ma government has any standpoint at all on Taiwan, it is that Taiwan does not dare express its standpoint. Foreign media outlets must find it hard to believe that a popularly elected president could have such an attitude.
When Ma was elected last year, no one took the opposition seriously when it called Ma an agent of China. The jibe was seen as run-of-the-mill political jousting and election rhetoric. More than a year has passed and the public has discovered that Ma talks about little other than “the mainland.” Ma’s frequent references to the “mainland” are worrying Taiwanese and the nation’s traditional allies such as the US and Japan. The foreign media have also started to view Taiwan from Ma’s political standpoint.
There is no need to go on at length about Ma’s efforts to Sinicize Taiwan. Anyone who knows anything about political developments in Taiwan over the past year can see that the Taiwanese government is looking more and more like an agent or local government of China, as evidenced in its policies on education, law and order and cross-strait aviation, as well as its lack of enthusiasm for taking part in international organizations, and many other things.
There has been a series of so-called cross-strait negotiations, but there is not much real negotiating going on. Rather, the two sides are working together to achieve a common goal. Ma likes to present the results of these talks as his political achievements, but he has no answer to the opposition’s accusation that the price paid for Beijing’s acquiescence to the various agreements has been the gradual abandonment of Taiwan’s sovereignty. Even where Beijing has not demanded anything, the Ma government is willing to serve up concessions on a plate — all for the sake of getting favorable publicity in the media.
But what kind of a China is Ma working for? Here we see something even more worrying — Ma’s illusions about Beijing’s goodwill. Whatever the Beijing government does or does not do, Ma interprets it as a sign of China’s goodwill toward Taiwan. On the other hand, any opinion raised by the Taiwanese public in opposition to the government’s excessive reliance on China is mocked as troublemaking and rumormongering.
To create this imaginary “goodwill,” Ma has not been afraid to overstep the boundaries of democracy, such as allowing the police to exceed their legal powers, leading to clashes during the visit of Chinese envoy Chen Yunlin (陳雲林) last November.
Following those events, the government punished Lin Chia-fan (林佳範) and Lee Ming-tsung (李明璁), two professors at state-run universities who criticized the government’s handling of Chen’s visit, under the soon-to-be-scrapped terms of the oppressive Assembly and Parade Act (集會遊行法).
What’s even more shocking is the government has been happy to see pro-Chinese elements in both Taiwan and China vilify and insult internationally renowned religious and political leaders — the Dalai Lama and exiled Uighur activist Rebiya Kadeer.
Comments by Taiwan’s premier and minister of the interior show that they have become mouthpieces for Beijing. What kind of identity can such a government be pursuing for Taiwan?
Before Ma took office, if there was one standpoint in Taiwan that transcended ideological boundaries between political leaders, parties and factions and which had the support of the public, it was adherence to democracy. However, this consensus is gradually becoming warped under the influence of the ruling Chinese Nationalist Party’s (KMT) cultural identity, elitism and what it considers to be Taiwan’s economic interests. KMT-alligned “pan-blue” political figures now see alignment with China as the only possible solution for Taiwan.
In pursuing this solution, they throw away the accumulated gains of Taiwan’s democracy. One must ask whether a solution for which democracy is forfeited can be called a solution at all.
Chu Ping-tzu is an associate professor in the Department of Chinese Literature at National Tsing Hua University.
TRANSLATED BY JULIAN CLEGG