A GIO response to Richard Kagan

By Su Jun-pin 蘇俊賓  / 

Fri, Jan 08, 2010 - Page 8

In an op-ed published in the Taipei Times (“GIO’s response misses the point,” Dec. 25, page 8) Richard Kagan questions efforts by this government for closer ties between Taiwan and mainland China, based primarily on stated concerns about how this might affect democracy in Taiwan. Rather than rehash previous Government Information Office (GIO) responses to the misperceptions and specious claims therein, it would be more productive to focus on the central question he raises.

Professor Kagan expresses doubts about why a democratic country such as the Republic of China (Taiwan) would seek to develop closer relations with mainland China, which is not a democracy. As an historian, he surely must know that all members of the international community should and must develop relations with each other, regardless of differences in political systems or even bilateral disagreements over specific issues. The US engages in trade and security cooperation with non-democratic countries throughout the world, yet few question how this might affect US democracy.

Similarly, the Republic of China needs to develop relations with all members of the international community to ensure the best interests of the people of Taiwan. It is an internationally accepted fact that mainland China is growing in economic and strategic importance. When the international community wishes to solve major international ­problems, it increasingly finds that it must engage with Beijing to help find a solution. The US is working more closely than ever with the mainland to deal with managing the global financial crisis, handling the North Korean situation and countering global terrorism. As an integral member of the international community, Taiwan needs to engage with mainland China for many of the same reasons, regardless of any cross-strait differences.

However, this is absolutely not in any way at the expense of Taiwan’s hard-won democracy. This administration has consistently stressed since taking office that all its policies and interaction with Beijing shall be based on the principle of “putting Taiwan first for the benefit of the people.” If improving ties had led to the appalling result Dr Kagan posits of Beijing controlling the dialogue and always getting what it wants, why was no double taxation avoidance agreement signed during the Chiang-Chen [Straits Exchange Foundation (SEF) Chairman Chiang Pin-kung (江丙坤) and Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Strait (ARATS) Chairman Chen Yunlin (陳雲林)] cross-strait talks in December, despite being on the agenda? The answer is simple: Disputed details in the wording of the agreement did not accord with the ­aforementioned principle, so we were not going to sign it, and did not.

The fact that these talks took place between the respectively authorized representative organizations of both sides — the SEF and ARATS — debunks the myth that the cross-strait dialogue is being conducted party-to-party, rather than government-to-government. The Legislative Yuan must approve any accord worked out with ARATS involving domestic laws. Only this administration, duly elected by the voters in Taiwan — and not any political party at either end of the political spectrum — sets cross-strait policy and speaks on behalf of the people of Taiwan.

Professor Kagan’s letter also dwelled on the disingenuous complaint that using “Chinese Taipei” as the name of our country in international events and organizations signals a deliberate diminution of national sovereignty. Taiwan’s participation in such events under the rubric “Chinese Taipei” during previous administrations did not diminish national sovereignty, nor can it do so now. This government has always sought and continues to vigorously seek the use of our official name, “Republic of China,” or at least “Taiwan,” in such situations. However, given Taiwan’s unique international status, use of our national title is beyond our control. We warmly welcome support from Dr Kagan and his colleagues for the correct use of our national title by international events and organizations hereafter.

The mantra that democracy in Taiwan is less robust than before utterly conflicts with reality. Domestic political debate in Taiwan is as spirited and vigorous as ever. The local media scrutinize every action of this administration closely, and public demonstrations on political issues of every kind are commonplace. Any concerns that Taiwan is reverting to one-party rule were surely dispelled by the results of local elections held last month. KMT [Chinese Nationalist Party] candidates for mayor and county magistrate posts received 47.88 percent of the nationwide vote, while DPP [Democratic Progressive Party] candidates garnered 45.32 percent. There is no clearer proof that the people of Taiwan have the absolute power to choose their government.

The people of Taiwan have every reason to be proud of the democracy and freedom they have achieved. Taiwan continues to shape the debate on whether democracy is attainable in the Chinese-speaking world, even as cross-strait ties improve. We remain resolutely confident that the undeniable fact of democratic attainment in Taiwan will ultimately prove just as, or even more, powerful to spur positive developments on the opposite side of the Taiwan Strait. That can only be to the benefit of the people of Taiwan and those of the mainland, as well as the world in general.

Su Jun-pin is minister of the Government Information Office.