A new vision for today’s Taiwan

By Ruan Ming 阮銘  / 

Fri, Sep 02, 2011 - Page 8

Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) Chairperson Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) has been announcing various aspects of her party’s 10-year policy guidelines. They have been met with criticism from several directions. Some have sought to brush them aside, saying they are just empty words and phrases that offer little that is new. Others have tried intimidation, saying that their rejection of the “1992 consensus” risks destabilizing the cross-strait situation.

Mainland Affairs Council (MAC) Chairwoman Lai Shin-yuan (賴幸媛) in particular got hot under the collar the night before Tsai announced the section on cross-strait issues, posting “18 questions” on Facebook that were irrelevant to the issue at hand.

Why all the invective? Because this section laid out a promise to the next generation, aimed at strengthening the foundations for Taiwan’s sustainable development, carving out a way forward for the next decade of Taiwanese democracy, cutting through the unprogressive pan-blue/pan-green, independence/unification tug-of-war, and creating a blueprint for Taiwan’s future. I like to style it as a “workable wish for Taiwan’s future.”

The fact that it drew the ire of the older generation of government officials, academics, journalists, talk-show hosts and politicians from across the political spectrum really comes as no surprise. Both Lai and President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) know full well that as soon as someone else manages to capture the public’s imagination with a new approach for Taiwan’s future — one that is grounded in reality and perfectly feasible — their game is up. It is good that many young people on Facebook “liked” the guidelines.

This “workable wish for Taiwan’s future” revolves around six main points: a stronger, jobs-driven economy; an altruistic society with fair allocation of resources; a secure environment conducive to sustainable growth; a diverse and innovative approach to education; a deepening of democracy through increased participation by the public; and a strategy for peace.

Each one of these is based upon feasible foundations, on both the domestic and international levels, and explores Taiwan’s potential strengths and the strategic errors of the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT), clearly pointing out the way forward for Taiwan if it is to compete internationally. This is music to the ears of the younger generation who are fed up of their political leaders whistling the same old tune.

Forging romantic dreams that are divorced from reality is simply building castles in the air, mere delusions that are better left ignored. Dreams are nice, but one cannot always have things as one would ideally like them. Reality often puts a stop to that. However, to abandon one’s autonomy and strengths and cede them to someone else is plain suicidal and dooms one’s future prospects. It is certainly consigning the fate and fortune of the citizens of the country to a very precarious situation.

Of course, politicians need to keep their feet firmly on the ground, but at the same time they need to keep an eye firmly on a better future, a vision that they can aspire to. Only then can they lead the public forward.

Tsai’s 10-year policy guidelines tick both boxes. It is realistic while working towards an ideal, and this is precisely why the younger generation “liked” it on Facebook.

Tsai’s critics are neither realists nor idealists. They are blind to the present reality and devoid of aspirations for the future. They disregard the fresh approach that the policy guidelines embody, and regard the broken down engine of the “1992 consensus” a Goliath who can brush aside Tsai with a mere swipe of the hand. Preposterous.

The then-Mainland Affairs Council chairman Su Chi (蘇起) devised the term “1992 consensus” in 2000. I wrote an article about how there was no consensus in 1992, in which I likened the “one China” principle to a hangman’s noose, after which Su gave me a book and explained the situation, saying that he had invented the concept to get China to back down.

At the time Beijing was not keen on the idea of “one China, with each side having its own interpretation” because it believed it suggested the existence of two Chinas, the People’s Republic of China and the Republic of China (ROC), and that there was therefore no consensus. I recall joking that the original 2000 formulation of the “1992 consensus” was “one China with no interpretation whatsoever.”

The “one China, no interpretation whatsoever” version of the “1992 consensus” was officially embraced by Chinese President Hu Jintao (胡錦濤) and subsequently used in the 2005 meeting between him and former KMT chairman Lien Chan (連戰). As such, it would be more appropriate to refer to it as the “2005 consensus.” At the time, Hu had already signed Beijing’s “Anti-Secession” Law despite objections from both Taiwan and the international community, when “Uncle Lien” stepped in to save the day. Hu was very pleased with this outcome, and has insisted on this formulation ever since.

This is all in the past; it’s just mincing words, splitting hairs. The public has heard enough. History moves on. Today’s Taiwan and cross-strait situation are not the same as those of 1992, 2000 or even 2005. Even if there really were such things as a “1992 consensus,” a “2000 consensus” or a “2005 consensus” in those snapshots of time, it is all water under the bridge.

That is not to say that they are irrelevant: We need to explore the past, establish the reality, look to the future and crystallize some form of “Taiwan consensus” to carve out a new place for Taiwan in the world and in terms of our relationship with China.

The 10-year guidelines bypass these fatuous arguments and address the practical issues facing the nation and its citizens and where we want to be in the future. They cater to the needs of the wider electorate, especially the younger generation, who are sick of hearing the same thing from old windbags banging on about ancient history, the centenary of the Republic of China and what have you.

Wouldn’t it be refreshing if the coming presidential and vice presidential debates centered less on the old tunes and more on novel approaches, new ideas? With the proviso, of course, that they are workable.

Ruan Ming is an academic specializing in cross-strait issues.

Translated by Paul Cooper