Waking from the hamster wheel

By Michael Danielsen  / 

Sun, Feb 05, 2012 - Page 8

President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) has started his second term as president of the Republic of China (ROC) running in a hamster wheel. He keeps his eyes fixed on the so-called “1992 consensus” while the rest of the world moves on, knowing that the ROC will never rule China. Rather, Beijing and the international community are working so that the “1992 consensus” leads to Taiwan becoming a part of China. The question is if Ma will ever awake from his hamster wheel.

According to international media, the country is moving closer to China and international observers get the impression that Taiwan is moving toward de facto unification. That view is supported by economic logic, the Chinese Nationalist Party’s (KMT) promotion of a “Chinese national identity policy” at home and abroad, and the embrace of the non-existent “1992 consensus” by the KMT government, which directly states that Taiwan is part of China.

As a result, Taiwan will probably be further isolated and continue its China-leaning policies.

Over the past four years, this has been the case in the WHO. Taiwan has reduced its participation in international health work and accepted a Chinese veto on its observer status. In addition, the Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement (ECFA) has reduced the nation’s international trade status because the agreement was not signed based on Taiwan’s position as a WTO member.

These policies may not hurt the nation’s economic performance over the coming few years and thereby benefit the opposition. On the contrary, the presidential election in 2016 risks becoming an even greater challenge for the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP). During the Jan. 14 presidential and legislative elections, the DPP promoted the much-needed “Taiwan consensus” as an alternative for dealing with China.

If the KMT and the DPP could work together on China policy, the Taiwan consensus could have provided an improved mechanism to safeguard and strengthen the nation’s position.

However, in order to win the next presidential election, the DPP must produce more concrete policy positions, for instance on how the birth of a cross-strait common market could benefit or hurt Taiwan.

The KMT proposed a common market before the 2008 election. As Ma will seek to write history in his second term and possibly accommodate China, the time for the creation of a cross-strait common market seems ripe from Ma’s and China’s points of view.

The idea appears to be an easy sell. The KMT government will argue that the common market is purely economic in nature and has no political ramifications. Additionally, the KMT can argue that it is good for peace and a necessity for prosperity.

The common market cannot be fully implemented within a few years, but a slow start, as was the case with the EU, may be achievable. In a number of areas, a common market could be started, such as in the electronics industry. We may see new integrated circuit (IC) cards for Taiwanese entering China, and Taiwan may be afforded increased participation in international activities, with a Chinese veto.

The KMT will seek to establish the common market on the naive thinking that China and Taiwan are equals, based on the “1992 consensus,” but the “1992 consensus” is an empty house, a sinking ship for Taiwan. No sober politician with elementary school knowledge of Taiwan’s position in the world would agree that the ROC has the right to rule the People’s Republic of China (PRC), Tibet and Mongolia, as is maintained by the KMT government.

A reality check shows that the “1992 consensus” implies that Taiwan is part of the PRC, and that the common market will be considered under the “one country, two systems” framework by the international community. Policy statements lose any meaning if the “1992 consensus” is considered as an empty phrase in order to accommodate China.

Consequently, the KMT will get full backing from China, the US and Europe, and the fear of a negative Chinese reaction to a DPP victory in 2016 will add pressure Taiwanese to make the “right” choice. The KMT’s massive campaign funds will again ensure an efficient election campaign. We will very likely see yet another “mostly free and partly unfair” election in Taiwan, as the International Committee for Fair Elections in Taiwan labeled the Jan. 14 elections.

If China’s economic success continues, the only hope to save the nation is strong and unwavering support for democratic consolidation and in elections free from external interference.

Yes, Ma will continue running in his hamster wheel for the next few years. However, he runs the risk of having a stick poked in the wheel that will reveal the unsustainable nature of his own policies, because the vast majority of Taiwanese want independence and have no ambition to be a part of China in any form.

The KMT will hopefully wake up and realize that a Taiwan consensus is central to Taiwan’s survival.

Michael Danielsen is chairman of Taiwan Corner.