DPP must get serious about China

By Liu Shih-chung 劉世忠  / 

Mon, Feb 27, 2012 - Page 8

More than a month after the Democratic Progressive Party’s (DPP) defeat in the presidential election, the party’s internal post-election analysis has turned to the question of whether the party’s overall policy and it’s China policy should be adjusted amid a struggle over who should take over as party chairperson. Regardless of who takes over from DPP Chairperson Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文), the two major issues for any successor will be rethinking the party’s China policy and reforming the party’s domestic organization.

Unlike some people within the party who followed up on the election defeat by suggesting rash, ad hoc adjustments to its China policy, anyone contending for the party chairpersonship must eschew such shallow thinking and put forward a long-term, comprehensive and visionary view of how the domestic situation will change in China, the development of cross-strait relations and Sino-US relations and the interactions between all these, that covers at least the next four years. That will be the only way to move the party toward pragmatic transformation and a stable and balanced China policy for the 2016 elections.

Earlier this month, Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping (習近平), who is expected to take over from Chinese President, Hu Jintao (胡錦濤) when he steps down later this year, received a high-profile reception when he visited the US.

Even in the US, opinion is divided on how to deal with Xi, who over the next decade is expected to shoulder responsibility for creating a calm and stable domestic Chinese economy and guide the nation’s peaceful rise in the international arena, so it is not very strange that the same problem is occurring in Taiwan.

For the working public in the US, China is a rising regional power whose influence over international finance, economy and trade is increasing daily, but cheap and inferior Chinese goods and the Chinese currency exchange rate continue to cast a malign influence on the US public’s impression of China. Meanwhile, US business circles and unions are playing up the China card to strengthen protectionism.

China’s continued military expansion and increasing military expenditure is providing US arms manufacturers with a good reason to lobby for increased defense budgets and new weapons development. For neoconservatives who continue to adhere to US unilateralism, China is a competitor as the US attempts to strengthen its position as global leader.

Human rights and democracy activists focus their criticism on the backwardness of China’s democratization process. Over the past 40 years, China’s economy has experienced double digit growth every year and it may soon become the world’s biggest economy. It’s political and economic influence is spreading to Africa, Central and South America and Southeast Asia, and it’s influence over international affairs has led to a critical situation in the US’ dealings with Iran and North Korea.

This is the overall picture that pro-localization supporters and dogmatists in the pan-green camp either cannot see or deliberately ignore. That is the reason some more insightful people in the DPP have been attacked for using this situation as an excuse to push for a move toward the center of the political spectrum and maybe even move closer to the Chinese Nationalist Party’s (KMT) stance on cross-strait issues.

It is not news that China’s development is shrouded in uncertainty. Per capita GDP is a mere US$4,000, less than one-tenth of the US’, intellectual property rights violations make it obvious that innovation is lagging behind, the size of the wealth gap is the biggest among all developing countries, environmental protection and water pollution are so serious that people’s lives are threatened, there is corruption in state-run enterprises, and the transformation of the export-oriented and foreign investment-dependent economy is in crisis.

These are all potential catalysts of social unrest and a clarion call for opposition. We can only wait and see how long the leadership can maintain current strict controls on the Internet and news reporting. The recent attempted escape of Wang Lijun (王立軍) highlights the power struggle that is going on in connection with Xi’s succession to the party leadership.

Even the US thinks China’s development is full of unpredictable variables and therefore carefully calculates its exchanges with Beijing to ensure that China’s rise does not have a negative impact on the global political and economic order. One wonders if Taiwan, so closely connected to China, or the DPP, which is still hesitating over how to interact with China, can avoid making thorough and broad preparation.

However, during the recent presidential campaign, the DPP leadership, including Tsai, avoided discussing it’s strategic approach to China’s future and US-China relations. It was not that they do not understand the importance of these issues, they just did not want to come clean on their views out of concern for the campaign.

The fact is that the complexities of China’s domestic and external developments is precisely what the DPP leadership should study, and in detail. They should then make their views public, in a balanced way.

That is the only way to avoid a narrow discussion about whether the party should accept the so-called “1992 consensus,” the view that there is “one China” with each side having their own interpretation of what that China is, or that there is a “constitutional one China.”

Liu Shih-chung is a senior research fellow at the Taipei-based Taiwan Brain Trust.

Translated by Perry Svensson