Former Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) chairperson Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) came in for some heavy criticism during her trip to the US over remarks she made that Taiwanese should give more “space” to the contentious idea that the Republic of China (ROC) is Taiwan, and Taiwan the ROC. However, if the past is any indication, she might be onto something.
For good reasons, the initial reaction among many Taiwanese and human rights defenders to equating their homeland with the ROC — a regime that was forced upon them after the conclusion of World War II — will be to bristle. Such reactions might even be more pronounced when a Taiwanese, who once headed the DPP and ran for high office, utters such words. Indeed Tsai became the object of rather scathing personal attacks, with some accusing her of giving up on Taiwanese independence and siding with President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) of the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT).
However, anyone who knows Tsai will agree that selling out is the last thing on her mind. Rather, her comments, which it must be said she has made before, reflect an understanding of the parameters within which the DPP must operate if it is ever to have any hope of returning to power. The embattled Ma and his dysfunctional administration may be on the verge of splitting up, but that alone will be insufficient to provide the DPP with a good chance of scoring substantial wins in the seven-in-one elections in 2014 and the 2016 presidential election.
What the DPP needs above all is a platform that is both appealing to large numbers of voters and is also accommodating enough to allow for the creation of alliances that transcend party politics. In other words, the DPP must apply the lessons learned from an unrivaled master of Taiwanese politics, former president Lee Teng-hui (李登輝). As he ascended the echelons of power within the KMT during the 1970s and 1980s, Lee kept his cards close to his chest. Even after he became president following Chiang Ching-kuo’s (蔣經國) death, he continued to operate within the constraints imposed by the ROC Constitution and fully understood the immense challenges he would face when confronting conservative forces within the party.
Yet, little by little, Lee whittled away at the “old thieves” in the government and gradually placed more Taiwanese in key government positions. What Lee did, therefore, was work from the inside rather than confront from the outside. In many ways, his accomplishments — and they were manifold — reflected the transformation of the KMT itself since its arrival in Taiwan, as local imperatives slowly hollowed the party out from inside by patiently gnawing away at practices and ideologies that no longer applied to a democratic Taiwan.
Such a strategy should be given careful consideration by the DPP. Only by regaining power will it ever be in a position to shape the destiny of this nation the way Lee did. Sticking to tactics of alienation and combativeness, which time and again have proved a failure, will only ensure further losses in the democratic arena. Learning from past examples of successful cooperation while reaching out to one’s opponents, as former DPP chairman Shih Ming-teh (施明德) did after the DPP’s defeat in the 1996 presidential election, is the surest path to success.
It is encouraging to see former premier Yu Shyi-kun echoing Tsai’s views by stating that such views need not contradict the ultimate aim of independence. Tsai’s remarks have also prompted some Taiwanese, whose initial reaction was one of anger, to reassess their views on what she meant by ROC and to assess whether it can indeed symbolize something other than a repressive, monolithic entity that has nothing to do with Taiwan.