What is the point of Taiwan’s political reform movement if not to reconstruct the nation?
National reconstruction means facing up to the vestigial, fictitious and alien nature of the Republic of China (ROC) and establishing a new country by writing a new constitution with the involvement of citizens. That would make it possible to reconcile divided identities and build a new community of free people.
The Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) has proven itself incapable of dispensing with its mentality of ruling through a system in which the party and state are closely interwoven, so of course it has no vision of a new Taiwanese nation. Even if the baggage of the dictatorship of Chiang Kai-shek (蔣介石) and Chiang Ching-kuo (蔣經國) has been cast aside, President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九), as the heir to their power, continues to hold on to whatever elements he can of the old power structure. Unless Ma is voted out of office, he would rather negotiate with the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) than collaborate with Taiwanese reformers.
The KMT of today is walking a tightrope between the US and communist China and between being Chinese and Taiwanese. Its balance may look steady, but in reality it is taking one step at a time and is beset by pitfalls at every turn. The remaining vestiges of the ROC are a nightmare for Taiwan.
Ever since communist China was established in 1949, the KMT has been clinging to what remains of the ROC, balancing somewhere between a real and make-believe country. The political reform movement has broken through the facade of dictatorship, but it has not done away with its essence. To this day, the machinery of state is still inseparable from the KMT.
If Taiwanese do not work hard to reconstruct the nation and the structure of the ROC remains in place, it would be tantamount to supporting the KMT party-state system.
In 2000, Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) candidate Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) was elected president, and the KMT’s Lee Teng-hui (李登輝) had been elected president before that, both through a direct popular vote. However, neither of them was able to change the party-state nature of Taiwan’s political system. On the contrary, Chen ended up clapped in irons and locked away in prison, where he has undergone all kinds of torment, while Lee has also suffered harassment.
Under the existing system, it is acceptable for the reform movement to be involved in the ROC, but within this system it should strive to carry out reform. The Taiwanese nature of the ROC must be established, first of all by facing up to the fact that the original ROC has been eradicated and succeeded by another China. Taiwanese should then work together to write a new constitution, so that everyone, no matter when they or their ancestors arrived in the country, can all become Taiwanese citizens. The nation could even adopt a “basic law” to provide some leeway as to how it relates with China. Eventually, a referendum could be held to decide the matter of “unification,” with China, even if this actually means surrender and submission.
If opposition politicians do not pursue these tasks, but think only about how to get into government, then what use are they? Are they not likely to end up chained up and thrown in jail? The public used to wonder what the KMT would do, but these days they have to think about what the Chinese Communist Party will do.
Only if Taiwan can be restored to its proper central position and build a Taiwanese identity can it really have a future. That is what Taiwan’s reform movements should be working for.
Lee Min-yung is a poet and political commentator.
Translated by Julian Clegg