I attended a forum on April 23 organized by Taiwan Democracy Watch, a group of younger academics, to discuss their manifesto, “A Declaration of Free Men.” The declaration, which was proposed at the forum, offers a new way for Taiwanese society to think about cross-strait discourse. It states that “only free men can enter into contracts” and expresses concern for the initiation of democratization in China. Over time, this document is likely to have a strong impact on the development of cross-strait relations.
The meeting was significant for another reason: Taiwanese society is finally beginning to substantially, collectively and, of course, tentatively address the issue of the development of cross-strait relations. This is something I have been waiting for for a long time.
Whether it is the mechanism for negotiation between the Straits Exchange Foundation and China’s Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Straits (ARATS), the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT)-Chinese Communist Party (CCP) forum, the Zijinshan forum for businesspeople from China and Taiwan, or the Straits Forum, these platforms all operate within the framework of political parties and governments.
The opposition between the pan-blue and the pan-green camps has created a situation in which neither camp’s cross-strait policies is fully representative of public opinion in Taiwan.
In China, because there are no elections, the CCP’s cross-strait policies have no legally founded representativeness at all. Civil society dialogue can effectively make up for these shortcomings.
Furthermore, the development of cross-strait relations involves strong vested interests in both societies. The governments and political parties on either side of the Taiwan Strait should never have been allowed to monopolize the debate, and civil society on both sides should take it upon themselves to initiate dialogue and exchanges independent of their governments or parties. We need to hear the public’s opinions, in addition to that of the governments and the parties.
Zhang Zhijun (張志軍), director of China’s Taiwan Affairs Office, said at the 11th forum on cross-strait relations on March 22 that relations remain fraught with political problems, which were very complicated and difficult to solve. He said that these issues should now be addressed head on, without any restricted areas, and that dialogue between the civil societies in Taiwan and China was one feasible way to gradually build a consensus on these issues.
ARATS Chairman Chen Deming (陳德銘) said that his organization “supports political exchanges and discussions between academic institutions and concerned individuals on the two sides of the Taiwan Strait, and it supports political dialogue between the two civil societies.”
Mainland Affairs Council Minister Wang Yu-chi (王郁琦) said in an interview with the Central News Agency that “the government looks positively on non-governmental exchanges and a debate about different alternatives, and the council will also engage in close interaction with domestic academics, experts and think tanks in the area of cross-strait policy. The opinions of academics will play a role in the government’s policy formation.”
It seems that both governments support cross-strait non-governmental dialogue. Since that is the case, I think such dialogue should be implemented instead of just being an empty slogan. Both governments should create corresponding institutions to guarantee that civil societies on the two sides are able to engage in dialogue and exchange. To this end, I suggest that the Taiwan’s government include representatives of Taiwan Democracy Watch, Cross-strait Agreement Watch, the Taiwan Association for Human Rights and the Office for the Promotion of Democracy and Cultural Exchanges Across the Taiwan Strait — all non-governmental organizations concerned with cross-strait relations — in future cross-strait platforms for dialogue.
It could also include other organizations or individuals who are representative of public opinion, so that dialogue between the civil societies in Taiwan and China at least begins in Taiwan and so that opinions other than those of the pan-blue and pan-green camps formally appears in the dialogue.
This is the only way to fully reflect public opinion in Taiwan.
Wang Dan is a visiting associate professor at National Tsing Hua University’s College of Humanities and Social Sciences.
Translated by Perry Svensson