The Democratic Progressive Party’s (DPP) first Huashan meeting out of a series of nine meetings was recently held in Taipei and attended in earnest by all the party’s senior members. Not a seat was left empty, nobody left early and many people wanted to express their opinions after the meeting had ended.
The meeting, which was about the DPP’s core values and outlook on China policy, was originally supposed to be about the party’s ideals. However, the addresses given by the four panelists clearly highlighted some fundamental contradictions that exist within the party.
Some placed a priority on values, saying that the party’s values must not be blurred simply to be able to gain re-election, while others placed the emphasis on regaining power, saying that if the party is not in power, any talk about ideals is just a waste of time.
The disagreement over priorities has long been a source of conflict within the DPP.
In the early days, the party had a saying: “Chickens and rabbits cannot be in the same cage.”
This emphasized that potential candidates had to possess special characteristics and that the DPP would rather lose in an election than nominate someone who did not belong.
After this, disagreements surfaced between those who wanted to focus on getting elected and those who wanted to focus on gaining popular support.
Those who wanted to focus on popular support opposed a focus on winning public office and promoted street protests. They felt that even if someone did well in public office, they should be opposed if what they did went against the popular will.
The Huashan meeting took place just after former premier Frank Hsieh (謝長廷) returned from a forum on cross-strait relations in Hong Kong.
Hsieh’s “two constitutions, different interpretations” proposed while in Hong Kong was naturally viewed by some Taiwan independence supporters as a classic example of how people within the party are putting political power over party values.
However, Hsieh has always been well-known for his wisdom and he knew that his proposal would face suspicion from within the DPP. This was why he managed to get the party’s Central Standing Committee to look into his initiative and see whether it would be in contradiction to the DPP’s party platform.
Hsieh’s use of the phrase “same origin and culture” when referring to Taiwan and China, a statement that has been criticized by independence supporters, was in fact especially appropriated from the DPP’s 1999 “Resolution on Taiwan’s Future.”
When a man who has run for president and is still one of the four most important party members has to be careful when proposing new ideas on cross-strait policy, it clearly illustrates the special constraints that exist within the party.
The key lies in the fact that for a long time now, the DPP has been made up of two groups of people.
One group firmly believes that Taiwanese independence should be placed above all else, while the other group feels that gaining political power should be the top priority.
However, with the rise of China and Beijing’s idea that it and the US are in charge of running the Taiwan Strait, it has become clear that a style of Taiwan independence that focuses on constitutional change and name rectification was going to be impossible to bring about.
However, the DPP has never told pro-independence voters the reality of the situation across the Taiwan Strait. The pro-independence voters that the DPP cultivated early on have now become its biggest obstacle as the party promotes a transformation of how it will enact its future China policies.
If someone like Hsieh can be criticized, it is easy to imagine that unless there is an environment in which people feel they can debate, the Huashan meetings will become perfunctory events with no real value.
So while DPP Chairman Su Tseng-chang (蘇貞昌) said that he is willing to give everyone a stage from which they can speak freely, without clear goals or procedures for dealing with differences of opinion, no one will feel safe in expressing their opinions.
Will the Huashan meetings be capable of removing all the doubt between Taiwan and China and help the DPP decide the direction its policies should be aimed at?
The most important thing is to first clarify the exact nature of the Huashan meetings.
Will they be meetings at which senior party officials get together for a chat; will they be geared toward developing an internal consensus — one that will eventually result in the creation of an official DPP consensus; or will they be preparatory meetings for an internal debate in which main discrepancies are identified before a formal debate is held?
As long as Su does not clearly define the goals and format of the Huashan meetings, it is unlikely the next eight meetings will have any chance of providing a consensus.
Julian Kuo is a former DPP legislator.
Translated by Drew Cameron