Looking for China’s democrats

By Wang Dan 王丹  / 

Fri, Sep 20, 2013 - Page 8

On Aug. 29, I took part in the fourth Huashan China Forum, one of a series of enlarged meetings of the Democratic Progressive Party’s (DPP) China Affairs Committee, as an invited speaker. The forum was chaired by former DPP chairperson Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文). Representatives of related departments of the DPP also took part, along with other people who care about the party’s China policies.

As one of the panelists, I made the following four suggestions about the DPP’s China policies:

First, it is important to differentiate between the concepts of China, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and Chinese people. China is a concept that encompasses historical, cultural and other elements, the CCP is a political concept, and the concept of Chinese people is one of ethnicity or community. They are three different concepts, so to treat them all as the same thing is to not be rigorous enough.

When the DPP is dealing with questions related to China, it needs to recognize that many Chinese people do not agree with much of what the CCP does, including its policies regarding relations across the Taiwan Strait. However, they cannot express their disagreement because the environment they live in does not give them sufficient freedom of speech. To think of Chinese people and the CCP as one and the same will prevent a true understanding of China, as well as unnecessarily broadening antagonism.

Second, people need to differentiate between the Chinese state and Chinese society. The thing that has been getting more powerful, against a background of statism and developmentalism, is the aspect of the Chinese state. This aspect is built on financial and military power, and it projects an impression of state violence as well as an isolationist and inward-looking attitude to political development. At the same time, however, and despite the heavy pressure exercised by the state, China’s civil society is burgeoning, and in many ways it exhibits characteristics that are diametrically opposite to the intentions of the state.

To acquire a real understanding of China, more than just the surface image of the state has to be examined. It is only at the deeper levels of society where the real China can be seen.

Third, the DPP should try to give Chinese people a positive impression of its China policies. The Chinese Communist authorities have all along spread biased propaganda about the DPP, while the DPP has been rather reticent about contacts with China. As a result, even China’s more liberal-leaning intellectuals, never mind ordinary Chinese people, do not know very much about the DPP, its history and, above all, its policies with regard to China. Their understanding of the DPP is simplistic and biased.

The solution is for the DPP to get away from the restricted framework of party-to-party interaction with the CCP and start actively and directly addressing China’s civil society. It should introduce itself to Chinese people and respond sincerely to any questions or doubts that Chinese civil society may raise.

Fourth, the DPP’s dialog with Chinese civil society should be centered on the development of democracy in both nations. For civil society and opposition forces on both sides, the theme on which they are most likely to find a consensus, and the one that will be most helpful for promoting interaction and strengthening mutual understanding, has to do with how to move on from developing a civil society to starting to build a constitutional democracy.

For China’s society, learning from Taiwan’s democratization process is an urgent task. For Taiwan, if China can embark on the road to democracy, it will have a direct influence on national security in years to come.

The language of democracy is the biggest thing that the two sides have in common. The DPP is only just starting to positively tackle the China question. At this initial stage, getting a firm grip on the central issue of democracy will be the most effective way of bringing the two countries closer together. If democratization does not happen, it will not be possible to talk about any other questions, including the question of sovereignty.

Although these four suggestions were presented at a DPP forum, they are also addressed to Taiwanese in general, including the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT).

There needs to be a discussion on the merits of the different ideas for dealing with China by all Taiwanese.

Wang Dan is a visiting associate professor at National Tsing Hua University’s College of Humanities and Social Sciences.

Translated by Julian Clegg