The Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) announced last week that it expects to finalize the preliminary conclusion of its latest China policy in early January, after months of discussions following its bitter loss in the presidential election last year.
A new China policy, the party said, is necessary to convince voters that it can manage cross-strait relations better than the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT), something that former DPP chairperson Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) failed to do in her presidential campaign. The discussion has also somehow become a tradition, as the party has always fine-tuned its China policy before every presidential election in the past.
Other than an almost unanimous agreement that the party needs to increase exchanges with Beijing, as it cannot afford to ignore the rapidly rising power, and that it should engage Chinese civil society and government, no consensus has been achieved.
While various initiatives, such as values-based engagement and diplomacy, were proposed and approved by most, the main argument still came down to the core issues of the DPP’s position on independence and the Republic of China (ROC).
At the center of the argument were three documents: the “Taiwan independence clause” in the DPP charter, the 1999 Resolution on Taiwan’s Future and the 2007 Resolution to Make Taiwan a Normal Country.
The Taiwan independence clause, which was added to the charter in 1991, listed establishing the Republic of Taiwan as the DPP’s formal goal. The 1999 resolution defined Taiwan as a sovereign country separate from China, while acknowledging the ROC as the country’s formal title.
The “normal country resolution” identified five abnormalities in Taiwan — international relations, the constitutional system, national identity, social justice and party competition — and advocated renaming the country Taiwan.
Most DPP members, whether moderate or hawkish on China policy, appeared to agree that the 1999 resolution, which did not mention Taiwanese independence, is the most acceptable among the three documents, while several moderates called for scrapping — or at least freezing — the independence clause and the normal country resolution because such “radical documents” could antagonize China.
Under the presumption that the DPP’s superior domestic governance would beat out the KMT, some also proposed that the party “move to the middle” or “shadow” the KMT’s China policy to win the presidential election.
However, the DPP first needs to address several key issues in its pursuit of a new China policy.
First, is there a “middle-of-the-road” position for the DPP’s China policy? Despite the 1999 resolution being seen as the most moderate position for the party, it is hard to imagine Beijing accepting “a sovereign country separate from China.” It is also extremely difficult for the DPP to accept the “one China” framework.
Second, will the DPP be bold enough to publicly abandon its support for independence and completely embrace the ROC to cater to Beijing’s goodwill?
Third, the DPP has to deal with the inconsistency between the three documents. Does the most recent resolution override the previous ones? The party has been vague about the significance of the three documents, with different explanations offered by different politicians.
Fourth, while the party seems to have agreed that its China policy will need to be “accepted by Washington and tolerated by Beijing,” it is difficult to imagine that a China policy based on promoting the universal values of human rights, democracy and freedom will be welcomed by Beijing.
Lastly, the DPP would love to maintain a certain degree of ambiguity on its policy to gain flexibility, but Beijing is likely to push it to be explicit.
Taiwanese tend to ignore China policy until election time. That is understandable at present, when many are struggling simply to make ends meet. However, with the growing influence of the China factor and President Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) administration’s overdependence on China, the formulation of the DPP’s China policy is arguably one of the most important issues over the next two years.