While it was encouraging to see that on Jan. 9 the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) unveiled its long-awaited China policy, it was disappointing to learn that former presidential candidate Frank Hsieh (謝長廷) has expressed strong reservations and is still pushing his own policy line.
The DPP’s China policy was the fruit of a lengthy consultation process, in which the party’s China Affairs Commission convened nine meetings at which about 630 participants — party officials, civic groups, academics and experts — presented their views and insights.
As expected, the party left its 1999 Party Resolution on Taiwan’s Future unchanged. This states that Taiwan is already an independent country, and that any change in the country’s “status quo” can only be made by the people of Taiwan by means of a plebiscite.
The document states that cross-strait interaction is to be welcomed, but emphasizes that it needs to be done in a transparent fashion, that it must not undermine Taiwan’s sovereignty and security and that it needs to encompass promotion of freedom, democracy and human rights.
The policy document also outlines a strategy for improving Taiwan’s economic and industrial development, building on the country’s technological strengths. It decries the erosion of the economy and imbalances introduced by the Chinese Nationalist Party’s (KMT) overreliance on economic ties with China, and argues for a more balanced development of external trade relations through membership of the Trans-Pacific Partnership.
The document also highlights that Taiwan’s free and open society is being threatened by what it refers to as the “China Factor”: Through its economic power, China has begun to “permeate Taiwanese society and gradually reshaped the free and open way of life that the people of Taiwan have enjoyed, subtly but tangibly restricting the range of political choice for Taiwanese voters.”
Last but not least, the document outlines a more balanced national security strategy, which enhances the nation’s international status and bolsters its national defense capabilities through “values diplomacy” (combining the universal values of freedom, democracy and human rights with Taiwan’s accumulated experiences in good governance) and the buildup of asymmetric capabilities in its defense against China’s military aggression.
Former US National Security Council director Michael Green said that it is a comprehensive and reasonable approach that reflects that a lot of thinking has gone into it. He added that it represents a careful calibration that reflects sensitivity to US interests and concerns.
The reactions from the KMT and China were predictable. Newspapers associated with the KMT, still clinging to the anachronistic “Republic of China” concept dating back to former president Chiang Kai-shek’s (蔣介石) heyday in China, criticized the report as “inflexible.”
Beijing also had the usual knee-jerk reaction: The State Council Taiwan Affairs Office accused the DPP of having a “rigid mindset.” Of course Beijing will only be satisfied if the DPP discards Taiwan’s hard-won freedom and democracy.
However, the most silly reaction came from within the DPP itself: Hsieh said that the report had been a failure and that if the DPP wants to win the 2016 presidential election, it must make changes in its China policy.
If Hsieh has the DPP’s interests in mind, he needs to be a better team player. He also needs to realize that Taiwan cannot retain its freedom and democracy if it sells its principles and values down the river.
Mei-chin Chen is a commentator based in Washington.