DPP upholds values, misses reality

By Hsu Szu-chien 徐斯儉  / 

Tue, Mar 11, 2014 - Page 8

When people 50 years from now look back on today, what will they think of the adjustments that the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) is currently making to its China policy? This is what I ask myself as I read the China policy review report that the DPP recently adopted. Seen from this point of view, my opinion of it may be somewhat different from that of other people.

The report is by no means earthshakingly original, but neither is it without significance, because although it does not present a clear policy program or guidelines for implementation, it does express certain values and attitudes. Given the atmosphere in which many people in the DPP and the pan-green political camp are opportunistically intent on expressing a pro-China attitude as a means of winning votes in the short term, the report’s persistence in upholding certain values seems a little anachronistic. If this persistence could be combined with policies that were more realistic and practical, the report would have more to offer at the present time.

A lot of people have been saying that the DPP should “go the last mile” in its China policy. The unspoken implication is that the DPP should abandon its position on Taiwan’s sovereignty by scrapping the “Taiwan independence clause” in its constitution. It goes without saying that the Chinese Communist Party wants the DPP to scrap the “Taiwan independence clause,” and it is no surprise that the pan-blue political camp should say the same thing, because they are closer to the Chinese government on the political spectrum than the DPP is. However, when DPP people sing the same tune, it is time to take a closer look. Rather than saying that they want to change the DPP’s position on sovereignty, it would be more accurate to say that these calls arise from certain practical considerations. Perhaps altering one’s positions for the sake of winning votes is a matter of accommodating to political realities, but if the DPP does so, how can it stick to its political values?

Former US secretary of state Madeleine Albright once said in a television interview that if you have no vision or ideals for the future you will not know where you are going to take the country, but if you pay no attention to political realities you will never attain your ideals, no matter how idealistic you may be. Politics is a practical matter, but good politics must seek a balance between reality and ideals. If politicians and parties lose their political ideals, they will end up as pawns of political concepts set by others. However, if they only have ideals and do not address real problems in a practical way, they may also be eliminated from history. This is the challenge that the DPP faces.

Following the DPP’s defeat in the last general elections, many voices both inside and outside the party have been calling on it to review and reconsider its policies toward China. However, there are widely differing views about what aspects need to be reconsidered. In 2009, I wrote an article entitled “Say ‘deep thought,’ not ‘deep green’: confronting the inconvenient reality of China’s rise.” In the article, I advised the DPP to reach a more realistic analysis of China’s rise in the world, gain an understanding of rising China’s strength and weaknesses, and clearly recognize the opportunities and dangers that China’s rise presents. To put it simply, the main thrust of the article was a critique of the impractical and unrealistic Taiwan independence adventurism that the DPP had been voicing since the start of former president Chen Shui-bian’s (陳水扁) second term in office. I suggested that the party should be more realistic in its cognition and methods when dealing with China.

I did not imagine that, only four years later, many people in the DPP would have drifted in quite another direction. Intentionally or otherwise, they have stopped talking about principles and are now portraying themselves as more pragmatic than anyone else. The so-called last mile that some people say the DPP should run really means playing a role set by Beijing and it means abandoning the party’s ideals altogether. That would be not just a betrayal of the DPP’s traditions, but a reversal of the trend of historical development in Taiwan, China and East Asia as a whole. The kind of “realism” that entails voluntarily falling silent on democracy, freedom and human rights, for the sake of being accepted by Beijing, is not just servile and obsequious, but also a betrayal of those Chinese people who have made sacrifices and contributions in pursuit of those selfsame ideals, and all those who have helped them.

The day may come when China really institutes democracy and that could prompt other East Asian countries to carry out a new wave of democratization. If and when that day arrives, how will Taiwanese feel when they look back on the current opportunistic and miserable positions that some among them have been adopting? If the DPP does go down that road, it will be tantamount to abandoning its duty to take the lead in finding a historical direction. The destination of the last mile may well be the loss of the party’s rightful place in history.

Nevertheless, if the DPP wants to lead the course of history, it will have to get through the bottleneck that does indeed lie before it. What course should the DPP take in the face of a strong China wielding massive state capital and the attraction of its huge market? The DPP may criticize the China-leaning economic policies of President Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) government, but if it offers no alternative policies or arguments to the Ma administration’s line of giving the highest or even exclusive priority to free trade, it may well be at a loss for words when dealing with China’s state capitalism, which has arisen on the tide of globalized trade. What the DPP does in the future may then be little different from what the Ma administration has been doing.

What explanations can the DPP offer in Taiwan and abroad for wanting to join the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement while remaining critical about trade with China? The DPP’s China policy review report presents very scant analysis of where China’s economy, finance, industry and markets are headed. In fact, proposing a set of arrangements for economic and trade relations across the Taiwan Strait is closely connected with the kind of economic and social order that the DPP wants to see in Taiwan. This is something that cannot be achieved just by collating the opinions of various experts and it may be something that lies beyond the framework of the DPP’s report.

DPP Chairman Su Tseng-chang (蘇貞昌) and his team have yet to provide any clear answers on these points. Furthermore, other teams in the pan-green camp — even those that have a reasonably “expert” understanding of the Chinese economy — have not yet offered consistent proposals about Taiwan’s overall economic and social development, and their economic and trade strategy for dealing with China and other countries.

The DPP’s report is to be commended for standing firm on the values of democracy and human rights, but Su, his team and all the other teams in the pan-green camp will also have to present more concrete policy plans than this, by which to safeguard Taiwan’s social-democratic values. If they avoid dealing with the realities, they will not even be able to run the first mile, but if they shed their ideals, then the route of the last mile will be set by someone else and it will only lead to humiliation.

Hsu Szu-chien is an associate research fellow at Academia Sinica’s Institute of Political Science and director of National Tsing Hua University’s Center for Contemporary China.

Translated by Julian Clegg