The quality of Taiwan's democracy will affect its relations with China in the long term and Taiwan's struggle over its national identity has partly contributed to the country's security dilemma, academics and political analysts said at an international conference in Taipei last week.
Richard Bush, former chairman of the American Institute in Taiwan and now director of the Brookings Institution's Center for Northeast Asian Policy Studies, shared his views on democracy and cross-strait relations at the conference.
"Taiwan cannot avoid a choice concerning China," Bush said, explaining that the basic choice is between accommodating or resisting Chinese power, although Taiwan could decide to accommodate China economically but resist it politically.
"But to not make a choice is a choice. The issue is what choice best fits the interests of the people of this island. A subsidiary choice is whether to choose from a position of strength or weakness," Bush said.
A specialist on the subject of China's and Taiwan's political and security issues and having served almost five years as chairman of the American Institute in Taiwan, which is based in Washington, Bush said Taiwan must strengthen itself if it is to make good choices.
This involves economic, military, diplomatic and psychological fortification, as well as clarifying the nation's legal identity, in order to gain a stronger negotiating position with China, Bush said.
He pointed out that Taiwan could face problems involving resource allocation when trying to strengthen its military forces.
As far as the issue of Taiwan's sovereignty is concerned, Bush said the pertinent question to ask is: "What aspects of sovereignty are important to preserve, and why?"
"The most important field of self-strengthening concerns Taiwan's democratic political system," he said.
Bush said he used to be worried that the nation's political system would not adequately reflect the people's will if a bad deal is made with Beijing. "My new fear is that the political system would not be able to accept a good deal [with Beijing]."
According to Bush, weaknesses in Taiwan's political system stem from five main aspects: the electoral system, the effects of earlier authoritarianism, problems concerning government structure, problems in the legislature and the role of the media.
The Chinese Nationalist Party's (KMT) early authoritarian reign in the country has resulted in the now ruling Democratic Progressive Party's (DPP) insufficient pool of leaders, he said.
The "fundamentalist" faction of the DPP did not give President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) enough support, and the KMT has had a hard time adjusting to being out of power, Bush said, describing these problems as the fruits of authoritarianism.
Chu Yun-han (
After studying the causes of the burgeoning Taiwanese identity during the country's democratization process, Chu concluded that a national identity is not inborn.
National identity stems from "socially and politically constructed sentiments that are subject to change and manipulation, especially under intensive mobilization of political elites at times of regime transition," Chu said.
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