Mon, Jun 21, 2004 - Page 4 News List

China's democratic hopes

Carl Gershman, president of the Washington-based National Endowment for Democracy, joined the first anniversary celebrations of the Taiwan Foundation for Democracy (TFD) last monday. Gershman was a member of the US delegation to President Chen Shui-bian's inauguration ceremony in 2000. He shared the idea of establishing the foundation with Chen. Another member in the US delegation was Michael Kau, a professor at Brown University. Kau, later appointed as vice minister of foreign affairs, helped establish the foundation last June and is now president of the TFD. Gershman talked to `Taipei Times' reporter Melody Chen about how democratic development in China would influence its relationship with Taiwan


Carl Gershman, president of the National Endowment for Democracy, talks with the Taipei Times on Monday.


Taipei Times: How will China's democratic development influence cross-strait relations?

Carl Gershman: If you have more democracy on the mainland, it would be much easier to work out a proper relation between Taiwan and China.

It is not for me to say how those things should be worked out, but I do suggest that there are various ways in which you can work out federal or confederal relationships, like the Europe today.

Look at the difference with democracy in Europe today and the way it was in the 19th century. Look at the relations between France and Germany. These countries remain independent and sovereign but they also have a growing federal relationship through the EU.

Democracy allows these forms of political relationship to develop with the independence of the different parts not challenged. They can find ways of living and working together and being part of a common political unit. It is only possible for democracies.

One of the preconditions to become a part of the EU today is democracy. Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic and Baltic countries could become part of the EU because they are democratic.

I could imagine that as China becomes more democratic, it would be possible to work out some appropriate federal or confederal relationship that would deal with the political problem that we should allow people to have their own sense of sovereignty and independence.

TT: Fifteen years after the Tiananmen Square massacre, the Chinese government has managed to quieten dissenting voices, partly through giving them wealth. Are the Chinese people forgetting the event?

Gershman: It is inevitable that an authoritarian government would seek to use prosperity as a means of containing political differences.

But I don't think, in the long run, this can be a successful strategy because prosperity ultimately involves the development of a stronger middle class, a stronger intellectual class.

As you develop these new social and class formations, inevitably people are going to want to speak, express themselves and help influence the direction of the country.

This ultimately will involve some forms of freedom and democracy.

What happened in Tiananmen Square cannot in the long term be forgotten. It is embedded in the consciousness and it will just come back. There is no way that it can be eliminated. It has to be dealt with.

My hope is that what happened in Tiananmen Square will be integrated in the way that helps to reconcile the differences in China.

TT: You said Taiwan's democratic experience can help China develop its democracy. Given the current cross-strait tensions, how much can the Chinese people, who widely regard Chen's government as a separatist regime, accept lessons from Taiwan's democracy?

Gershman: First of all, I don't think this can be done alone. It's a matter of dialogue and exchange of views. Simply starting a discussion about democracy is very important to China. They made progress in China in the past. While China develops economically, many people feel that it needs to develop politically as well. Political discussion is going on now in China. If China can discuss that question, there can also be the involvement of people in Taiwan in that discussion. People from the US and all over the world are talking about democracy in China.

TT: Can you suggest some practical ways for Taiwan to help China's democracy?

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