While ties between China and Taiwan may be closer than at any other time, the staid, formal Chinese Communist Party (CCP) congress being held in Beijing highlights how far apart the two sides are politically.
“Taiwan’s democracy has learned from the United States,” said Wang Yingying, who moved from eastern China to Taiwan in 2005 with her Taiwanese spouse.
“We in China cannot vote for our national leaders. Mainland politics are backward, Taiwan’s democracy is much better,” she added.
With a population 50 times bigger and an economy 15 times greater, China overshadows Taiwan in almost every respect. However, one area where Taiwan is envied by many in China is its freewheeling political system.
“There is now no excuse for the Chinese government to tell its people that Chinese culture is somehow at odds with democracy,” former Council for Cultural Affairs minister Emile Sheng (盛治仁) said. “Taiwan’s experience proves this wrong.”
Stepped-up trade and travel between China and Taiwan, as well as a revival in longstanding cultural and social ties, are all carrying Taiwan’s success with democracy to Chinese.
Wang, the bride from China, is one of 300,000 Chinese spouses living in Taiwan. More than 2 million Chinese tourists travel to Taiwan every year, often holing up in their hotels to watch Taiwan’s many politically relentless all-news television stations.
China’s communists continue to hail their model as superior, saying that its state-directed economy has lifted hundreds of millions out of poverty in recent decades, and government policies have warded off the recession and weak growth that have wracked the West during the past four years. In his opening speech to the CCP congress on Thursday, Chinese President Hu Jintao (胡錦濤) said China would never adopt a Western-style political system.
“There is a contest of ideology between China and Taiwan,” Chinese Culture University political analyst George Tsai (蔡瑋) said. “It is dictatorship versus democracy. Many people are wondering if Taiwan’s model of democracy is appropriate for China’s future.”
Sheng said a high watermark for Taiwan’s influence came earlier this year when politically literate people in China closely followed Taiwan’s hard-fought presidential election.
He said the thousands of favorable comments that appeared on Chinese blogs — which Chinese use to skirt government restrictions on officially sanctioned media — left little doubt that some in China had been won over by the vibrancy of the Taiwanese system.
“They were really taken with the openness of the electoral process, the way the candidates conducted themselves, the graciousness of Tsai’s concession speech after she lost,” he said.
Despite Sheng’s optimism, even some Chinese impressed by Taiwan’s democratic transition believe it is naive to assume that a robust democratic system can take root in China anytime soon.
“They realize what kind of purge they could expect if democracy ever came,” Chinese Eric Zhang wrote in a recent post on Sina Corp’s popular Weibo service, a Chinese version of Twitter. “They would no doubt fight democracy as if their lives depended on it.”