If one thing can be said of former National Security Council secretary-general Su Chi (蘇起), it is that the man is infatuated with consensuses.
It was he who, just as the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) was coming into office after the nation’s first transition of power in 2000, came up with the ambiguous — and dubious — “1992 consensus.” And it was he who, now wearing his academic hat, told a conference on Monday that what the nation needed was a “Taiwan consensus.”
In prescriptions that, on the surface (and only there) may have come across as infused with wisdom, Su said that before Taipei can approach more contentious areas of negotiation with Beijing such as Taiwan’s sovereignty, the DPP should take the initiative and work with the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) in forging a consensus.
Leaving aside the fact that Taiwan’s sovereignty shouldn’t be negotiable (especially not under coercive terms), Su then conveniently forgot recent history when, using the analogy of the “small triangle” between the DPP, KMT and the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), he posited that the triumvirate was unstable because the DPP does not talk with the other two extremes of the geometrical object.
In other words, tensions in the Taiwan Strait, or lack of communication, are solely the DPP’s fault, as if the KMT didn’t have a long history of ignoring the DPP or stalling debate at the legislature — the nation’s democratic echo chamber, if you will.
This contention also papered over the fact that CCP intransigence on certain issues, such as the “one China” principle, Taiwanese independence and, more loosely, human rights, was the principal reason why unbridled cross-strait dialogue, let alone consensus, haven’t materialized.
Moving on, Su bemoaned what he referred to as a lack of consensus within the DPP, in the process inadvertently shedding light on the very party he represented both as a government official and legislator (to say nothing of the CCP).
One reason why there are instances where the DPP is divided within itself and lacks consensus is that it reflects the democratic process from which it draws its name, as well as the very fabric of Taiwanese society.
Democracy and pluralism are messy, which inherently makes it more difficult — and at times impossible — to achieve a unified voice, especially on matters of such complexity and importance as Taiwan’s relationship with and accommodation of the authoritarian elephant next door.
This is not to say that internal divisions do not exist within the KMT (they certainly do), but the party nevertheless issues from a non-democratic, hard power, Leninist tradition, a reflex that, despite its role in the experiment of democratizing Taiwan, hasn’t altogether disappeared.
A consequence of this is that the party is less inclined to expose its dirty laundry in public than, say, the more liberal DPP, providing us with a public image — albeit a deceptive one — of internal stability and consensus.
As for the CCP, despite claims that it has adopted the instrument of intraparty democracy, its rule remains very much rigid and whatever policy consensus emerges does so out of a process that is far from democratic and which draws very little from the grassroots that inform policy in non-authoritarian systems (in other words, it is the consensus of the elite and technocracies).
Within the CCP and especially on questions involving nationalism and Taiwan, consensus is easily attainable, as dissident voices, if they exist in the rarified upper echelons of the party apparatus, are swiftly silenced or are a sure ticket to political oblivion.
Su’s so-called “small triangle,” therefore, is far from equilateral and is terminally unstable, so much so that it cannot stand on its own.
In the first years of former president Chen Shui-bian’s (陳水扁) administration, the DPP endeavoured to open channels of communication with Beijing, only for those efforts to founder after Chinese officials insisted on the “one China” principle and the abandonment of the DPP’s independence clause. That example alone should be sufficient for Su to realize that, at least on core issues, the DPP has in fact achieved a consensus of sorts, such as that it will never abandon the sacred clause that lies at the very center of the party charter.
An intransigent position, perhaps, but in this equation, only one side threatens the other.
The former official also bemoans, with undeniable condescension, the alleged lack of effort within the DPP elite to forge a consensus, though he fails to define what he means by consensus, which invites conjecture on whether this might mean a willingness to compromise on Taiwan’s sovereignty — in other words, a consensus that is palatable to both the CCP and pro-unification elements within the KMT, which is akin to the elite consensus discussed above.
Su sees a “Taiwan consensus” as a prerequisite for serious negotiations between Taipei and Beijing, adding that absent such dialogue, misunderstanding and hostility will prevail.
Here again, Su conveniently neglects the fact that the only true source of hostility in this triangle (despite claims to the contrary by DPP detractors) lies in Beijing, with sentiments that are translated in very salient terms by means of ballistic missiles and military maneuvers.
His theory, such as it is, also omits that, as Taiwan is already sovereign, any negotiation on the subject — and here it is helpful to emphasize the triangular imbalance — can only result in erosion of that sovereignty.
We already know that Taiwan will not obtain more sovereignty from negotiating with Beijing, unless the latter is willing to abandon its irredentist claims to it; we also know that the CCP will not indefinitely brook the “status quo” in the Taiwan Strait, especially when this stasis results, as has been demonstrated, in growing Taiwanese identification and distancing from China.
The only outcome of such negotiations, therefore, is one in which the CCP (and the KMT, in the unlikely event that a similar consensus can be reached within the party) destroys Taiwanese sovereignty.
On the subject of sovereignty, Taiwan cannot gain from political negotiations with China; it can only lose by increments.
The DPP leadership has shown itself willing to talk with Beijing and address issues of misunderstanding.
However, that elite (Su’s word), which “dares not speak up” and is “still a minority,” according to his understanding, doesn’t equate consensus with a willingness to forsake Taiwan’s sovereignty, not in its name, and certainly not in the name of the 23 million Taiwanese.
That’s where Su is wrong — undemocratic, in fact.
J. Michael Cole is deputy news editor at the Taipei Times.
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