With President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) adhering to the policy of “one China, with each side having its own interpretation,” China has time and again done its best to sideline Taiwan in the international community. Having accepted this so-called “one China” principle, the Ma administration has found common language and acted in concert with China toward the goal of eventual unification. If Ma manages to get enough people on his side to get himself re-elected for a second term, it will, frankly speaking, be too late for the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) to make any difference, no matter how it presents its policies for relations across the Taiwan Strait.
The cross-strait issue will determine Taiwan’s fate for generations to come, so the DPP should not avoid stating its stance. In 2002, then-president Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) of the DPP said there was one country on each side of the Strait. Although Chen’s statement caused tensions with the US, it didn’t stop him for being re-elected in 2004. Even earlier, then-president Lee Teng-hui (李登輝) in 1994 offered a direction for Taiwan’s definition as a country by saying that cross-strait relations were “a state-to-state relationship, or at least a special state-to-state relationship.”
The DPP should clearly state its support for Lee’s formula as representing Taiwan’s core interests. In so doing, it would be upholding the direction mapped out for Taiwan by these past Taiwan-oriented national leaders.
It is only to be expected that China would react with threats and saber rattling. However, in this age of globalization, countries and economies are interdependent. If China resorted to force just because the DPP said Taiwan is a country, it would only harm its own interests and its belligerence would find no international support.
So the key question is not what the DPP says about Taiwan’s national status; what matters is that the DPP should show greater wisdom and patience in communicating with countries that support Taiwan and in engaging with Beijing.
DPP mayors, county commissioners and legislators have been given high marks for their performance in assessments carried out by a range of civic groups. The fact that the DPP says Taiwan is an independent state has not stopped people from voting for it. On the contrary, voters can’t help noticing how, under Ma’s “one China” policy, Taiwan is looking less and less like a country in its own right. That, combined with government incompetence and the growing gap between rich and poor, among other things, is why voters have put the DPP back on its feet — more and more so with each passing election.
Big changes are happening in the Middle East, and a “Jasmine Revolution” is starting to bud in China. The right way for the DPP to respond to these developments would be to stress its willingness to cooperate with Chinese people and government, on the basis of equality, to maintain peace and prosperity and to support China’s development into a democratic state. It follows that no Chinese people are untouchable for the DPP, and that includes Chinese officials and those who are seeking democracy. After all, freedom, democracy and justice are the very values Taiwan stands for.
If the DPP keeps avoiding the issue of Taiwan’s national status, it will neither gain the support of the international community nor the support of local voters. Apart from demanding that all DPP members and government officials should work and perform even better, the party needs to stick to its position that Taiwan is a democratic and just country that deserves to be respected by the international community. Such steadfastness would surely win the hearts of the public, so it can be voted back into office and ensure Taiwan’s survival.
Chen Wen-hsien is a professor at National Chengchi University’s Graduate Institute of History.
TRANSLATED BY JULIAN CLEGG
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