Meeting with representatives of the US think tank the American Enterprise Institute earlier this month, new Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) Chairman Su Tseng-chang (蘇貞昌) said that his party was against importing US beef containing the leanness-enhancing agent ractopamine, but he also said the DPP’s stance on beef did not mean that it was anti-US.
President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) of the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) has publicly questioned what the DPP’s policies are regarding the US-Taiwan Trade and Investment Framework Agreement (TIFA) and the proposed multilateral Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP).
The DPP is not Taiwan’s ruling party at present, so its US policies are not those of Taiwan as a whole. However, the DPP is the biggest opposition party and it ran the central government for eight years. Giving a clear explanation of the DPP’s US policies will be a significant factor affecting whether the party can return to government in 2016.
After the DPP lost January’s presidential election, people at all levels in the party have been asking what went wrong. A lot of people have pointed to the party’s lack of solid policies on China as one of the main reasons. Su has responded by stressing that he wants to restore and reactivate the DPP’s Chinese Affairs Department.
Everyone knows that the two main external forces influencing Taiwan’s destiny are the US and China. This reality has remained unchanged for 60 years. To be honest, the DPP’s development had a lot to do with the US, and its democratic diplomacy helped the party along its way and probably helped it take the reins of power in 2000. When former DPP president Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) proposed his “four noes and one without” pledge on cross-strait relations in his inaugural speech in 2000, everyone in Taiwan could see that the pledge bore the hallmarks of US influence.
Chen’s declared positions on Taiwan’s future and some of the things his administration did displeased the US and caused it to lose faith in him. Consequently, the DPP’s relations with the US deteriorated. Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文), who succeeded Chen as DPP chairperson, made great efforts to repair the damage. However, the DPP’s overseas representatives are not sufficiently spread out, the party has thus far failed to draw up a comprehensive set of US policies, it has appeared leaderless for some time and Taiwanese people resident abroad who supported the DPP in its early days have gradually become less supportive. Consequently, the DPP has become distanced from the US and some people even say that the US supported Ma in his election contest with Tsai in January.
In fact, the US government has no reason to strongly prefer one or the other of Taiwan’s two main parties.
The US has made very clear its strategy of re-exerting its presence in Asia. Its delicate stance of cooperating with and resisting China at the same time is still evolving. For the first time, a US secretary of state has said that Taiwan is an important security and economic partner of the US.
While improving relations with China on the one hand, the Ma administration also cooperates with the US. Anyone with the slightest understanding of international affairs knows that doing so is an essential choice for Taiwan if it is to reactivate the TIFA and obtain US support for joining the TPP. It is in keeping with current trends in international affairs and serves the interests of US political and economic strategy, as well as Taiwan’s future political and economic development.
Regrettably, the DPP has not thoroughly considered how to handle the US beef issue. The party can be commended for following the EU’s stance of insisting on zero detection levels for ractopamine, fighting to safeguard citizens’ health and playing hardball where the government is playing softball. However, the test of wisdom is knowing one’s limits and knowing when to stop. The question is: If the DPP takes an anti-US stance without offering a full analysis, how can it win the trust of the Taiwanese, never mind the “US friends” it is always talking about?
Among the DPP’s Taiwanese supporters, there are plenty of people who are familiar with the US and tend to support it. If the DPP plans to engage in a big debate to figure out a set of concrete and practical China policies, it would do well to also give some thought to discussing and consolidating its policies regarding the US.
No matter whether it is in relation to China or the US, the DPP needs to base its policies on reality. Rather than sticking to party prejudices, it needs to show concern for the interests of the nation as a whole.
Taiwan is stuck between China on the one side and the US on the other. In such a position, the way to survive is through rationality and wisdom, not emotion and stubborn bias. The DPP should not repeat what it did under Chen’s presidency. Most of all, those who served as political appointees in national security, cross-strait relations and the diplomatic corps under the Chen administration need to be especially cautious.
Bipartisan diplomacy means that, even in powerful countries, politicians need to go beyond party interests and take a joint approach to overseas issues. The same logic applies even more to Taiwan, especially when it comes to our China and US policies, which deeply influence the well being of the whole nation.
Where we hold the DPP to account, of course we must be even more demanding of the present KMT government. The public as a whole needs to approach issues in a rational way. Only when the public acts wisely can we have wise parties and a wise government.
Lin Chia-cheng is a former deputy mayor of Taipei and central government minister.
Translated by Julian Clegg
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