Former Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) chairperson Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) came in for some heavy criticism during her trip to the US over remarks she made that Taiwanese should give more “space” to the contentious idea that the Republic of China (ROC) is Taiwan, and Taiwan the ROC. However, if the past is any indication, she might be onto something.
For good reasons, the initial reaction among many Taiwanese and human rights defenders to equating their homeland with the ROC — a regime that was forced upon them after the conclusion of World War II — will be to bristle. Such reactions might even be more pronounced when a Taiwanese, who once headed the DPP and ran for high office, utters such words. Indeed Tsai became the object of rather scathing personal attacks, with some accusing her of giving up on Taiwanese independence and siding with President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) of the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT).
However, anyone who knows Tsai will agree that selling out is the last thing on her mind. Rather, her comments, which it must be said she has made before, reflect an understanding of the parameters within which the DPP must operate if it is ever to have any hope of returning to power. The embattled Ma and his dysfunctional administration may be on the verge of splitting up, but that alone will be insufficient to provide the DPP with a good chance of scoring substantial wins in the seven-in-one elections in 2014 and the 2016 presidential election.
What the DPP needs above all is a platform that is both appealing to large numbers of voters and is also accommodating enough to allow for the creation of alliances that transcend party politics. In other words, the DPP must apply the lessons learned from an unrivaled master of Taiwanese politics, former president Lee Teng-hui (李登輝). As he ascended the echelons of power within the KMT during the 1970s and 1980s, Lee kept his cards close to his chest. Even after he became president following Chiang Ching-kuo’s (蔣經國) death, he continued to operate within the constraints imposed by the ROC Constitution and fully understood the immense challenges he would face when confronting conservative forces within the party.
Yet, little by little, Lee whittled away at the “old thieves” in the government and gradually placed more Taiwanese in key government positions. What Lee did, therefore, was work from the inside rather than confront from the outside. In many ways, his accomplishments — and they were manifold — reflected the transformation of the KMT itself since its arrival in Taiwan, as local imperatives slowly hollowed the party out from inside by patiently gnawing away at practices and ideologies that no longer applied to a democratic Taiwan.
Such a strategy should be given careful consideration by the DPP. Only by regaining power will it ever be in a position to shape the destiny of this nation the way Lee did. Sticking to tactics of alienation and combativeness, which time and again have proved a failure, will only ensure further losses in the democratic arena. Learning from past examples of successful cooperation while reaching out to one’s opponents, as former DPP chairman Shih Ming-teh (施明德) did after the DPP’s defeat in the 1996 presidential election, is the surest path to success.
It is encouraging to see former premier Yu Shyi-kun echoing Tsai’s views by stating that such views need not contradict the ultimate aim of independence. Tsai’s remarks have also prompted some Taiwanese, whose initial reaction was one of anger, to reassess their views on what she meant by ROC and to assess whether it can indeed symbolize something other than a repressive, monolithic entity that has nothing to do with Taiwan.
Taiwan is not an orphan nation in need of someone to adopt it. Taiwan is not a foundling nation wandering the streets of the world looking for a home. It is not even a poor waif of a nation unable to take care of itself in that same big, bad world. Finally, Taiwan is certainly not terra nullius, a nationless land that is open and waiting to be explored and possessed by those who dare. Taiwan is a mid-sized, democratic nation that by GDP, profitability, location and even microchip production punches far above its weight in its region and in international commerce.
When analyzing Taiwan-China tensions, most people assume that the leadership of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) consists of rational actors. Embedded within this belief are three further suppositions: First, Beijing would only launch an attack on Taiwan if it were in China’s national interest; second, it would only attack if the odds were overwhelmingly in its favor; and third, Chinese decisionmakers interpret information objectively and through the same lens as other actors. These assumptions have underpinned recent analyses — including by Minister of National Defense Chiu Kuo-cheng (邱國正) — concluding that there is no
Do you remember where you were last year at this time? Do you remember what it was like? Here in the leafy suburbs of Washington, D.C., we were in lock-down mode. The streets were bleak and empty. Schools, offices, malls, theaters, churches … all were closed. The essentials were in short supply. Grocery stores rationed the good stuff. Signs read: “One jumbo pack of toilet paper, two cartoons of eggs per family please!” Some days those signs mocked us from barren shelves. It was a lonely and anti-social time. Families and friends had to weigh the rewards of gathering together to celebrate Christmas
US-based diplomatic observers say that interaction between Taiwan and the US has grown in intensity over the past few months, falling short of establishing official relations. Although the interaction is still below the cabinet level because of Washington’s “one China” policy, these observers see a growing propensity in US political circles, across both sides of the aisle, to support Taiwan’s distinct political culture, the outstanding features of which are its vibrant democracy and respect for human rights, along with a thriving economy. The question often debated in academic and foreign policy research circles is whether the US would put boots on