During his visit to Shanghai last week, Greater Tainan Mayor William Lai (賴清德) broke out of the constraints imposed by China on its relations with Taiwan by openly talking about Taiwanese independence and the 1989 Tiananmen Square student movement. Lai dared to do so because he adheres to Taiwan-centric values and has always been concerned about human rights issues.
President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) has done many things to sell the nation out, leading to the outbreak of the student-led Sunflower protest movement. As young people in Taiwan take matters into their own hands and come forward to salvage the nation’s prospects, Lai has had the courage to seize the opportunity by speaking out in China, confident that there is a strong current of public opinion to back him up.
The Sunflower movement has led the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) to reflect and reconsider. Former DPP chairman Su Tseng-chang (蘇貞昌) decided not to stand for another term, and former vice president Annette Lu (呂秀蓮) quit as a potential DPP candidate for Taipei mayor. Meanwhile, Lai has stepped forward into the limelight.
In contrast, the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT), seemingly unmoved by the protests, is keeping to its conservative ways and has even strengthened its secret-police style of ruling the country.
This difference arises from the contrasting mindsets of the two parties. While one of them is based on the principles of democracy and progress, the other is more concerned with its Chinese heritage, steeped as it is in a political culture of feudalism, dictatorship and corruption. Of course, even within a single political party, different politicians will say different things according to their individual character and style.
Ma expounds cross-strait peace as his highest value. This slogan of peace has fooled some Taiwanese into sacrificing the nation’s sovereignty, livelihood and prosperity, all for setting up a meeting between Ma and Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平) so that they can share the Nobel Peace Prize.
Meanwhile, former vice president Lien Chan (連戰) and his family have followed a path of allying themselves with the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) to combat Taiwan independence. The reward they seek is to add even more to the Lien family’s already vast economic interests.
Now the KMT has put forward Lien’s son, Sean Lien (連勝文), as its candidate for mayor of Taipei — in an attempt to use the “new generation” to cover up its true nature as a party-state vested interest group.
Even in the DPP, there are some who stick to the outmoded idea that their party can only get back into government if China lets it happen. These people do not fully understand the character of the CCP and have not kept up with the changing times.
The CCP is an ambitious and greedy party, but it is also a pragmatic one. However loudly it may shout its slogans about opposing Taiwan independence, it will not cut off contacts with the DPP forever or stop applying its united-front tactics, because it knows that the DPP is the biggest obstacle in the way of annexing Taiwan and now it faces a new element in the form of Taiwan’s nascent civil society movement.
When the DPP was running the national government, the CCP had no choice but to accept the reality. The “small three links” between Kinmen, Matsu and China were opened up when the DPP was in power.
Now, with Ma in power and always willing to sell the nation out, China keeps pushing him to sell out even more. This attitude of bullying those who give in easily, but respecting those who stand firm is typical of a gangster dictatorship like China’s.
During his visit to China, Lai was neither haughty nor humble. When he talked about Taiwan independence, it was because a Chinese academic had raised the subject. Lai showed a lot more guts than Mainland Affairs Council Minister Wang Yu-chi (王郁琦) did when Wang visited Nanjing University. Nonetheless, Lai is a moderate in the DPP — about as moderate as you can get without being pro-unification.
China has so far not made any official response to Lai’s comments, so pro-unification media outlets in Taiwan have been low-key about it. Nonetheless, some people have chosen to act as China’s eunuchs by hinting that Beijing is not to allow Lai to visit again. Others have taken a more threatening posture, saying that Lai could be arrested under China’s “Anti-Secession” Law.
The point of these comments is to stop the “William Lai effect” from spreading. The idea that Lai could be arrested is the most puerile. Would China ever pay heed to such a suggestion, which is meant to please China, but actually does it harm?
Taiwan is currently in quite an advantageous position both at home and abroad. On the home front, young people, and especially the second and third generations of the “pan-blue” political camp, have been waking up. For example, descendants of Confucius (孔子) took an active part in the recent student-led movement.
Internationally, China’s belligerent posturing has made it more politically isolated than at any time since the aftermath of the 1989 Tiananmen crackdown, and this has improved Taiwan’s strategic position and given the nation more space to maneuver on the international stage.
If Ma sticks stubbornly to his line of surrendering to the CCP, he will be paving the way to his own early downfall.
Paul Lin is a political commentator.
Translated by Julian Clegg
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