Last week, Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) Chairman and presidential candidate Eric Chu (朱立倫) visited Washington. Most of the Taiwanese media were primarily interested in whether Chu was extended the same courtesy, and met with people at the same level, as Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) Chairperson and presidential candidate Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) during her visit to the US capital in June.
Indeed, the US government did bend over backward to make sure that was the case, and emphasized that it does not take sides or play favorites in Taiwan’s election campaign.
Taiwanese wanted to focus on the substance of Chu’s message to Washington, but regrettably, Chu did not give any public speech, like Tsai did at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, where she gave a major policy address that was widely applauded.
There are only two snippets of Chu’s message to Washington: an opinion piece in the conservative Washington Times on Thursday last week and brief remarks before his closed-door meeting at the Brookings Institution on Friday.
In the Washington Times article — titled “Cross-strait peace on the line” — Chu said that “cross-strait peace and stability is now on the line,” adding that if Tsai is elected president in January, any deviation from the so-called “1992 consensus” would be “incurring war.”
Chu’s words amount to irresponsible scaremongering. He is playing into China’s hands by threatening that any move away from the current failed policies of President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) would lead to disaster.
Chu obviously neglected to mention to his US interlocutors that Ma and the KMT are so unpopular in Taiwan precisely because of their pro-China policies of the past seven years. A majority of people in Taiwan see these policies as a dangerous slippery slope toward unification.
That is why Taiwanese want to see new policies and are so supportive of Tsai and the DPP, who are searching for a new formula to provide a more solid and long-term basis for stable relations across the Taiwan Strait, whereby China accepts Taiwan as a friendly neighbor. This would provide better safeguards for Taiwan’s future as a free and democratic nation.
By harping on about the concocted “1992 consensus,” Ma and Chu want to restrict Tsai’s room for maneuver if she is elected president, and prevent her from exploring new avenues where a better peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait can be achieved.
As it is, Chu also committed a diplomatic blunder by raising differences between the political parties in Taiwan while visiting a foreign nation.
There is an unwritten rule internationally that states that partisan politics should stop at national borders. By failing to observe this rule, Chu acted in an unstatesmanlike fashion.
However, the main issue is whether Taiwan — and the US — should pursue policies that push Taiwan closer to a repressive and undemocratic China, as Ma’s government has done during the past seven years, or whether it is possible to devise a new and more constructive approach that helps Taiwan remain a free and democratic nation.
The answer on the Taiwan side is to be given when Taiwanese go to the polls on Jan. 16 and elect a new president and legislature.
On the US side, there also needs to be some serious rethinking, so the US can move beyond its worn-out “one China” policy mantra, and develop a new and more constructive framework that celebrates Taiwan’s vibrant democracy. One that is more supportive of gaining a rightful place in the international community for Taiwan and its freedom-loving people.
Mark Kao is president of the Formosan Association for Public Affairs.
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