Taiwan’s democratic experience is important to China’s political future for both its objective (analytical) and subjective relevance. It constitutes a crucial social experiment because it is the first and the only democracy ever installed and practiced in a culturally Chinese society. Also, through its demonstration effect, Taiwan’s democratization can spur democratic aspiration among the people on the mainland if it leads to improvement in quality of governance and widespread popular support for democracy. Alternatively it can also throw a cold shower on pro-democracy forces in China if democracy imposes a high social and economic toll on Taiwan and generates growing number of disaffected and disillusioned citizens. If Taiwanese citizens’ ambivalent attitude toward democracy persists, it is unlikely that Taiwan can promote the soft power of democracy in the Chinese-speaking world with self-confidence.
The first thing to do when reviewing any kind of writing like this is to find out who the writer is. China Digital Times notes:
Yun-han Chu is distinguished research fellow of the Institute of Political Science at Academia Sinica, professor of political science at National Taiwan University, and president of Chiang Ching-kuo Foundation for International Scholarly Exchange.
Chu is a longtime writer and researcher on democracy here, with a wide international status and publications with many major Taiwan researchers. Regrettably, he lays the blame for the problems on the DPP, never asking what the KMT's commitment to democracy in Taiwan is. A good example of the way he constructs his argument is given in these two paragraphs:
However, CSB apparently had overestimated the power bestowed on the president by the constitution as well as his chances to get away with the political imperative for “cohabitation”. In addition, the KMT regrouped itself much more quickly than CSB had expected. As soon as the KMT restored its organizational coherence by electing Lien Chan to lead the party, the former ruling party started to flex its political muscle. Being the majority party in the parliament, the KMT caucus was determined to dominate the legislative agenda and make most of CSB’s political checks bounced. Tang Fei soon lost favor with CSB when it became clear that the political value-added that the premier brought to the new government evaporated rapidly. After only four months in office, Tang Fei was forced to resign when he failed to work out a compromise between the KMT-controlled parliament and the president over the DPP’s campaign pledge to scrap the on-going construction of the fourth nuclear power plant. His departure set off a major political storm and seriously eroded the public’s confidence in CSB’s ability to govern.
Finally, CSB stumbled himself into a political quagmire by trying to outmaneuver the parliament by pushing his new premier, Chang Chun-shiung, a veteran DPP parliamentarian, to announce the Cabinet’s decision to suspend the construction without any warning signals and without Legislative Yuan’s formal consent. Chen’s abrupt decision to scrap the nuclear power plan turned out to be a major political fiasco. The business community was stunned because it seemed that Chen was not as pragmatic a politician as they had anticipated. The decision also inspired his two opponents, Lien Chan and James Soong, to mend their rivalry with each other and form a united front, which then controlled an even more formidable voting bloc in the parliament. To retaliate against Chen’s unilateral action, the two major opposition parties declared Chen’s decision reckless and unconstitutional and vowed to take some draconian actions, including impeaching the president and/or introducing a motion to hold a recall election. From this point on, the confrontation between a combatant president and a hostile parliament steadily escalated from a fierce competition over the steering wheel of legislative agenda and national priorities to a nasty, bloody and protracted political struggle.
Note that Chu does not clearly identify either political stances toward democracy, or the political allegiance of the KMT and its allies to China. By treating identity itself as having no important relationship to the democracy issue, Chu assigns equivalence to the KMT and the DPP in their respective political behavior. But of course, it is central to understanding democracy on the island that one party supports it while the other does not. Political identity is intimately related to party stance on democracy....part of the struggle over identity is the struggle over democracy.
Further, Chu's analysis of the problems between Chen and the KMT is incorrect: recall motions against Chen date back to when he was mayor of Taipei, and the KMT attempted to recall him for shutting down the KMT-connected lucrative brothel businesses within the city of Taipei. After Ma became mayor, those businesses quietly re-opened. Recall is a tactic the KMT deploys in paralyzing the government here. It was not an angry response to Chen's high-handedness, but a tactic the KMT was waiting for a chance to deploy, diddling the negotiations so that its own man, Premier Tang Fei, was betrayed and defeated, and then pretending to be upset when the President did what the DPP had been promising to do for years. That was nicely handled by the KMT's media machine. It is useful to see how the KMT used and tossed Tang Fei in the light of how they recently booted KMT Defense Minister Lee Jye from the party for serving in the DPP government. To argue that the DPP is somehow responsible for the malaise in Taiwan is to implicitly argue that KMT acted in good faith in building Taiwan's democracy. That was simply never the case. Chu's analysis seriously misrepresents the situation here.
Leonard correctly recognizes that part of the problems of political order in Taiwan is that people really don't accept the rough and tumble of democracy as part of norm of political behavior.
Or is it just demonstrating the reality of the democratic process, which is inherently messy and chaotic, and by no means inevitably leads to perfect government?
One constantly hears complaints that Taiwan is in some kind of anarchy, although the mail arrives every day on time -- including some deliveries on Sunday, the traffic flows, the factories tick on, and the people go about their daily business. Taiwan may be lawless but it is not anarchic. At bottom, I think, much of the negative thinking about democracy is actually Chinese socialization to think of order as sameness. In Chinese political thought, difference equals disorder. It is inevitable that democracy in Taiwan would produce noisy political conflict -- like it does everywhere else. Perhaps academics like Chu should make that clear to their western and local audiences. What we have is a robust democratic society waiting to reach full bloom -- as soon as the anti-democratic, pro-China parties are defeated.
Anthropologist Nick Pazderic has noted that in Chinese thinking that which is weeded out, or left behind, is a source of disorder and chaos. In the west, people view education as an enhancement process, but in Chinese culture, it is a weeding out process. Hence, as China's power swells, Taiwanese experience, not a growing China, but a shrinking Taiwan, being somehow weeded out. In social situations in Taiwanese society, in many cases social change is held to be a zero sum game -- if one person is rising, others must be falling. This is made worse because Taiwan sees China as a rival, not merely another country across the water from it, like the Philippines or Japan. Thus, China's rise implies Taiwan's fall from almost any angle a Taiwanese looks at it. These attitudes occasionally creep into the foreign media as well.
Is Taiwan in a mess? Sure.Is this normal? Sure. Academics like Chu need to stop feeding negative attitudes about democracy here and abroad, and work instead to educate the public that messy infighting is normal in robust democracies, and to change the public's view of the role of diversity in a free nation. Chu should also take note: dissidents in China and Singapore have publicly stated that they draw inspiration from Taiwan. Just last week a prominent Singaporean democracy supporter publicly chastised Ma Ying-jeou for his approving stance on authoritarianism in Singapore, observing:
I am sure that the people of Taiwan cherish their hard-won political freedom and are proud to live in a democratic society, a society that they contribute towards and continue to shape. In fact, in many ways democracy advocates in Singapore draw inspiration from Taiwan in its transformation from martial law to a bona fide democracy.
If Taiwan's messy democracy is a failure, then the news has failed to reach those Chinese societies that Chu alleges would be most put off by it.
[Taiwan] [KMT] [Singapore] [Ma Ying-jeou] [democracy] [China]