Mr. Tsang's upside-down description of affairs should be read as a primer in how not to understand affairs between Taiwan, China, and the United States....I want to post it at places around the web where I found that piece but most don't accept comments, sadly. If you see any, let me know.
Fortunately the Taipei Times published a very interesting response by Dafydd Fell, the well-known Taiwan scholar. Unfortunately it repeats a common canard about the Chen Administration:
Earlier this week Steve Tsang (曾銳生) argued in this paper that now is the time for Taiwan to forge consensus. Compared to the 1990s, politics in Taiwan has been highly antagonistic and polarized in the post-2000 period. This trend applies both to the Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) and Ma Ying-jiu (馬英九) eras, as ruling parties have attempted to make policy oblivious of domestic opposition. Ostrich style politics has contributed to a growing sense of political alienation in the camp that is out of office. Taiwan’s democracy is one of its most valuable assets on the world stage, but the last decade has seen a severe erosion in its status as a model democracy.I can't see how the Chen Administration attempted to make policy "oblivious" of the opposition. It appears to have been forgotten that in the first Chen Administration the Premier, EPA minister, and Defense Minister were all KMTers, and Defense remained a KMT post throughout all eight years of the DPP era. Moreover, Chen's policies had to pass the KMT controlled legislature, which rejected DPP policies in most areas, most famously in the defense procurement. There were a few stunts such as renaming the Chiang Kai-shek memorial that may have been unpopular among the opposition and exasperated the general public, but on the whole the Chen Administrations showed willingness to work with the other team, perhaps largely because it had to. Ma Ying-jeou, needless to say, shows no such inclination to cooperate with the opposition, and only strident and effective politicking by the DPP has moved the KMT towards the center.
How can Taiwan actually get out of this vicious cycle of antagonistic style politics? A review of Taiwan’s recent political history shows that there are precedents for a more consensual style of politics. Although we should not view the era of former president Lee Teng-hui (李登輝) through rose tinted spectacles, a remarkable feature was the move from polarized politics to political consensus. In the 1990s, Taiwanese elites were able to reach genuine consensus on constitutional reform, democratization, social policy and even external relations.
This kind of agreement was generated through both electoral debate and consensus seeking cross-party conventions, such as the 1990 National Affairs Conference and the 1996 National Development Conference. This meant that by the end of the decade, although parties disagreed on many topics, they agreed that democracy was the only game in town and had a tacit agreement on handling foreign and cross-strait relations. This kind of consensual politics gave Taiwan’s democracy considerable domestic and international legitimacy.
Fell argues that a national convention could move the nation towards consensus on many issues.
In theory, this is something that should be handled by the Legislative Yuan, but its antagonistic culture seems to make this an impossibility. Such a convention should include not only cross-party representatives but also participants from academia, business and civil society. We should not forget that surveys show most voters do not identify with the major parties.Actually, surveys show that most voters identify with one camp or the other. The May Global Views party identification survey puts over 65% of voters in the Blue or Green camps. Typically in polls there is a quiet bloc of pan-Greens who will not admit party ID but nevertheless vote Green, meaning that the actual total of individuals identifying with a camp is higher than that figure. But that is not a serious issue.
A consensus seeking conference should not be limited to external relations. Political analysts agree that Taiwan also requires serious domestic reforms. Depending on your point of view, Ma’s government has been extremely disappointing or highly cautious on domestic policymaking. Thus, some kind of consensus is also required on key topics such as reviving trust in the judiciary, making the electoral system more proportional, keeping Taiwan economically competitive, making Taiwan a genuine multi-cultural society and tackling the growing problem of income inequality. These are all pressing issues facing the country, simply muddling along will not do.
A convention is an interesting and daring idea, and Fell has picked some excellent topics.... what institution is capable of hosting such a thing? Fell says it is a pipe dream, especially with the elections due in November.....
Fell's remarks on the consensus of the Lee Teng-hui years are food for thought. I think the "consensus" of the Lee years was a result of several structural factors that are no longer in play. First, the long arm of Chiang Ching-kuo, who was responsible for shaping so much of the Taiwan we live in today, cast its shadow over the 1990s. Then LTH was Chairman of the party with the support of many elites, and was also a masterful politician with his hands on the strings of power and strong support from below. Neither Chen Shui-bian nor Ma Ying-jeou had so much control over such a wide swathe of society, including their own parties. Moreoever Lee had the luxury of China being far less powerful and influential than it is now, along with much better support from the US. Ah, nostalgia for the Lee Teng-hui years.....
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