Friday, June 15, 2007

Has Taiwan Screwed Up China's Chances for Demcoracy?

Andrew Leonard at points to a paper by Yun-han Chu which claims that Taiwan is making democracy look bad. After reviewing the problems here, Chu writes:

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.


Anonymous said...

I don't know how restricted news concerning Taiwan is in China, but I would assume there isn't much.

My impression is also that the only time Taiwan appears in the news in Hong Kong is when legislators brawl or someone is accused of corruption.

I also have the impression that even most of the pro-democracy people in Hong Kong have a very negative opinion of Taiwan's experiment with democracy. Do you think that is the case?

People who wonder, "How can democracy be an improvement if everybody is always arguing and criticizing and accusing each other all the time?" are kind of missing some of the most fundamental concepts regarding democracy.

Perhaps people in Hong Kong
--having been ruled by England for so long-- think that they could have a much nicer, more civilized and polite democracy than Taiwan.

As a much more ethnically-homogenous society, maybe they could. Taiwan is an example of a society cursed with having two large social forces that cannot cooperate at any level.

Eli said...

Great post! Talking about democracy, a Kaohsiung judge has ruled to annul the Kaohsiung mayoral election. I imagine Chen Chu will appeal that, but I wonder about the judge. One step forward, two steps back.

Michael Turton said...

Yeah, I saw that. I'm still trying to find out what happened. I imagine it will be reversed on appeal.


Anonymous said...

Damn, that was a good post Micheal, Thanks for taking the time to put this it together.

I'll add a few rambling thoughts:

It's blatantly obvious to even the casual observer the biggest problem to democracy in Taiwan is that the KMT doesn't believe in it. In fact 1/3 of the island would be happy with a dictator or Chinese rule. (I'm not including the lightblues, who aren't complete dimwits).

KMT flexing its political muscle = acting like 2 year olds without any real ideas other than sucking up to China's tit and causing chaos. It's so strange that not even 10 years ago, the Communists where bandits and you could be thrown in jail for anything to do with China. Now they are the KMT's bedmates.

RE: Chen when he was mayor, he was also instrumental in getting the military (MPs) off the streets in Taipei and re-organizing city hall based on merit, not guanxi. (which made it much easier for Ma to step in later ~ no wonder he didn't have to spend so much of his special allowance to get things done.) In addition, he also found out that some KMT bigwigs were ripping people off for years in their natural gas bills by putting air in the lines. (one of many, many scandals) I read this in CSB biography a few years ago. It was written by a US Professor (Kagan? I think). I forgot all the details, but these stand out. Anyone can get this book from the city library near the flower market. (English section on the 4th or 5th floor) Taiwanese society, in many cases social change is held to be a zero sum game -- if one person is rising, others must be falling. - man, how true.

Semi-related: On
Project Syndicate
there is a short article on Asian values again and how democracy is an outside concept to the east. Its about Japan, but the theory can cover other places.

Lastly, regarding how Taiwan effect s democracy in China, I think what Feiren wrote in his post about how some in the middle class in China do not really want democracy is true. The realize if it happens they will lose their voice due to majority vote by the poorer rural dwellers. I believe this is what happened to India about 5-6 years ago. Its also Israel's biggest fear for integrating the Palestinian majority into the country as equal citizens.

Angry Taiwanese Guy said...

Actually I've heard this sort of speak from many speakers for ITASA. I've heard US Politicians, government advisers, you-name-it blame President Chen solely for all the problems in both China and Taiwan.

Just a few months ago Larry Diamond, professor at Stanford University, did a talk for ITASA in which he blamed President Chen and Taiwan's democracy growing-pains as a primary factor to why Chinese in China are put off by it.

In addition he thought the best solution for Taiwan was to wait, via Status Quo, until China implodes, or turns into a democracy, citing growing unrest in China.

This brought great dismay to me because in his entire hour-long speech he did not mention the aggressions of China towards Taiwan, nor censorship in China, nor the fact that Chen couldn't "declare independence" for Taiwan as he 1) doesn't have the power to, 2) publicly stated that he feels Taiwan is not part of China in the first place.

So I brought up two short questions; 1) What does he mean by Status Quo, everyone blames President Chen even though he cannot declare independence as it is not in his power, while no one mentions China has nearly 1000 ballistic missiles aimed at Taiwan (including Larry Diamond himself). 2) When can the media start owning up to these realities and stop using the China angle?

His reply was that China will always get the China angle in the media as long as it has money and power, and pointedly ignored the first question.

These by the way are what constitutes half of the "Pro-Taiwan" speakers we get.

Goldstein at this year's Harvard conference blamed Chen entirely for the change in support by the US government and mentioned that back then he figured the KMT would've won the 2004 election and added, "who knew Chen would be 'shot'?"

Anonymous said...

Seriously Michael, your blogs really need to have some playtime over the media or something.

Do you get huge audiences on these blogs? Just wondering...

eighty said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
eighty said...

Excuse me, I meant to type

Michael Turton said...

Thanks, Trace. It's routine to find out the allegiance of the author of any paper that does not faithfully represent reality as it is. One needs to know why...

Sean, your comments are frightening. Are you in TPI?

Walter, my audience is very small. Some of the local blogs get more hits in a day than I do in a month.


Anonymous said...

You're like a Jew who speaks fluent German and thinks National Socialism wasn't all that bad.
John McK

Anonymous said...

What Michael's blog brings to the table is reasoned analysis of complex issues relating to Taiwan. This is something that very few people in the world can do. To call him a blind DPP lover is just ignorant. From what I've read, it seems that Michael is just as quick to criticize a boneheaded DPP move as he is to applaud a smart move.

We all know the DPP is from being the perfect party. But, at the very least, what they offer is an agenda to try and keep Taiwan out of communist control and grow as a democratic civil society. Is the KMT going to deliver this? Definitely not.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for your analysis, Michael. The paper by Chu, in its online form, does not read anything like a serious academic study. Quite shocked to see how many assertions he made. I was expecting something much more substantial, given his background. The Salon article was quite brief and didn't have anything of substance either.

Angry Taiwanese Guy said...

No Michael, I'm not and do not know what TPI is. Could you tell me what it is?

Anonymous said...

Michael, I apologize for missing this post when it came out.

Nothing pisses me off more than this "Taiwanese can't handle democracy" bullshit. You've heard me when I get going. You make an excellent point when you state the obvious truth that stuff works here just as well as it works in other nations. No one is in danger, the demonstrations are extremely peaceful, and anyone who has spent any time here would know this.

What do you don about it? I suppose the only way for people like you and me to deal with it is to fight every little fire as it comes up. But sure as Hell, this makes me mad.