Monday, June 28, 2010

Two views of Consensus and Self-determination

This week Steve Tsang's awful piece advocating that Taiwan sell out made the rounds, including in the Taipei Times. The original here is at Project Syndicate. It's full of claims that will be familiar to anyone who has long experience with the pro-China side. I left a long comment there, which begins:
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.

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.
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.

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.

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.
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 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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Dixteel said...

Whatever Chen did wrong, he at least had 1 contribution: preventing Lien and Soong from becoming president in 2000 and 2004. Judging by these two's later actions, they will probably sell Taiwan out sooner or later. And with the population even more confused about its own identity back then, the job of selling out would be even easier.

Lee contributed greatly to Taiwan, but there is one big mistake that he made: misjudge the character of Lien and Ma, and gave them great support during his time as KMT chairman.

Sage said...

Not sure that Lee mis-judged the character of Lien and Ma, he's a pretty shrewd old fella.

But I agree, Chen's election at least served to keep these two crooks, Lien and Soong out, apart from that he was a monumental disappointment and caused sever damage.

Once again however, why were there not mass protests at the airport when Lien and Soong came back from their sales trips to Beijing? Why wasn't there people there in mass, holding signs telling them go back home where they belong? Maybe I missed something.

What will finally bring the Taiwanese to their feet so that the world will know that all is not well here. And while I do not advocate the violence that Thailand has experienced, certainly the world knows that their is a problem in Thailand.

apple said...

A-bian did engage in a more divisive style of leadership in his second term. This should be an important lesson to Taiwanese. If Ma is elected for a second term then anything he has done up to now will look moderate in comparison. It is truly something to fear.

D said...

Question for Michael. I liked both Tsang's article (some muddy reasoning there but also some worthwhile leaps, like, although you hated it, trying to think outside the 'independence vs. unification' dichotomy) and your response. I especially liked reading the first one, trying to guess how you would take it on, then checking my guesses. It's really too bad Steve Tsang doesn't respond to your response. My guess (?) is that he might actually agree with a lot of what you say, while still insisting on some of his prospective remarks.

But my question, if I may. Let's say you were negotiating with the PRC. What would you be willing to give up, or what compromise would you be willing to make, if the PRC offered a peace treaty, ie, renounced the use of force against their Taiwanese brothers? I'm just curious. Will your answer be "none whatsoever, because the wrong is all China's", or will it be something else?

Thanks as always --

Michael Turton said...

(D), Tsang is a pro-ROC mainlander, Deep Blue, a leading historian of the ROC regime who holds the belief, like many modern educated True Believer KMTers, that the KMT will democratize China. On this issue his thinking thus remains firmly inside the old PRC "offer" that Taiwan can do whatever it wants once it is inside the motherland. He's not thinking outside the box, but aligning himself with ideas that are decades old. I've heard the claim that independence is a "phony" issue many times, and always from Deep Blue True Believers. Never from anyone on the pro-Taiwan side. Again, Tsang isn't thinking outside the box, just speaking in code.

On a PRC peace treaty, do we get peace + recognition? Or just "peace." How would such an agreement have teeth? The issue is not what I would be willing to give up -- what wouldn't I be willing to give up! -- but whether the PRC will actually keep an agreement, after 60 years of proof that it does not.

What would you like me to give up? Taiwan's independence is non-negotiable. I think most everything else would be on the table -- Jinmen and Matsu and the National Palace Museum relics, for starters, along with all claims to the Senkakus and the South China Sea Islands. If you could guarantee that the PRC would keep its word.

Good luck with that.

D said...

I always wondered what would happen to Jinmen and Mazu....

You come awfully close to dismissing whatever anyone KMT says just because they are KMT. Well, maybe you do that outright, on purpose, but does being KMT-associated automatically disqualify all of one's ideas? And just a few days ago you seemed intrigued by an all-island consensus building summit.

I'm afraid that would be "peace without recognition". But with de facto independence, as it stands now. Can you trust the PRC? No, of course not, but I think that misses the point. Diplomatic agreements aren't really based on trust. Rather, they're about codifying resolutions that satisfy the needs of both sides. They're sort of like compromises -- you hold your end of the bargain because it serves your interests. The CCP is much more interested in _appearing_ to resolve the Taiwan issue than it is in actually resolving it. Now, "phony" is an inappropriate word to apply to "independence", but Tsang may be right that independence is best achieved, or maintained, by thinking about other issues at play here. So what I was wondering was whether you would follow Tsang in giving some ground on principle in order to gain some ground in actuality. My guess is no, because that would be "appeasement". (I know you probably think I'm the ghost of Neville Chamberlain, if not of Stalin, but hey, my personality is just geared towards compromise wherever possible. Give me a break ;)). But what if the agreement was similar to the "one China" thing between the US and China, where the two sides say the same thing but mean something different? Watching the CCP trumpet this as a success sure would be nauseating, but might it be worth it?

The mainland's side of the bargain would be the CCP saying to itself "ok, we're going to accept that Taiwan actually is a real democracy, not a Hong Kong-democracy, and that with a democracy there's always going to be a degree of uncertainty. Yes, they could have a referendum and declare independence, but we don't think they'll do that. We can handle it". It's a sensible choice for them, actually, because if things get so bad in China that over 2/3 of Taiwanese population are running scared, then the CCP has bigger problems on its hands than Taiwan.

So you can see, perhaps, how by moving away from the independence-unification dichotomy we could say that "Taiwan issue" is really about this: the CCP's inability to accept _any_ possibility of any power structure other than its own. How they handled Falungong is symptomatic of this, but I think there are some signs that they are improving in this regard as they are forced to involve themselves constructively with other world powers, and a Taiwan agreement would require them to take a further leap forward.

Actually, I still think the issue is best kicked down the road another 30 or 40 years, with some vague agreements or mutual statements to accomplish that task. At that point in time, who knows, maybe the idea of Taiwan as a nation-state (if we're still using that term then) in East Asia will not be so inconceivable to the mainland, or, who knows, maybe the idea of Taiwan as some part of some kind of "China" might not be so inconceivable to people here. Or maybe we'll all just exist as internet avatars anyway.

D said...

On the other hand, I am rather convinced by this eloquent letter against the Tsang article:

The letter ends: "A lasting peace between Taiwan and China will only come when the world listens to Taiwanese and releases them from China’s grip."