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Supporting hard-won democracy

Having spent the past three decades in Taiwan, I have watched firsthand the innumerable obstacles it overcame in shedding the Chinese Nationalist Party’s (KMT) one-party state to become a vibrant democracy. Within that time, I also had to listen to a fair share of panda-huggers, useful idiots and parachute journalists commenting on what they felt Taiwan should or should not do vis-a-vis that democracy and its main problem, China.

The struggle of those decades have presented a core reality that cannot be ignored.

First, Taiwan is a democracy and it follows the rule of law to protect that democracy. Because of this, former president Lee Teng-hui (李登輝) gracefully stepped down in 2000. He has been a KMT-appointed president and then Taiwan’s first president to be elected by the people. After him, the Democratic Progressive Party’s (DPP) Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) stepped down after his two four-year terms as president. Former president Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) of the KMT did the same and President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) of the DPP is to follow suit. Do you see the pattern? All abide by the limits of the Constitution. None tried to cling to power.

Contrast that with recent developments in the nearby one-party states of Russia and China. Vladimir Putin has served as president and/or prime minister of Russia since 1999, making him the longest-serving leader of Russia since Joseph Stalin. When and if he will step down is uncertain.

Similarly, Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平) is into a third unprecedented five-year term. He has been in power since 2013. He shows little inclination of stepping down.

Forget claims or excuses that Russia and China are “Marxist republics” — they are simply one-party capitalistic states with dictators who would not surrender power.

Why? It might be hubris, which makes them either think that they alone are best suited to rule, or it might be their having left a trail of enemies bent on retribution. What is more surprising is that such nations have difficulty finding a second competent person to become the new leader.

Why, after all their struggles, would any Taiwanese want to live under such a system?

Next, there is the matter of honesty. In Taiwan, a much-bandied phrase is the so-called “1992 consensus.” This fabricated consensus never happened. Lee, who was Taiwan’s president at that time, easily denied it. So why do some keep trying to resurrect and perpetuate it as if it is the only means by which Taiwan could talk to China, its rapacious neighbor on the other side of the Taiwan Strait?

Any negotiations based on that lie would never bear good fruit, especially since the lie justifies China’s claim to Taiwan. Taiwan did not free itself from about four decades of KMT lies that defended martial law and the White Terror to simply submit to a new lie.

In short, anyone who preaches the need for the “1992 consensus” is a charlatan. Therefore, presidential candidates should be asked: How would each candidate handle the false, rapacious claims of the bully next door as China constantly disturbs the peace in the Taiwan Strait as it infringes on Taiwan’s airspace? Further, it is China which similarly wants to make the South China Sea its mare nostrum.

Negotiations should never begin by letting the camel get its nose inside the tent.

Next is the matter of trust. Should China not be called out on its “Hong Kong promise”? Hong Kong was promised full democracy 20 years after the 1997 handover. Need one ask Hong Kong media tycoon Jimmy Lai (黎智英) how that has gone?

So what beliefs do Taiwan’s current candidates for the presidency and vice-presidency bring to the table regarding these matters?

I propose three basic questions as a type of litmus test:

First, would you go to war to defend Taiwan’s democracy? Second, would you call China out for its undemocratic treatment of Hong Kong and its disruptive aggression in the South China Sea? Third, how would you handle the long overdue matter of many of Taiwan’s sealed Stasi-like secret police files dating back to the 1980s and beyond and still cry for justice?

On the KMT team, of New Taipei City Mayor Hou You-yi (侯友宜) and vice presidential candidate and Broadcasting Corp of China chairman Jaw Shaw-kong (趙少康), I speculate that they would indeed have trouble answering these questions. Hou has run a major city, but he also has the blood of Freedom Era Weekly magazine publisher Deng Nan-jung (鄭南榕) on his resume. Where does he stand on the “1992 consensus” and transitional justice?

His partner, Jaw, is worse. Being pro-unification, he formed the New Party in 1992 when Taiwanese began to elect their legislators for the first time.

Can a leopard change its spots? What made Jaw come in from the pro-unification cold? As vice president, Jaw would only be a heartbeat away from the presidency.

Then there is the Taiwan People’s Party (TPP) with Chairman Ko Wen-je (柯文哲) and his running mate, TPP Legislator and vice presidential candidate Cynthia Wu (吳欣盈). As mayor of Taipei for eight years, Ko has experience, but I struggle to find any stellar achievements from that period.

Ko seems to represent the Peter Principle of rising to the level of one’s incompetence. His alleged dealings with China on organ transplants leave unanswered questions and accusations. How would he handle these new challenges, especially after he has earned the nickname “chameleon” by claiming to be neither blue nor white, but deep green at heart. Could he call out China or would he turn red in dealing with Beijing?

Finally, of course, there is the DPP. Its presidential candidate, Vice President William Lai (賴清德), has experience as the nation’s vice president, as a legislator and a mayor. Those are good credentials and his stance on Taiwan’s democracy is evident enough.

His vice presidential pick, Hsiao Bi-khim (蕭美琴), was a legislator and served as the nation’s unofficial ambassador to the US, Taiwan’s main ally. She is well acquainted with Taiwan’s internal and external situation. Both avoid needlessly provoking China. Need one say more?

China’s threats are ever-present. Xi spins the narrative to say that the “Taiwan question” cannot be put off forever. China’s economy is suffering, and he might indeed need a distraction to justify his unprecedented clinging to power.

The next four years will be crucial for Taiwan in the current post-COVID-19 world. It is time for Taiwanese to be clear-headed. Who will best support their hard-won democracy?

Jerome Keating is a writer based in Taipei.

Source: Taipei Times - Editorials 2024/01/09

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