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Taiwan Perspective

2004-03-24
Institute for National Policy Research
Taiwan Politicians Bow to People¡¦s Will

By Chih-cheng Lo

Regardless of any possible impacts on the presidential election, the dramatic gesture of kneeling down and kissing the ground, as displayed by pan-blue candidates Lien-Song during the March 13 island-wide campaign rally, will surely have important implications for the future of Taiwan¡¦s politics and cross-Strait relations. It also clearly reflects how in due course, democratization on this island has effectively come to be ¡§Taiwanization.¡¨ In other words, each and every one of our politicians is compelled to show to the people that they see this island as their homeland and understand that they should be loyal to it.

This dramatic gesture by the KMT Chairman Lien Chan and PFP Chairman James Soong was by no means an emotional and instantaneous response to the unexpected number of pan-blue supporters who had participated in the rally. On the contrary, it was a well-calculated act prompted by the pan-blue campaign strategists. Some leaders in the pan-blue headquarters went so far as to proudly admit that to keep the event ever more surprising and dramatic, even the candidates themselves were not informed until the very last moment. So in that case, what exactly is this calculation all about?

To start with, ever since the beginning of the presidential campaign, the pan-blue candidates have met with much criticism over their lack of loyalty to Taiwan. Even the voters have their doubts over the pan-blue camp¡¦s loyalty to this island, mainly because of its upholding of the reunification agenda. Moreover, many opinion surveys have indicated there are more people who believe that President Chen is able to guard and protect Taiwan¡¦s interests than there are those who believe Lien Chan has such a capability. In addition to this, almost all the opinion polls have shown that more and more people on this island identify themselves as Taiwanese while fewer and fewer people see themselves as Chinese. In other words, arguing for ¡§reunification with China¡¨ at this point in time would appear politically suicidal for any politicians hoping to be elected by the people.

Add to this the unexpected success of the 228 human-chain rally, which has sent a strong signal to the pan-blue team, and one begins to get a clearer picture. Not only did the rally demonstrate the mobilization ability of the pan-green team, but also the theme of the rally, ¡§say yes to Taiwan, say no to China!¡¨ was highly appealing to many of the non-traditional pan-green supporters. At this historic rally of Feb. 28, over 2 million people formed a human chain across the nation to protest China's threats towards Taiwan. Quite suddenly, the pan-blue had seemingly uncovered an ironclad fact; while there are still a few people who regard the Chinese mainland as their motherland, there are more and more people in Taiwan that see this island as their one and only homeland.

This also explains why right after the rally in the afternoon, Lien Chan made the following public announcement, ¡§the Republic of China is a sovereign state, which we cannot, and will not allow to be swallowed, merged or united with the People's Republic of China.¡¨ Likewise, James Soong echoed Lien by saying to the crowd, ¡§Taiwan should not bow to the pressure of the Chinese mainland.¡¨ There was also similar talk in Lien¡¦s campaign pledges to the effect that ¡§under his term, there would be no reunification between the two sides of the Strait.¡¨ Apparently, like it or not, the ¡§we-group vs. they-group¡¨, ¡§Taiwan vs. China¡¨ has gradually become mainstream opinion in Taiwan. And it is this mainstream trend that spells out the pan-blue¡¦s calculation: the candidates simply have to demonstrate that they love this land and they are answering the calls of the people.

In fact, there is another angle to this turn of events. Many analysts tend to see the dynamics of Taiwan politics from a ¡§top-down¡¨ perspective. That is, politicians mobilize voters to support their vision and their agendas. However, the 228 rally and Lien-Soong¡¦s theatrical gesturing, instead suggests that we may need to take a ¡§bottom up¡¨ view about the politics of this island. Simply put, it is not so much about how politicians manipulate the people, but rather, it is more to do with how people might and should, dictate to the politicians. Taiwan¡¦s democracy has pressured the politicians into responding without ambiguity, to put forth their vision about this country, particularly with respect to its current status and its future. After decades of separation between the two sides of the Taiwan Strait, and due in large part to the democratization of Taiwan, Taiwan has developed its own ethnically and politically unique identity. Thus, ¡§One China¡¨ has become a myth for the Taiwanese and the ¡§one country, two systems¡¨ model has simply no market here.

If the above characterization of the recent developments of this island country is correct, the message that is being sent across the Taiwan Strait is surely very profound. Leaders in Beijing have repeatedly said that they want to listen to the hearts and minds of the people in Taiwan. But the sad fact for China to face is: it is slowly but surely losing the hearts and minds of the Taiwanese people. China¡¦s continued military intimidation and diplomatic isolation can never succeed in winning Taiwan back; as is becoming that much more evident, these hawkish positions and heavy-handed policies will only dishearten the people here and drive Taiwan further away. More importantly, since democratization has resulted in Taiwanization, it naturally follows that any sound Taiwan policy by Beijing has to accommodate this fact. On this note, it is worthwhile concluding with the forethought: will the United States and the international community be prepared to accommodate not only a democratizing Taiwan but also a Taiwanizing democracy?

Chih-cheng Lo
Associate professor
Dept. of Political Science
Soochow University.


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