Politicians answer to Taiwanized democracy

By Lo Chih-cheng 羅致政

Friday, Mar 19, 2004, Page 8

Regardless of its impact on the presidential election, the dramatic gesture of kneeling down and kissing the ground, displayed by Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) Chairman Lien Chan ( 連戰 ) and People First Party Chairman James Soong ( 宋楚瑜 ) during their March 13 nationwide campaign rally, will surely have important implications for the future of the nation's politics and cross-strait relations.

It also clearly reflects how in due course democratization in this country has effectively come to be "Taiwanization." In other words, our politicians are compelled to show to the people that they see this country as their homeland and understand that they should be loyal to it.

This dramatic gesture by Lien and Soong was by no means an emotional and instantaneous response to the unexpected number of pan-blue supporters who participated in the rally.

On the contrary, it was a well-calculated act designed by the pan-blue campaign strategists.

Some leaders in the pan-blue headquarters went so far as to proudly admit that to make the event more surprising and dramatic, the candidates themselves were not informed until the last moment that they would be prostrating themselves and kissing the ground. So in that case, what exactly is this calculation trying to achieve?

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. Voters have their doubts about the pan-blue camp's loyalty to this country, mainly because of its upholding of the unificationist agenda.

Moreover, many surveys have indicated that more people believe that President Chen Shui-bian ( 陳水扁 ) is able to guard and protect the country's interests than believe Lien has this capability. In addition to this, almost all the polls have shown that more and more people identify themselves as Taiwanese, while fewer and fewer people see themselves as Chinese. In other words, arguing for "reunification with China" at this point would appear suicidal for politicians hoping to be elected.

Add to this the unexpected success of the 228 Hand-in-Hand Rally, which sent a strong signal to the pan-blue team, and one begins to get a clearer picture. At this historic rally, over 2 million people formed a human chain across the nation to protest China's threats. Not only did the rally demonstrate the mobilization skills of the pan-green team, but 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.

Quite suddenly, the pan-blue camp seemingly discovered an ironclad fact: While there are still a few people who regard China as their motherland, there are more and more people in Taiwan who see this nation as their one and only homeland.

This also explains why, right after the pan-blue camp's March 13 rally, Lien made the following 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."

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 during his term there would be no unification of the two sides of the Taiwan Strait.

Apparently, like it or not, "our group versus their group" and "Taiwan versus China" have gradually become mainstream opinion. And it is this mainstream trend that spells out the pan-blue camp'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 Taiwanese politics from a "top-down" perspective. That is, politicians mobilize voters to support their vision and their agendas. However, the 228 Hand-in-Hand Rally and Lien and Soong's theatrical gesturing instead suggest that we may need to take a "bottom-up" view of the politics of this country.

Simply put, it is not so much about how politicians manipulate the people but rather how people might and should dictate to the politicians.

Democracy has pressured politicians into responding without ambiguity and into putting forth their vision for this country, particularly with respect to its current status and its future.

After decades of separation of the two sides of the Taiwan Strait, and due in large part to the democratization of Taiwan, this country 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 simply has no market here.

If the above characterization of recent developments in this 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 this: It is slowly but surely losing the hearts and minds of the Taiwanese people.

China's continuing military intimidation and diplomatic isolation can never succeed in winning Taiwan back.

As is becoming 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 developed by Beijing has to accommodate this fact.

Finally, it is worthwhile to conclude with this question:

Will the US and the international community be prepared to accommodate not only a democratizing Taiwan but also a Taiwanizing democracy?

(Lo Chih-cheng is the executive director of the Institute for National Policy Research.)