Archive for February 8th, 2010

Monday, February 8, 2010

Taiwan Needs a Loyal Opposition

I was wondering for a while if I should write this post. Should Taiwanese issues be my issues? They are, as a matter of fact. America is involved in “cross-strait” affairs, and any country allied with America is therefore involved to an uncertain extent. I’m also feeling involved because our governments limit our diplomatic and business exchange with Taiwan out of fear of Chinese business sanctions (or of losing Beijing’s cooperation in the UN Security Council). Besides, many blogs about Taiwan are written by non-Taiwanese: Chinese, Westerners, and others.

a desk full of shelf-warmers?

a desk full of shelf-warmers?

Ten days ago, I had a discussion with a European blogger in Taiwan, on one of his commenting threads. He had criticized Taiwan’s president for claiming that a “diplomatic truce” with China was bearing fruit. No question – the blogger challenged Ma Ying-jeou‘s statement with good reasons.

I admitted that there was indeed little to like when it comes to how the KMT governs Taiwan, especially when it comes to their attitude to the rule of law. My point was that the government shouldn’t be accused of “selling” Taiwan to China. After all, the Ma government had taken substantial steps to reform the armed forces.

The blogger reminded that the DPP never had legislative power (a legislative majority) during Chen Shui-bian‘s presidency, that the KMT had blocked the Chen administration, and that my comment hadn’t addressed the issue of the so-called “diplomatic truce”.

Our discussion went no further. The following is my reply of January 30th, which is still awaiting moderation there*):

First of all, president Ma is a bad salesman of his policies, and they’d be difficult to sell even if he was a great communicator. What many Taiwanese – as far as I can tell – fail to see is how narrow the range of choices for every Taiwanese government is. Understandably, neither Chen Shui-bian nor Ma Ying-jeou were or are keen on clearly stating how successful Beijing has been in limiting their options. Ma needs to convey the impression that he is in full control, and Chen used to act and talk like if he could lead Taiwan into independence – but he always stopped short of real action.
I’d either blame both or neither big party in Taiwan for being fundamentally oppositional when out of government. Besides fundamental opposition (I’d prefer a loyal opposition in any country, including Taiwan), here were some very practical reasons for blocking the deal, too.
One is that buying arms equipment is never as smart as to strengthen your own R&D in that field – and Taiwan has the capability / potential for such R&D.
Another problem with the arms package in question is that it lacked (and still lacks) what Taiwan needs most: diesel-electric submarines. This has been an unresolved issue since the days of Lee Teng-hui, and the problem obviously lies outside Taiwan.
Thirdly, I agree with the KMT that the DPP’s economic policies sucked. They were hardly visible as an issue. But without a strong economy, there will be no strong military.
And let’s face it: Taiwan needs to be able to defend itself, with or without American support. This is no civil-rights issue. Whoever denies the government the will to defend Taiwan will only help to divide Taiwan’s society further. The DPP can’t demand loyal opposition from the KMT, when it is no loyal opposition itself.

A house divided in itself cannot stand. It makes no sense to question the preparedness of either the supporters of the KMT, the DPP, or any major political organization in Taiwan, to defend their country – not without good evidence. The “A” priority for the Taiwanese should be to defend their freedom to determine their own future – not to fight against each other. The argument about future designs must not damage the foundation of liberty itself.

Some basic unity on crucial issues would also be helpful for anyone outside Taiwan who wants to make a case for their liberty. The Taiwanese opposition frequently acts as if having the country’s independence internationally recognized was just a civil-rights issue which could be turned into practise by taking to the streets. There is nothing wrong with demonstrations. But if such demonstrations are meant to vilify fellow Taiwanese, and to refuse loyalty to the incumbent government on  Taiwan’s most central issue – the threat from China -, any case for Taiwan loses its persuasive power.

President Ma, his government, and the KMT, also need to do better. They need to safeguard the rule of law. And they should stop trying to make the electorate believe that their policies woud lead Taiwan to another victory in the new wave of global competition as a small country. Who is supposed to believe in such ornamental language? If they can help Taiwan to survive and to ward Beijing’s unrequited love off, that would still be more than what the Chen administration – a government blessed with similar beautiful vocabulary as the incumbents – achieved in its eight years.


*) I’m not mentioning my interlocutor’s name here because the loss of my comment on his blog may just be a coincidence, and this post isn’t meant to be a tit-for-tat response – it’s up to every blogger to decide which comments should appear, and which shouldn’t. I’m only wondering if the massive anger about Taiwan’s government may in part be a refusal to face Taiwan’s situation as it is.


BJRB: In the Face of National Interests, there is no Space for Illusions, Febr 6, 2010


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