The Marginalization of the Nation and Economic Polarization of Society
United Daily News editorial
February 18, 2008
Ma Ying-jeou and Frank Hsieh are engaged in a final struggle over the Presidency of the Republic of China. After spinning its wheels for nearly 20 years, Taiwan's economy is also engaged in a final struggle of its own -- to return from dead.
The presidential election has been reduced to the level of accusations about who held a green card and who was a police informant. These issues are not irrelevant. But they were decisions made by Harvard student Ma Ying-jeou when he was still uncertain about his future; and Frank Hsieh, when he was caught on the horns of a political dilemma. Such sideshows may undermine their public image. But they were events that occurred 20 to 30 years ago. What voters care about is Ma Ying-jeou today and Frank Hsieh today, and where they intend to take Taiwan tomorrow. In short, whether Ma or Hsieh deserves to win this final struggle ought to hinge on who one can give Taiwan one last chance.
Taiwan's economic crisis is not yet fully apparent. But if Taiwan continues to spin its wheels as it has over the past 20 years, then it has no future whatsoever. The Taiwan region faces two major crises: 1. the political marginalization of the ROC, and 2. the economic polarization of Taiwan society, leading to an "M-shaped Society." Ma and Hsieh need not remain mired in mud-slinging over green cards and police informants. Instead they should tell the nation how they intend to solve these two major crises.
First let's talk about the political marginalization of the ROC. In terms of international politics, the end of the Cold War and mainland China's "peaceful rise" quickly marginalized the ROC's strategic role. In terms of international economics, globalization and the attractions of mainland China led to a brain drain in Taiwan's core industries over the past 20 years. These, along with the shift of traditional industries from the mainland's coastal region to the interior, have driven Taiwan businessmen further inland or offshore. As the above indicators reveal, Taiwan's economy is rapidly being marginalized. Politically and economically the region is already well on its way to marginalization. What people want to know is what Ma and Hsieh intend to do about it.
Now let's talk about the M-shaped Society. Taiwan's economic performance depends upon a handful of leading edge technology and science parks supported by the government via tax concessions and special privileges, and a handful of fertilizer manufacturers. They do little to increase economic equality. Industries of this sort nourish only those at the top of the economic pyramid while starving those at the base. Abundant exports coupled with inadequate domestic demand has gradually polarized the economy and turned Taiwan into an M-shaped Society. Powerful elites can seek profits in the international arena. The lumpenproletariat meanwhile, can only fight for scraps under the table. The grim challenge that Ma and Hsieh face is how to enhance the international competitiveness of the strong while increasing local opportunities for the disadvantaged. The challenge is how to provide opportunities for both poles of the M-shaped Society, how to avoid helping only the rich or the poor, or worse, neither.
An "Isle of Liberty" is the only solution that can deal with both these crises. An Isle of Liberty stresses neither the freedom to leave nor the freedom to enter. The purpose of the Three Direct Links, for example, is not merely to facilitate leaving, it is also to facilitate the entry of international capital. If Taiwan hopes to become part of the international economy, it can hardly rely on a handful of science parks. All of Taiwan must become a part of the international economy. In other words, it must become an Isle of Liberty.
The Republic of China's international marginalization cannot be improved by means of a "Plebiscite to Join the UN." It can only be improved by transforming Taiwan into an Isle of Liberty. If Taiwan can become part of the international stage, the "Taiwan problem" will naturally be internationalized. Taiwan's economy is drying up. One cannot improve it merely by relying on mainland tourists. But mainland tourists visiting Taiwan is a necessary part of the process of becoming an Isle of Liberty. An Isle of Liberty is not merely about allowing mainland tourists to enter, it is also about allowing international capital to enter.
Politicians who boast about their "Plebiscites to Join the UN" during the presidential election are not merely shameful, they are contemptible. They merely wish to exploit the voters' "Taiwanese Sense of Victimization." They do nothing to inspire the building of an Isle of Liberty. Politicians who hurl baseless McCarthyite accusations about a "pro-unification economy" or a "One China Market" during the presidential election are beneath contempt. In fact, as mentioned above, mainland China is already driving Taiwan businesses into the interior. Yet we cling to our own Closed Door Policy. What a joke.
Some say that the ROC's future status is "a Hong Kong that can elect a president." If we refrain from applying a negative spin to this analogy, it is actually quite enlightening. To say that ROC citizens can elect a president affirms the ROC's sovereignty and political credentials. Comparing the ROC to the HKSAR merely underscores the ROC's different international status. Taiwan's future must be as an Isle of Liberty. The issue is not whether, but when.
Otherwise, the ROC faces a crisis of national marginalization, and Taiwan's society faces a crisis of economic polarization. Do politicians actually believe that only the "Rectification of Names and the Authoring of a New Constitution" can save Taiwan?