The Chiang/Chen Meeting: Do Not Create a Lose-Lose Situation
China Times editorial (Taipei, Taiwan, ROC)
December 21, 2009
Tens of thousands of people took to the streets in bitterly cold winds. But the crowd held contradictory goals. On the one hand, the Democratic Progressive Party has relentlessly incited mob sentiment. Green Camp pundits even coined such incendiary slogans as "Capture Chen Yunlin Alive!" On the other hand, DPP Chairman Tsai Ing-wen repeatedly urged protestors to be "peaceful, rational and non-violent," and assured the public that they would be. Unfortunately in November 2008, the situation got out of hand. Bloody clashes took place between protestors and police. Memories are still fresh, and make many uneasy. Is the DPP serious about wanting their supporters to "gather peacefully and scatter peacefully?"
In this same wintry weather, thousands of police officers have been assigned to the streets. They too labor under an "Impossible Mission." On the one hand, they represent the authority of the state, and have a duty to maintain public safety. They must act swiftly, resolving any problems that might lead to social unrest. They also have an albatross around their neck. If they are cursed at, they may not curse back. If they are struck, they many not strike back. This is true for central and local governments alike. The government has assured the public that police will not use excessive force. Taichung Mayor Jason Hu even bet on his own job on it. But during 2008, police in Taipei enforced the law in a Draconian manner. Many people remain skeptical of the attitude of the police, and their ability to deal with problems that arise. Have they actually considered the many possible scenarios? Will police on the front lines lose control when push comes to shove?
The same thing happened last year. The Chiang/Chen Meeting became a ritual for the airing of public sentiment. On the surface it appeared to be a confrontation between rival political parties. In fact it was an expression of collective anxiety. The Chiang/Chen Meeting is not really about differences between Blue and Green, or differences between social groups (erroneously referred to as "ethnic groups") , or differences between northern Taiwan and southern Taiwan. It is about a feeling of gradually being marginalized as a country. Under the impact of globalization, the Republic of China has lost its sense of direction. It is afraid it may cease to exist. Its industrial competitiveness and the livelihood of its farmers and fishermen are at risk. This is not a question of political ideology. This is a question of economic pressures on domestic industries. This is question of winners and losers. Whoever is in office must answer the same questions. Should we integrate our economy with the rest of eastern Asia? How can we protect farmers, fishermen, and traditional industries from the impact of globalization?
The problems must be dealt with. On the one hand how they are dealt with will reflect the competence and wisdom of those in office. On the other hand, it will affect how voters cast their ballots. Under democracy every vote is equal. But the votes of industry sectors whose survival is at risk are a little more equal than others. The middle class is complacent. Industry sectors whose survival is at stake value their votes more than the middle class, which remains secure amidst globalization. This is one of the few things that may change their lives. They are taking to the streets because they believe otherwise they will remain invisible. They have protested violently. They have not hesitated to make trouble. They believe that only then will they be included in decisions affecting their futures. They believe that only then can they avoid being sacrificed as part of some package deal. The most direct and often most effective way of making themselves heard is through the ballot box. The recent three in one elections are in part a showdown between the economic winners and the economic losers. Such showdowns have taken place in many countries. But cross-Strait relations are unique. Add to this an extremely high degree of economic dependence, and the problem is compounded.
Such confrontation and internal conflict has motivated too many to spend too much time and energy rejecting ECFA. They forget that ECFA may enable us to sign more FTAs. They forget that the best and often most effective way to resist pressure from Beijing is to enter the Mainland. Taiwan businesses on the Mainland can reach out and touch the outside world from the Mainland. The same is true of the Republic of China government in Taipei. Too much confrontation has blinded the public to ECFA's upside.
The Republic of China feels as if it is being suffocated, both economically and politically. The Democratic Progressive Party ruled for eight years. But the only thing it knew how to do was to withdraw from the world. The Ma administration has little to offer apart from its Mainland policy. It too has contributed to widespread anxiety. Beijing has excluded Taipei from the international arena, and made the public on Taiwan feel deprived, dominated, and undermined. For the public on Taiwan, the Chiang/Chen Meeting has become a means by which they can vent their frustrations. What we see is a zero-sum game between DPP Chairman Tsai Ying-wen and KMT Chairman Ma Ying-jeou. Their supporters hurl accusations of "bao li xiao ying" (a violence prone Tsai Ying-wen) and "mai tai xiao ma" (a Ma Ying-jeou who is selling out Taiwan) at each other. This is truly unfortunate. The Chiang/Chen Meeting must not be reduced to this. The opposition DPP is able to persuade hundreds of thousands of people to take to the streets. Yet it is unable to tell them just exactly what sort of cross-Strait policy it would have instead. The ruling KMT is able to order overwhelming police force to prevent blood in the streets. Yet it is unable to persuade the public that any agreement signed with the Mainland will not reduce Taiwan to tears.
The conduct of both the ruling and opposition parties during the previous Chiang/Chen Meeting was disappointing. Intelligent and conscientious political leaders should be able to win their supporters' hearts and their opponents' respect. We hope the leaders of both parties will see the Chiang/Chen Meeting as an opportunity for the public to better understand our situation. We hope they will find a better way to survive in a globalized environment. Ensuring the Republic of China's survival requires hard-headed realism, not emotionalism and enmity.