Cross-Strait Policy: Determined by Helmsmen, or Public Opinion?
United Daily News editorial (Taipei, Taiwan, ROC)
September 27, 2010
This newspaper published a series of "Six New Year's Editorials," as well as an editorial entitled, "Cross-Strait Antidote: From Reunification to Reconnection." We raised a number of cross-Strait issues, and received a number of responses from both sides. One of the responses from the Taiwan side compared Taiwan to a ship at sea. It argued that the captain of the ship must fulfill his duty as helmsman. He can hardly allow the ship to drift with the current.
"Navigating the seas requires a helmsman" was a slogan from the Cultural Revolution. It was also a symbol of authoritarianism. It likens the relationship between those in power and the general public, to the relationship between a ship's helmsman and the ship's passengers. It represents a feudal rather than democratic mindset.
The Helmsman Theory argues that "the Ma administration follows public opinion, rather than leads public opinion." The Helmsman Theory argues therefore that Ma Ying-jeou is "a helmsman without direction." The Helmsman Theory opposes the idea that "Taiwan's future should be decided by 23,000 million people." It argues that in cross-Strait policy, the Ma administration should "lead public opinion." that it should be a helmsman with a direction.
In fact however, under a democracy "the views of those in power" and "public opinion" are one and the same. They are not in opposition to each other. Those in power derive public policy from public opinion. The public is in turn inspired by those in power. The two interact with each other. This is how democracy normally functions. The Chen regime incited eight years of unrest. The Ma administration's cross-Strait policy calls for "no reunification, no independence, no use of force." It has established three direct links and signed ECFA. One cannot claim that the Ma administration "lacks direction." One cannot claim that the Ma administration is "drifting with the current." One cannot claim that Ma Ying-jeou has defaulted on the role of "helmsman." We believe the Ma administration's cross-strait policy , reflects both views of those in power, and mainstream public opinion.
If one wishes to talk about the Helmsman Theory, then Chen Shui-bian is the perfect example. He had a "firm direction." He advocated Taiwan independence. He obstinately refused to respond to the aspirations of the public for cross-Strait reconciliation. Instead he insisted on promoting Taiwan independence. His attempt to "lead public opinion" was a perfect expression of the premise that "navigating the seas requires a helmsman." But in the end, Chen Shui-bian as helmsman failed to establish Taiwan's direction. Instead, as American analysts put it, "public opinion led Taiwan out of the Chen Shui-bian Nightmare." As we can see, viewing the helmsman and public opinion as separate and opposed to each other, leads to serious mistakes. Even Beijing says it is "pinning its hopes on the Taiwan public." Why is public policy formulated in accordance with public opinion characterized as "drifting with the current?" Why assume that the direction taken by the public is not the right direction?
In cross-Strait policy, even the opinion of isolated members of the public must be carefully considered. The common people on both sides are suffering. Why assume that the views of any helmsman will not conform to public opinion? Why assume that they must override public opinion?
On Taiwan, when it comes to political views or political values, democracy trumps cross-Strait matters. If one wishes to oppose Taiwan independence, one must resort to democratic means. One must have faith that democracy is capable of dealing with the issue. Otherwise, one may well end up like Chen Shui-bian. If one advocates reunification, reintegration, or reconnecting, on the other hand, one must also resort to democratic means. Consider the rapid progress made over the past two years. Democracy is something Taiwan demands. It is also something Beijing is pursuing. How can cross-Strait issues be decided by a helmsman whose views are diametrically opposed to public opinion? It matters not whether the helmsman is in Taipei or Beijing. Otherwise, why speak of "pinning one's hopes on the Taiwan public?"
As for the Helmsman Theory, why link that to this newspaper editorial? Advocates of the Helmsman Theory believe that Ma Ying-jeou's advocacy of the "1992 Consensus," "One China, Different Interpretations," "Republic of China", and "no reunification, no independence, no use of force," is phony, fraudulent, lacking in direction, and ineffective. They consider it the equivalent of Chen Shui-bian's advocacy of Taiwan independence or an independent Taiwan. These people assert or insinuate that this newspaper's editorial pages are a mouthpiece for the Ma administration. They accuse this newspaper editorials of advocating Taiwan independence, an independent Taiwan, the two-states theory, a Republic of China in name only, as lacking direction, and drifting with the current. What do such absurd and bizarre charges represent, but a 21st century version of the Inquisition?
Long ago we declared that our editorials have nothing to do with the Ma administration. Once again we solemnly declare that our editorials have "zero" connection with the Ma administration. Such smear tactics have actually appeared in the writings of self-proclaimed scholars. This is truly astonishing. If in order to establish their own doctrine, these critics wish to characterize Ma Ying-jeou as an advocate of "Taiwan independence," We would take strong exception. But we would point out that we do not speak for Ma Ying-jeou. These are merely matters of opinion, subjective evaluations by third parties. But to claim that the United Daily News advocates Taiwan independence, an independent Taiwan, the two-states theory, or a Republic of China in name only, is absurd. Such vicious attacks merely make one wonder whether such individuals have any cognitive ability.
Cross-Strait issues have been the subject of much discussion. Even a fool can occasionally have a good idea. Even a wise man can make a mistake. The defects of democracy cannot obscure its virtues. We could have engaged in a constructive dialogue. We could have addressed each others' shortcomings. But if one arbitrarily accuses others of advocating "Taiwan independence." or of "lacking direction," merely to flatter oneself, then isn't one setting oneself up as a "helmsman?"
2010.09.27 03:15 am