Two Sides Separated Not by Distance, But by Human Rights
China Times editorial (Taipei, Taiwan, ROC)
May 4, 2011
The two sides of the Taiwan Strait are separated by a number of barriers. The most obvious are geographical distance, regime differences, and sovereignty disputes. But in fact, the deepest difference between the two sides is their degree of development. President Ma Ying-jeou said that "we measure the difference between the two sides by human rights." This accurately describes the gap that separates the two sides. This gap is what the two sides must attempt to bridge.
During an interview with the German magazine "Der Spiegel," President Ma said that over the past 30 thirty years the Mainland has significantly improved the peoples' economic circumstances. But in terms of freedom, democracy, the rule of law, and human rights, it had considerable room for improvement. Mainland China has become the world's second largest economy. It must appreciate its place in the world. It must promote reform in these four areas. He stressed that one of the criteria used to gauge the difference between the two sides, is human rights. He said that sooner or later, the Mainland will have to take the road to democracy, and become freer than it is currently,
This passage underscores why the two sides often find themselves at loggerheads with each other. It underscores why the Mainland authorities find it so hard to win the trust of the public on Taiwan. The two sides need no longer "kill or be killed." Tense disputes over sovereign territory have been shelved. At the macro level, the two sides have undergone very different experiences. They have taken very different paths, and developed in very different directions. Although the two sides share the same language and same heritage, they hold very different collective values and evince very different personalities. As a result, they are often unable to understand each other, and tolerate the other's point of view.
Consider the world as a whole. Civilization often develops along different paths. But freedom, democracy, equality, and natural rights are universal values. They have become universal beliefs, pursued by everyone the world over. Monarchies, theocracies, and autocracies were once taken for granted. Now, one by one, they have all been washed away by a wave of human rights. Even authoritarian governments feel the need for rubber-stamp parliaments and elections to legitimize their rule. Consider the development of human civilization. It evolved from tribes, to kingdoms, to democratic republics. The world is steadily advancing toward greater human rights. People have gradually come to believe that they are equal and possess fundamental and inalienable rights. They have gradually come to believe that they deserve to be treated with dignity, and must respect the dignity of others. They have gradually come to believe that in order to fully protect human rights, they must establish liberal democracies.
This is the path of human civilization. It is shared by all. It is not the exclusive franchise of any one nation. The development of democracy and freedom require certain conditions. These are often difficult to come by. Therefore progress along this path does not necessarily mean that a particular nation or a particular people are inherently superior. It merely means that the road is long and difficult. Many difficulties must be overcome. Mainland China is no exception. It will have to find its own way to democracy.
In fact, after years of stability and prosperity, Mainland China now has a sufficiently secure social foundation. This will provide the soil for the further growth of democracy, freedom, human rights, and the rule of law. During a nation's early stages of economic development, the public usually wants to maintain the status quo. But gradually, more and more people will demand greater respect for human rights. They will seek political power in order to protect their rights and interests. This is particularly true following the spread of the Internet. The only exception would be a hermetically sealed nation such as North Korea. Otherwise no modern society can successfully close itself off from the rest of the world. Even long-lasting authoritarian regimes in North Africa and the Middle East have been consumed by the flames of the Jasmine Revolution. Mainland China's transformation has already begun.
A society that respects human rights may not arbitrarily deprive an individual of his freedom and rights. It must adhere to a legal process. It must adhere to a judicial process. A democratic nation such as the Republic of China has no ruler. Citizens, each citizen, is the master of the nation. They are their own masters. Every four years, they choose who will be govern the nation. They are akin to business owners who appoint managers. If the business manager performs poorly, they replace them. Such people have an intense sense of self-esteem. They will staunchly defend their rights. They will not accept being ruled from someone on high.
Therefore, cross-Strait relations must not be about who annexes whom. They must not be about who rules whom. Instead, each side should proceed in its own way. Together they should proceed in a direction favorable to the welfare of the people, and the progress of the nation. Freedom, democracy, human rights, and the rule of law must be allowed to gain strength. This will close the the gap between the two sides. As this gap is closed, hostility and mistrust between people will diminish.
If Mainland China proceeds with political reform and strengthens human rights, cross-Strait relations will improve. National development will also reach new levels. People will be treated with greater dignity. This is the sort of vision that a responsible and courageous leader must contemplate and adopt.