Look Beyond the Election, Consider Taiwan's Future
China Times editorial (Taipei, Taiwan, ROC)
October 27s, 2011
Summary: President Ma's proposal for a cross-Strait peace agreement has provoked intense controversy between the ruling and opposition parties. Yesterday, during a KMT Central Standing Committee meeting, Ma reiterated that his cross-Strait peace agreement would write the status quo into law, thereby precluding the use of force. He wondered why the opposition Democratic Progressive Party opposed the two sides moving towards peaceful development. He noted in particular how former President Chen Shui-bian and DPP Chairman Tsai Ing-wen made similar proposals. He said the DPP should not attempt to paint his proposal red, and accuse him of "selling out Taiwan." President Ma has turned the peace agreement into the central theme of this election. He has enabled the public to vote not just for the candidate of its choice, but also for the cross-Strait policy of its choice.
Full Text Below:
President Ma's proposal for a cross-Strait peace agreement has provoked intense controversy between the ruling and opposition parties. Yesterday, during a KMT Central Standing Committee meeting, Ma reiterated that his cross-Strait peace agreement would write the status quo into law, thereby precluding the use of force. He wondered why the opposition Democratic Progressive Party opposed the two sides moving towards peaceful development. He noted in particular how former President Chen Shui-bian and DPP Chairman Tsai Ing-wen made similar proposals. He said the DPP should not attempt to paint his proposal red, and accuse him of "selling out Taiwan." President Ma has turned the peace agreement into the central theme of this election. He has enabled the public to vote not just for the candidate of its choice, but also for the cross-Strait policy of its choice.
President Ma has proposed a public referendum. Perhaps he hopes to emphasize that any cross-Strait peace agreement will be decided by the people. Perhaps he hopes to neutralize any concerns and accusations. Whether his initiative has had a positive or negative impact on the election is hard to say. Some think he foolishly poked a stick into a hornet's nest. Others think that turning the election into a debate over cross-Strait issues will work to Ma Ying-jeou's advantage.
The KMT once feared accusations it was "selling out Taiwan." Political negotiations or political agreements with the Chinese mainland were seen as box office poison. But President Ma has defied the Conventional Wisdom. He has put himself to the test. He hopes to see whether a president, elected by a democratic republic via the democratic process, can withstand allegations of "selling out Taiwan" based on provincial origin. He wants to see whether members of the public on Taiwan have sufficient confidence in themselves, as masters of their own country.
Actually Ma Ying-jeou made it clear from the very beginning that any peace agreement would be subject to three prerequisites: national need, public support, and legislative oversight. If any of the three were missing, if the time was not ripe, no peace agreement would be signed, even if the golden decade was up. The government would not sign merely for the sake of signing. It had no timetable. Nor was it the government's highest priority.
Nevertheless, as expected, the proposed peace agreement was greeted by wave upon wave of DPP attacks. DPP spokesmen accused him of having a timetable for reunification. Party Chairman Tsai Ing-wen even said that Ma's peace agreement would subject the public on Taiwan to four dangers. One. It would sacrifice "Taiwan's sovereignty," because sovereignty was not a prerequisite. It would push Taiwan into Beijing's "peaceful reunification" framework. Two. It would change the status quo. A cross-Strait political agreement would require clearly defining the two sides' position on sovereignty. That would inevitably change the half-century long cross-Strait status quo, under which neither side asserts its sovereignty over the other. Three. It would threaten democratic values. President Ma is turning the issue into a political football. He does not respect the public will, and is inciting controversy and confrontation. Four. It would reduce strategic depth. He clearly stated he would like the matter settled within ten years. This is tantamount to setting a timetable for political negotiations. This would reduce the bargaining chips Taiwan has during cross-Strait negotiations.
But a chasm looms between this and what Ma Ying-jeou actually said. One. Ma did not equate a peace agreement with reunification. He said that if any of his three prerequisites were missing, or if the time was not ripe, there would be no rush to sign. Therefore allegations about timetables are utterly baseless. A peace agreement has yet to be drawn up. Not even a rough draft exists. How can anyone say that "Sovereignty was not a prerequisite?" Where is the evidence that it is certain to change the cross-Strait status quo? Ma made clear that any peace agreement would require public approval. How can it possibly endanger democratic values? Nor did he say it must be signed within ten years. If the public does not support it, it can drag on well past ten years.
Let us review the past. Tsai Ing-wen said that if she is elected president, she would establish a "Taiwan consensus." She would solicit public opinion, while adhering to democratic processes. She said this would ensure peaceful and stable cross-Strait interaction. She said her "Taiwan consensus would not rule out any possibility." As long as the public on Taiwan supported it, any relationship with the Chinese mainland was possible.
Ma Ying-jeou said a public referendum would determine whether or not to sign a peace agreement. Tsai Ing-wen said a "Taiwan consensus" was a precondition for a cross-Strait peace agreement, She said that as long as the public on Taiwan supports it, the DPP is open to closer relations with the Chinese mainland. Both stressed that cross-Strait policy must be determined by the democratic process. So why is Ma Ying-jeou's proposal being singled out for attack as "pro reunification?" Even when he has repeatedly said, "no [immediate] reunification, no independence, and no use of force?" Meanwhile Tsai Ing-wen has adopted a "nothing is being ruled out" posture toward Chinese reunification. Why is she not being challenged regarding her position?
President Ma has gone a step further and proposed a public referendum. It is a renewed commitment to democratic institutions. It is not easy to pass a public referendum. The threshold is extremely high. But a peace agreement has yet to be drafted. Not a single word has been committed to paper. For the ruling and opposition parties to squabble over a public referendum at this moment is utterly pointless.
Reality tells us the world is constantly changing. But most politicians on Taiwan have no vision. They stare at the present, and assume that is how it will be in the future. They extrapolate the future based on the present. But that is not the way the world works. Today's Taiwan is different from Taiwan ten years ago. Ten years from now, it will undergo even more changes. The same is true for the Chinese Mainland. Today's cross-Strait relations will not be cross-Strait relations a decade from now. The question is, can we make changing cross-Strait relations work to our advantage in the coming decade and beyond? Ensuring opportunities for ourselves tomorrow, requires hard work and planning today.