DPP Must Address Its Cross-Strait Achilles Heel
China Times editorial (Taipei, Taiwan, ROC)
March 24, 2012
Summary: The DPP reviewed the reasons for its electoral defeat for one month. Now it is finally taking the next step. Party spokesman Lo Chih-cheng is visiting the Mainland "in an individual capacity" to conduct cross-Strait exchanges. Whether this is one small step for the DPP, or one giant leap for cross-Strait history, remains to be seen. It all depends on whether the DPP leadership has the wisdom, determination, and courage, to formulate a new cross-Strait policy.
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The DPP reviewed the reasons for its electoral defeat for one month. Now it is finally taking the next step. Party spokesman Lo Chih-cheng is visiting the Mainland "in an individual capacity" to conduct cross-Strait exchanges. Whether this is one small step for the DPP, or one giant leap for cross-Strait history, remains to be seen. It all depends on whether the DPP leadership has the wisdom, determination, and courage, to formulate a new cross-Strait policy.
Tsai Ing-wen, despite her enormous popularity, lost the 2012 presidential election. This amounted to a wake up call for the DPP leadership. If it refuses to honestly re-examine its cross-Strait policy, it will never return to power. As a result, before she stepped down as party chairman, Tsai Ing-wen urged the DPP to "Understand [Mainland] China while it interacts with it." Acting party chairman Chen Chu openly declared that party officials are encouraged to learn more about the Chinese Mainland and to enage in more exchanges.
Unfortunately the DPP's cross-strait policy Gordian Knot is not the result of a lack of communication. DPP county chiefs and city mayors have visited the Mainland to promote the sale of Taiwan grown fruits. DPP officials have frequently had private dealings with the other side. The DPP conducts frequent exchanges with the other side. The problem is that these exchanges have never induced the DPP to change its party line. This time Lo Chih-cheng is breaking the ice. But objections have also been voiced within the Green Camp. Former Mainland Affairs Council Chairman Joseph Wu criticized the party's review of its election defeat. He said the DPP had "allowed the KMT and CCP to set the agenda." He said "The responsibility of the opposition party is oversight. The ruling KMT says the DPP must conduct exchanges with [Mainland] China. If the DPP obediently complies, it amounts to opposition party negligence."
Joseph Wu's argument reflects the thinking of many Deep Green people. They believe the DPP must clearly differentiate itself from the KMT on cross-Strait policy, As they see it, the two sides are not engaged policy rivalry. They are mortal enemies engaged in a life and death struggle. The DPP has been guilty of even greater hyperbole. They have reinforced cross-Strait segregation. They have engaged in populist demagoguery each time an election rolled around. They have deliberately cast the KMT, which advocates cross-Strait exchanges, as an "organization that panders to [Mainland] China and sells out Taiwan." They have demonized Lien Chan and Ma Ying-jeou's policy of cross-Strait reconciliation as "pandering to [Mainland] China and selling out Taiwan." In the past, the DPP benefitted from such populist demagoguery. The KMT was unable to defend itself against such smears. But the biggest victim of these political dirty tricks is actually the DPP.
This time, those who voted their pocketbooks swung the the presidential election. They were praised for making a wise choice. The public perceives the two parties a certain way The KMT is responsible for exchanges. The DPP is responsible for confrontations. One plays good cop. The other plays bad cop. The result? Taiwan benefits. In other words, the confrontation between the two major Blue and Green parties may be a zero sum game for them. But it has unintentionally resulted in a division of labor. The DPP acts as a powerful counter-force. This forces the other side to make concessions to the more moderate KMT. This division of labor, ensures the ROC's sovereignty and a peace dividend for the voters. They are the biggest winners. Alas, it also relegates the DPP to the role of perpetual opposition party. It must forever play the role of opposition party.
As former Democratic Progressive Party legislator Julian J. Kuo observed, if the DPP is willing only to play bad cop, it will remain forever outside the loop on cross-Strait affairs. It will remain forever outside the loop when it comes to improving the quality of cross-Strait policy. It will remain forever outside the loop as more and more citizens vote their pocket books on cross-Strait policy. This good cop/bad cop cross-Strait scenario is clearly unfavorable to the DPP. Julian Kuo laments, "The DPP must not forever play bad cop."
The DPP is trapped within the role it chose for itself. The DPP has effectively incarcerated itself within its own cocoon. The DPP can compete with the KMT on cross-Strait policy. But it must not persist in irrational, win/lose style confrontation, It must not oppose direct links, oppose ECFA, oppose the entry of Mainland capital, oppose Mainland tourists visiting Taiwan, and oppose the recognition of Mainland academic credentials. These have made the DPP appear out of touch with reality. These have made it impossible for the DPP to win over voters.
In fact, many DPP leaders are aware of this systemic problem; The DPP has long relied on inciting cross-Strait antagonism to win votes. But this has mired them in another predicament. The DPP hopes to remake itself as a centrist party, But it fears Deep Green voters will then turn to the Taiwan Solidarity Union, or even join with Deep Green leaders in the DPP who hope to begin anew. Over the past few days, these Deep Green elements began making a move within the Legislative Yuan. Three extremist TSU legislators experienced a meteoric rise within the legislature. Green Camp supporters have complained that the DPP is doing nothing DPP legislators are concerned that the TSU will become the tail that wags the dog, This reflects the predicament the DPP is in.
Lo Chih-cheng and others may have taken the first step, But the way forward remains strewn with obstacles, His effort may not bear fruit. But unless the DPP wishes to remain an opposition party, it cannot retreat. Fortunately, no elections are scheduled for the next two years, DPP leaders need not deal with populist pressure, They can calmly consider new cross-Strait policy paths.
Exchanges are merely the first step. DPP cross-Strait policy must be realistic. In particular, DPP legislators must change their political agenda and political style within the legislature. How can the DPP rid itself of its ideological strait-jacket?. How can it establish a stable framework for interaction with the other side? That depends on the wisdom on the party's leaders.