China Times Editorial (Taipei, Taiwan, ROC)
March 2, 2015
Executive Summary: The presidential election is heating up. Outdated political rhetoric has resurfaced. Reaffirming our national sovereignty has been given a rebirth. If this rhetoric resurfaces, the ultimate goal will be the same as before, to tear Taiwan apart and escalate cross-Strait tensions. That will truly be unfortunate. Suppose such populist demagoguery succeeds in recapturing political power? What price will we pay? Consider Taiwan's current situation. What we need to worry about is not the loss of sovereignty, but the loss of optimism and self-confidence, as well as the loss of bargaining chips.
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DPP Chairperson Tsai Ing-wen has registered for the party presidential primaries. She has officially announced her cross-Strait policy. She has declared that the DPP will strive to maintain cross-Strait peace and stability, but stressed that "Where we differ the most with the KMT is reaffirming our national sovereignty. That is our top priority." Hearing this, anyone who still imagines that Tsai Ing-wen will offer a new, eye-opening cross-Strait policy, is going to have his hopes dashed. Despite countless exhortations, she has reverted to the same tired old political sophistry.
Green Camp Sophistry
Over the past several decades, we have been inundated by terminology such as "Taiwan", "sovereignty", "independence", "constitutional", and "State".
These have been paired with terms such as "sell out" and "reaffirm" in various permutations and combinations. The result has been Green Camp sovereignty rhetoric. On the one hand, it is used to attack blue camp opponents. On the other hand, it is used to incite cross-Strait confrontation, creating unnecessary fear and anxiety. The DPP is once again playing the "reaffirmation of national sovereignty" card. Is this the policy platform Tsai Ing-wen's aides and advisers took so long to come up with? If so, then Tsai Ing-wen clearly has no intention of permitting the green camp to establish a new cross-Strait relationship. On the contrary, she has totally reverted to traditional green camp political rhetoric.
So Tsai Ing-wen wants to reaffirm national sovereignty? In that case, we have two questions. One, according to the ROC Constitution, national sovereignty belongs to the people as a whole. Short of a coup d'etat or military occupation, national sovereignty is hardly at risk. Currently, neither a coup nor an occupation is possible. The Mainland's economic strength and international clout are of course increasing. Taiwan's economy has fallen into recession. Its political status has been weakened. Its international status has declined. The public is deeply concerned about the nation's future. Put bluntly, the problem currently facing the nation is a loss of governing ability, a loss of competitiveness, and a loss of international status. It is not any purported loss of national sovereignty.
Reversion to Joint USA-PRC Management?
Two. Applying Tsai Ing-wen's logic, why must Tsai Ing-wen be elected president? Why is she the only one who can reaffirm our national sovereignty? Why can't someone else reaffirm our national sovereignty? Was the KMT's performance so unsatisfactory? Is a change in ruling parties necessary? If Tsai Ing-wen is elected, how will that reaffirm our national sovereignty? How can she prove that she would reaffirm our national sovereignty better than current president Ma Ying-jeou? Just what would she do to more effectively reaffirm our national sovereignty?
Interestingly enough, on this most critical of all questions, Tsai Ing-wen has absolutely nothing to say! We are reluctant to bring up the matter of “kong xin cai”, i.e., Tsai Ing-wen's penchant for spouting hollow rhetoric. But she remains utterly unaccountable. Her "reaffirmation of our national sovereignty" is nothing more than empty talk. Superficially she said a lot. Substantively, she said nothing. Fortunately, the DPP has an eight year record we can refer to. Tsai Ing-wen served as a cabinet minister during that period. During those long years, the political rhetoric invoked by former President Chen Shui-bian was actually more vivid than Tsai Ing-wen's. He provided so many examples of “reaffirmations of our national sovereignty” we can hardly forget. He imposed a Closed Door Policy and prevented any substantive cross-Strait exchanges. Through zero sum game “scorched earth diplomacy”, he did everything in his power to intensify cross-Strait confrontation.
Did all these political maneuvers really reaffirm national sovereignty? Of course not. During that period, every one of the ROC diplomatic allies were at risk. All opportunities for participation in international organizations were blocked. The US president even shamed Taiwan in front of Mainland political leaders. The foreign media characterized the situation as USA-PRC "Joint Management of Taiwan". Did this really “reaffirm our national sovereignty"?
Contrast this with the achievements of the Ma government, which has been relentlessly humiliated and reviled by the green camp. During its rule the two sides have enjoyed peace, prosperity, tourism, commerce, cultural and educational exchanges unseen for the past half century. These have significantly increased cross-Strait understanding and narrowed the psychological distance between the two sides. Current allies show no signs of defecting, and opportunities for participation in international organizations have substantially increased. Best of all, a record high number of countries now offer visa free entry. An ROC passport now allows us to travel almost anywhere. This can hardly be characterized as a “loss of our national sovereignty" or "weakened national sovereignty". Yet every green camp politician and pundit seems to parrot this accusation.
Ma Did More than Chen to Reaffirm Our National Sovereignty
Let us return to the fundamentals. Just exactly who "reaffirmed our national sovereignty"? How does one "reaffirm our national sovereignty"? Does the intensification of cross-Strait tensions, the freezing of cross-Strait exchanges, even the escalation of cross-Strait tensions, official and private, "reaffirm our national sovereignty"? Or does the resolution of cross-Strait hostility and misunderstanding, enhanced cross-Strait trust and understanding “reaffirm our national sovereignty"? The proof of the pudding is in the eating. These two real world experiments have already been conducted. Is it still unclear which approach "reaffirms our national sovereignty"?
Can someone as smart as Tsai Ing-wen not know how hollow the term "reaffirm our national sovereignty" sounds? She knows it is merely a word game. She knows it puts Taiwan at risk. So why does she insist on trumpeting it? The only explanation is that she sees the Ma government's unprecedented low prestige, the success the student movement had last March when it blocked the STA, and sees political advantage to be gained. That is why she is trumpeting it.
Loss of Self-Confidence and Bargaining Chips
Those who remember the previous presidential election will recall that green camp spokesperson Tsai Ing-wen spoke exclusively about fairness and social justice. She never even mentioned "reaffirming our national sovereignty". Tsai Ing-wen now maintains that this was the DPP's highest priority and the biggest difference between it and the KMT, If so, why was it not even mentioned in 2012? Has reaffirming our national sovereignty only become important in 2016? Was there no need to “reaffirm our national sovereignty” in 2012?
Those who are analyzing Tsai Ing-wen's remarks must remember that in addition to "reaffirming national sovereignty", Tsai Ing-wen also wants to "maintain cross-Strait peace and stability". This is indeed intriguing. Her remark lacked both preamble and postscript. Mentioning it in the same breath as "reaffirmation of our national sovereignty" is strange indeed. As we all know, so-called reaffirmation of our national sovereignty is directed at the Mainland. On the one hand she wants to eliminate the threat from the Mainland. On the other hand she is "committed to cross-Strait peace and stability". Of course one can strike a balance between the two. But how? She admits Chen Shui-bian was unable to do so. So how will she? Shouldn't she explain?
The presidential election is heating up. Outdated political rhetoric has resurfaced. Reaffirming our national sovereignty has been given a rebirth. If this rhetoric resurfaces, the ultimate goal will be the same as before, to tear Taiwan apart and escalate cross-Strait tensions. That will truly be unfortunate. Suppose such populist demagoguery succeeds in recapturing political power? What price will we pay? Consider Taiwan's current situation. What we need to worry about is not the loss of sovereignty, but the loss of optimism and self-confidence, as well as the loss of bargaining chips.