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Ma Ying-jeou vs. Tsai Ing-wen

Opposing Visions for Taiwan's Future

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Though similar in many ways, the chairpersons of Taiwan's two major parties differ markedly in their views of what's best for Taiwan. CommonWealth Magazine compares the two leaders head-to-head.

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Opposing Visions for Taiwan's Future

By Sherry Lee
From CommonWealth Magazine (vol. 427 )

Despite often converging paths, the heads of Taiwan's two major political parties have yet to engage in a genuine dialogue.

President Ma Ying-jeou, who was recently elected chairman of the Chinese Nationalist Party, or Kuomintang (KMT), and will officially assume the post in September, and Tsai Ing-wen, chairwoman of the opposition Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), actually have many things in common. Both graduated from National Taiwan University's prestigious College of Law, both have international outlooks, and both have served as chairperson of Taiwan's Mainland Affairs Council. The two party leaders have both taught at National Chengchi University, and both exude scholarly personalities.

Though their backgrounds share many similarities, they have starkly contrasting stances on domestic politics and relations with China.

When the DPP was in power between 2000 and 2008, Tsai had the authority to interpret the administration's China policy. She did not recognize the existence of the so-called "1992 Consensus," an understanding between the two sides that there is only one China, with different interpretations, developed to help the two countries sidestep the issue of Taiwan's sovereignty when discussing other issues. In the economic sphere, Tsai slammed the brakes on the development of direct transportation links and adopted an "effective management" approach to trade between Taiwan and China. Ma, on the other hand, recognizes the "1992 Consensus" and has aggressively expanded economic and trade ties with Beijing.

In a hypothetical "Ma-Tsai Summit," how would the two rationally assess rapidly growing but potentially risky ties with China? And how would they assess Taiwan's democratic development? Here is what they said:


Ma Ying-jeou:

Over the past 60 years, Taiwan has created a political, economic, cultural and social environment never before seen in an ethnically Chinese society, featuring democratic elections, fewer constraints on economic freedom, a culturally diverse melting pot, and social security system reforms. Behind these positive attributes, however, lie certain flaws. While the trappings of democracy exist, there are still problems with vote-buying and judicial rights. Though the economy is free, the single-minded emphasis on growth has challenged environmental sustainability. Social security exists but the basic safety net remains inadequate, as many disadvantaged groups still lack a sense of security. We must remain vigilant in dealing with these deficiencies.

The reforms to Taiwan's democratic system over the past 20 years, from the end of martial law to direct presidential elections, can be said to have nearly run their course. The next phase of reform involves augmenting the substance of democracy, with freedom, the rule of law, and human rights being of particular importance. Democracy is merely a frame, a process.

In Newsweek editor Fareed Zakaria's book called The Future of Freedom, he raised the concept of "illiberal democracy," where democratic elements, such as elections, exist, but the actual substance of democracy, such as the protection of individual freedoms and the rule of law, is lacking.

He wrote that 119 countries around the world regularly hold elections. Regular elections constitute an important yardstick of democracy, but often, once elections are over, very little democratic governance exists. Human rights are left unprotected, racist policies are imposed, and governments rule by administrative decree.

So human rights and the rule of law must be improved. Taiwan's second phase of democratic reform should move in this direction. If after many years of promoting democracy, vote-buying and corruption are still being used to gain power or influence, then that is not real democracy. We have to progress from an illiberal democracy to a truly liberal democracy.

Meanwhile, when it comes to the development of cross-Taiwan Strait relations, the 60-year history of strife and confrontation is beginning to thaw. The enmity held over the past three generations is gradually receding.

I believe that the era of the two sides of the Taiwan Strait flinging abuse at each other or criticizing or condemning the other side is in the past. What's needed now is how to look to the future, how to build a more macro perspective that will ensure the well-being of generations to come. This is a historic mission that the two sides cannot ignore. Contacts between the two sides are not simply a matter of having more Chinese tourists come here so people can make money, or creating more opportunities for Taiwanese businesses in China. Those are superficial. The next step is to make freedom, democracy, the rule of law and human rights the common language of the two sides. Only then will the people really benefit. I look at the issue from this higher vantage point.

Over the past year, tensions and confrontations between the two sides have eased, but there is still a long road ahead fraught with many dangers. We must proceed cautiously, one step at a time, but it is a road that we must take, because there are no alternatives. This is not tantamount to surrender or belittling ourselves; it is finding a way based on the precondition of defending the Republic of China's sovereignty and safeguarding Taiwan's dignity.

I often joke that no country in the world has ever declared independence twice. The Republic of China became an independent, sovereign nation in 1912. What's needed now is to set aside cross-strait conflicts, to oppose any military solutions, and to open up exchanges and dialogue between the people on both sides. Some of China's approaches appear to be a campaign meant to draw Taiwan into unification, and of course we must be careful, but we cannot simply do nothing because of that. If we proceed cautiously, I think we can succeed.

A Chinese graduate student who is studying in Taiwan went to Kending to take a break. He peeled the skin of his heel on the beach and went to buy sandals. As the clerk in the store was tending to him, she got him a band-aid and helped him apply it to his cut heel. The student was deeply moved by the clerk's kindness, a kindness that you don't see in the mainland.

This example shows that our educational system has more or less engendered a gentle, good-natured style within Chinese culture, which is very important. It's a style that truly captivates others and leaves them grateful.

In terms of the economy, Taiwan needs to aggressively tap into China's market because it doesn't have many choices. Foreign trade constitutes 64 percent of our GDP, and some have suggested that we change our export-oriented policies. But can we achieve that? I don't think so, so we can't change our overall direction. We can, however, make adjustments within the policy, by diversifying our markets, for example. The United States and Europe will still be the primary targets, but we also need to develop emerging markets like Russia, India and Brazil. Our products also have to become more diversified rather than being concentrated in the information and communications technology sector. We need to include solar cells and similar products. At the same time, we have to actively develop our standing in China's domestic market.

In terms of the overall direction (of China policy), cross-Taiwan Strait trade has already reached US$130 billion. What's the point of not allowing direct flights? We can no longer use ideology to govern the country.

Of course, we must also have preventive mechanisms. We cannot sell out Taiwan or belittle its sovereignty, but at the same time we cannot sit on the sidelines, paralyzed by the fear of getting hurt. We must instead courageously move forward.

During my term, what I most want to accomplish is to strengthen democracy, in both form and substance. The economy should be free, but we must also pay attention to social justice and the environment. Socially, people should have security, and the safety net must be strengthened. Culturally, we want to encourage greater diversity and a more inclusive society. It may not be possible to find a real model to learn from anywhere in the world, but at least we can set some targets.

What I really hope to do is enable Taiwan to stand out in a few major, critical areas: to maintain the dignity of both the people and the country, and to make sure our politics are democratic, our economy vital, our society secure, and our culture diverse. That is what I hope to see.

If we are determined and move forward, we can accomplish this. Trust me. We can make it.

Tsai Ing-wen:

Taiwan's democracy is an important asset, and it is the most important precondition in dealing with China in the future.

The Democratic Progressive Party's support grew rapidly in the 1990s to the point where it eventually gained power. People felt democracy had quickly taken root in Taiwan. But will democracy have staying power, and can we move toward a more mature democracy? Or will it have been simply a transitory phenomenon?

During the past 20 years of democratization, we have only done one thing, and that's to create competition. But those who have studied competition theory know that competition requires a basic infrastructure and rules of the game, neither of which exist in Taiwan.

The two most important pillars of democracy's basic infrastructure are direct democracy and election culture.

The elections held at present are all representative in nature. The candidate you select represents you in deciding important policies of the national government. There is also direct democracy, which has never taken root in Taiwan, making it impossible to hold popular referendums. So individuals have become faceless when they go to the polls and are unable to participate in a truly meaningful way.

As for the other pillar, our indirect democracy still remains enveloped in the shadow of the authoritarian era. The ideal should be two-party politics, where the stances of the parties determine how people vote. But in Taiwan, the KMT's continuing control over local factions is a bigger factor.

Thus, Taiwan's democracy may have completed its first phase, but it has not been able to keep progressing, because it lacks the necessary infrastructure and the staying power.

Also, three vital groups that sustained the democratization movement – lawyers, doctors and small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) – are no longer able to fill the role. These groups drove Taiwan's early democratic development, but lawyers and doctors have now become commercialized. After the creation of the National Health Insurance system, only large hospitals survived, and doctors lost their independence.

SMEs, at one point decades ago, relied primarily on overseas orders to survive. But over the past 20 years, Taiwan's socio-economic structure changed as companies tried to get bigger, leaving SMEs fewer openings to establish themselves. Some SMEs grew bigger and others disappeared. This move toward larger enterprises will inevitably become deeply entangled with national issues and China's influence.

A good judicial system is the most important element of a good democracy, but at present, judicial workers have widespread powers – prosecutors are allowed to apply to the court to detain suspects, for example – and major discretionary authority. During the trial process, the court also has considerable authority.

Although a cross-examination system has arisen in recent years, the court stands with the prosecutors rather than between the prosecution and defendant. In disputes between the country and its citizens, the court sides with the country rather than serving as a neutral arbiter. An independent judiciary is society's final arbiter. If it doesn't exist, democracy is a fraud.

Why is democracy so important?

Democracy's strength is that it reduces the risk of incorrect policies and decisions, even if it is more procedurally cumbersome and lacking in efficiency. It offers fairness in the modern era and minimizes the risks of policy decisions. If we move toward authoritarianism, policy decisions will be made more efficiently but at a high risk, and the opinions of many in society will be suppressed.

My greater concern right now is that the public seems to feel that the DPP's eight difficult years in power brought social turmoil. Also, the global economy's rapid change over the past decade has led society to question how it will survive. Thus, many people feel the economy is of primary importance and that other things are secondary, a sentiment fueling the fast pace of cross-strait economic ties. 

But the biggest problem between Taiwan and China is the issue of big and small. That's the case economically and also in terms of democracy. At this particular moment, if we let China's influence enter Taiwan without any resistance, our economic options will be transient, rather than becoming long-term economic policy choices. What costs will we have to pay?

Some people say that main cross-strait issue is whether or not to promote liberalization. In fact, the question isn't about liberalization. It's whether we can effectively manage risk.

Many people believe Taiwan's biggest internal problem is the "blue-green" divide (the political division between those who back the KMT and the DPP), but it is increasingly apparent that the big problem, in fact, is class.

If the government continues to emphasize the accumulation of wealth at the expense of wealth distribution, it will be a disaster.

Conflict over class interests has already surfaced in Taiwan. The middle class is shrinking, and if it disappears, the two extremes of society will clash because there will be no middle class to keep them apart. That's a terrifying thought.

Aside from creating class conflict internally, the rapid opening to China is also impeding the maturation of Taiwan's democracy.

For the sake of short-term economic benefit, the KMT has repeatedly made concessions to China. Ironically, however, if we are to deal with China in a mature way, having a strong democracy is an essential precondition. If Taiwan has a mature democratic system, the people will all have the chance to participate in facing China together with a mature and stable system and mindset, rather than having whoever is the leader decide everything.

Many people feel that my ideology is unclear. Some people say I favor independence but I'm incapable of trumpeting the traditional independence faction's dogma. My set of beliefs more closely approximates Western thinking. I am firmly convinced that democracy, freedom and an independent judiciary are the three most important things for Taiwan. 

It is highly unlikely that the issue of unification vs. independence will be resolved in the next 10 years or in this era.

Yet Taiwanese society is constantly fighting over this question. It would be more productive to take a step back and identify what the values are that we must uphold. Once the values are clear, we will discover that we can't lean too much toward China at this time, because China's values are not values that we can too closely approach.

The rapprochement between the two sides of the Taiwan Strait is moving at too fast a pace right now. I'm already unable to proudly speak of Taiwan's democratic achievements with others because we may not be able to preserve them. I really mean that. When I used to talk to people about democracy and freedom, it was as though I could guarantee them, but now we are facing a profound test, and if Taiwan's people can't hold on, there is reason to be deeply concerned about the future.

Translated from the Chinese by Luke Sabatier


Chinese Version: 馬英九vs. 蔡英文 軸線兩端,台灣往哪走?

Keywords:

好友人數