More than six months have passed since the presidential election in Taiwan. After a hiatus of eight years, the Kuomintang is in power. This actually represents the restoration of the mainland-lineage forces for the first time in 20 years — if you count the Lee Teng-hui era as rule by non-mainland-lineage forces.
As no one can see what lies ahead, we have been keeping a close eye on things with bated breath. In particular, there were worries about what would happen after the summer of 2008 when China’s hands, which had been tied by the Olympics, were freed.
Nothing has occurred; nor is there any sign of negotiations for a peace agreement. In fact, the statement by Ma Ying-jeou, the current president, that a condition for a peace agreement is the removal of missiles from the other side of the Taiwan Strait is still being quoted in Taipei. What has led to this?
For one thing, I believe there is recognition that the awareness of Taiwanese identity is now irreversible. The KMT government did things like rename the “Taiwan Post” to “Chunghwa Post” as soon as it came in. But it did not take much time to perceive that it would cause a backlash among the Taiwan populace. The cross-strait exchanges have also brought about opposition demonstrations from time to time. This appears to be one of the reasons for the abrupt decline in the approval rating of the Ma administration.
With regard to relations with Japan as well, there was an abrupt switch to a conciliatory position following the acrimonious Senkaku incident soon after Ma took office. President Ma has proposed a “special partnership” with Japan, and the National Security Council has called the relationship between the two countries “a special relationship similar to that between the United States and Britain.”
The KMT also has probably come to understand that a pro-Japan attitude will be received favorably by the Taiwanese. For the KMT, which has been out of power for a long time, a trial-and-error period was necessary to reach this point.
The biggest problem seems to be that China still does not have a Taiwan strategy and is responding with difficulty.
Up until the presidential election, China had a clear policy of overturning the Democratic Progressive Party government. All its efforts — including diplomacy with the U.S. — were concentrated on this goal. However, it now looks as though they don’t know how to reap the fruit of success.
Taiwan ardently wishes to become a member of international organizations. But if China permits the Ma government to do this, it will also have to do the same for future succeeding administrations.
In deference to the “one China” principle, the Ma administration has applied for membership in international organizations as an “observer.” For the Chinese side, though, there are no guarantees that this would not be the first step toward eventual unification. Actually there is the possibility that it would lead to the gradual annulment of the one-China principle; thus China seems undecided on how to respond.
For a country with imperialistic intentions, a moderate, conciliatory adversary is a problem to deal with. The sympathy of the international community that Tibet’s Dalai Lama has garnered with a moderate stance must annoy China. China’s real intention toward Tibet is a complete Han-ization. In fact, it may be aiming for an across-the-board crackdown on radicalized Tibetans after the demise of the Dalai Lama.
In the DPP era, which advocated independence, China was able to entertain the expectation (which I believe was an illusion) that the U.S. would not act against the use of force or threats by China against Taiwan.
But if China lays a hand on Taiwan, a free democratic system, without any provocation by Taiwan, an intense backlash in public opinion and in the U.S. Congress would be inevitable. In the end, the only option is a policy of unification through natural development of closer economic ties. On the other hand, that would mean doing nothing at all politically or militarily.
The term of the KMT government is for the next three years. Although the situation following the Shanghai Exposition in 2010 is unpredictable and does not permit unbridled optimism, the possibility has also emerged that China will stand idly by and get through these three years without doing anything.
The only possible change in the status quo might be if the KMT government accepts a Hong Kong-type of “one country, two systems” formula through peaceful negotiations. However, as far as I can see from my meager experience meeting with KMT people, that likelihood is small. Taiwan is a free and democratic society under the rule of law, and is prosperous and safe. Very few people are willing to play second fiddle to the mainland, a backward society under the one-party dictatorship of the Communist Party.
Those individuals in Taiwan with ties to the mainland may be motivated to continue monopolizing political and economic privileges in the days to come, but that lacks moral legitimacy and cannot be a political objective. The KMT government already seems to be learning this from its brief experience this time.
As a second consideration, the emergence of a KMT government this time may be good for Taiwan in the long run. The DPP must have realized that they could not stay in power only by stressing Taiwanese identity. The longer a regime stays in power, the harder it is to avoid a degree of scandal and a fed-up public. That’s the principle of democracy.
The KMT also must have learned that the Taiwanese identity — national self-determination and democratic principles — are deeply rooted in the Taiwanese people. There is no way that even the KMT can survive other than by accepting and adapting to that fact.
Hisahiko Okazaki is a former ambassador to Thailand. This article is an English translation of a Japanese article that originally appeared in the Dec. 12 Seiron column of Sankei Shimbun.