[OUTLOOK]What Taiwan needs to do nowOne of the most critical factors that affect China-U.S. relations and Northeast Asian affairs is the Taiwan problem.
Since the election of President Chen Shui-bian in 2000, China and Taiwan have grappled with the conflicting ideas of “one China” and “an independent Taiwan,” and the United States has implemented various policies to secure leverage with the “Taiwan card.” The Taiwan problem has also been a hidden factor that could bring subtle changes to the method of handling the North Korean nuclear problem.
In this regard, Taiwan’s Legislative Yuan election on Saturday can be seen as a mid-term evaluation of President Chen’s policy to distance Taiwan from China, on which international interests depend. The election was also a test of whether Taiwan’s independence movement could be carried out legally by disintegrating the stronghold of the Kuomintang, or Nationalist Party, which had controlled the legislature since the foundation of Taiwan 55 years ago.
But unlike the initial forecast that the Pan-Green (Democratic Progressive Party’s color) camp, president Chen’s pro-independence party, would win a majority in the legislature for the first time in history, the Pan-Blue (Kuomintang’s color) camp, the opposition coalition that emphasizes the status quo and negotiations with mainland China, secured control of the legislature again.
As a result, the Democratic Progressive Party’s plans to hold a referendum on a new constitution by 2006 and ratify it by 2008 are likely to be frustrated, and the passage of “reform bills” to redeem the illegal property of the Nationalist Party, eradicate the connections between politics and business, and shorten the period of military service is now unclear.
Why was the Democratic Progressive Party defeated? Above all, the party failed in its strategy of electing candidates for the large electoral district system. The youth group, the party’s foundation of support, did not participate in the voting. And the party failed to read the minds of the people. It disappointed people with its complicated factional politics within the party.
In addition to these, the so-called “correct name movement” ― in which the party proclaimed, only a week before the election, that it would join the United Nations as “Taiwan” and change the name of overseas missions and state-run corporations from “Republic of China” to “Taiwan” ― and the radical schedule for independence, which was made with the 2008 Beijing Olympics in mind, accelerated the separation of the middle class from the party.
After the election, Taiwan’s politics is facing the challenge of healing divisive national opinions and ideological wounds in a bleak environment: deep-seated enmity over the result of the 2000 presidential election, a fierce war of slander between the governing and opposition parties, black propaganda and the rumor of conspiracy over the train accident in Taipei before the presidential election.
The division and conflict in Taiwanese society that recur at every election, the imminent threat of war in the Taiwan Strait and the people’s worries about the economy are popping up again. This is well reflected in the record-low voting turnout of 59.2 percent.
In this context, the possibility of a Taiwan-style “cohabitation” is being carefully discussed. The Democratic Progressive Party, which failed to win a majority in the legislature, is facing a difficult situation where it cannot pursue Taiwan’s independence or reform bills without the cooperation of opposition parties.
As a consequence, some argue that the party should give the opposition coalition the right to form the cabinet and create a political culture of coexistence. As radical pro-independence groups like the Taiwan Solidarity Union Party, led by former Taiwan President Teng-hui Lee, have retreated, and the moderate group has emerged within the Nationalist Party, the possibility has increased.
But as there is a possibility that the opposition coalition could weaken Taiwan’s independence movement by returning to the “Guidelines for National Unification” of 1992, the Democratic Progressive Party may not easily accept this idea of cohabitation. This will be the first barometer of President Chen’s political capability immediately after the legislative elections.
The result of the election also has an impact on the tense relations between China and Taiwan. Now that the pro-independence group has confirmed that about 45 percent of the people supported its strategy for independence, it may not give up its goal, but the movement will greatly lose its intensity.
Therefore, the Chen administration is likely to carefully seek ways to improve its relationship with China and pursue the “practical” independence of Taiwan at the same time.
China welcomed the election result, saying that the excessive “independence movement of Taiwan had lost the people’s hearts.” But Beijing has put the ball in Taiwan’s court by saying, “We will listen and watch your words and deeds.”
Now, depending on Taiwan’s reaction, there is a possibility that either “a third joint operation of the Nationalist and Communist parties” or the shadow of war may appear.
* The writer is a professor of Chinese studies at Hanshin University. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.
by Lee Hee-ok