From the Asia WSJ:
Taiwan’s ‘Pragmatic Path’
By MA YING-JEOU
February 7, 2006
In recent years, Taiwan has seen its economy stagnate while deep divisions in the political arena threaten to tear apart our country’s social fabric. From our country’s name to its anthem, flag and symbols of national unity, there is little consensus on the issues on the political agenda.
Externally, Taiwan was conspicuously absent from December’s East Asian Summit in Kuala Lumpur. Not being part of either Northeast or Southeast Asia, while refusing to forge closer ties with the Chinese mainland, Taiwan finds itself without friends in the region. That is graphically demonstrated by issues such as the bird-flu threat, which Taiwan is left to fight on its own.
The woefully low popularity rating in Taiwan of President Chen Shui-bian and his ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) is but a reflection of the wider morass our country is facing. The Kuomintang (KMT) and I have watched this deterioration in Taiwan’s situation with sorrow and dismay. Our landslide victory in the local elections of December 2005 was a victory for the Taiwanese people, and a vote of no confidence in the incumbent DPP administration. Although the DPP will still remain in power for the next two and a half years, we cannot and should not shy away from the hopes pinned on us by a majority of voters on Taiwan. Taiwan can do more and Taiwan’s people deserve more.
The key is for Taiwan to refocus itself on greater democracy, openness, and pragmatism. The quintessence of democracy is a government executing the will of the people. In particular, Taiwan’s people yearn for a government free from corruption, a country free from internal strife, and a region free from confrontation.
The KMT must thoroughly rid itself of corruption and illegal electioneering at all levels, and closely monitor the Chen administration for similar misconduct. Government exists to serve the public, not to reap personal gain. We should pursue all corruption and election cases with same, or even greater, alacrity and rigor that I did while serving as justice minister in the KMT administration from 1993-96.
Politically, the KMT should serve as a responsible and responsive opposition party. We should act as a check and balance on the ruling party and the Chen administration, while always keeping our actions within reasonable limits and being mindful of the national interest. As a society, Taiwan has been internally divided for too long. It is time to begin the healing process. To aid this process, the KMT is determined to pursue a course of reconciliation rather than emotional confrontation.
Likewise, the KMT should continue to help lower tensions across the Taiwan Strait. In 1992, when I was senior vice chairman of the cabinet-level Mainland Affairs Council, the KMT administration ironed out a political compromise with Beijing on the knotty issue of one China, known as “one China, different interpretations.” During the 1990s, Taipei conducted 24 rounds of talks with Beijing, including a landmark meeting between Chairman Koo Chen-fu of the Straits Exchange Foundation and President Jiang Zemin in 1998. We participated in these discussions without jeopardizing Taiwan’s security, economy, democratization, or international standing. I see no reason why we can’t repeat them in future.
Taiwan needs a new paradigm – a fresh way to look at itself and others. For too long the country has been torn between its Chinese and Taiwanese identities, between the ideas of unification and independence. The KMT now believes that neither unification nor independence is likely for Taiwan in the foreseeable future and that the status quo should be maintained. The island’s future should be determined by its people, rather than the government. In this fresh paradigm, Taiwan sees itself in a new light. I am confident that as the island further opens itself up, it can only become more prosperous and secure.
It is a hard fact of life that Taiwan lives beside a communist giant. But we need not view our geographical position in a negative light. That communist giant is also the world’s largest factory and source of manpower. Taiwan is also fortunate to be located close to the world’s second largest economy, Japan; and just across the Pacific from the world’s only superpower, the United States. If Taiwan could maintain friendly relations with all three nations, while not making an enemy out of any of them, the island would prosper forever.
Taiwan also has much to contribute to the region. Its political and economic development and its cultural and linguistic receptivity to China, Japan, and the West allow it to play a uniquely positive role among the three big powers. The last thing it needs, and which it can scarcely afford, is to become a bone of contention in the big-power game.
The problem is that, instead of pursuing such a pragmatic path, over the past few years Taiwan has been too “idealistic” for its own good.
During the 1990s, Taiwan was justifiably proud of the political democratization it had built upon its economic miracle. But after the transfer of power from the KMT to the DPP in 2000, the Chen administration got carried away and pushed, in rapid succession, for a referendum, a new constitution, and even a change in Taiwan’s name. Few other countries have amended their constitutions as many times as quickly as Taiwan – seven times in the last 15 years. Yet, even after all these changes, President Chen was still vowing, in his recent New Year’s Day message, to push ahead with another, even more comprehensive round of amendments.
Being a new democracy does not entitle Taiwan to rock the boat in the regional waters. We should instead seek to advance the security and stability of the area. In a similar spirit of pragmatism, Taiwan, while it seeks to defuse tension across the Taiwan Strait, should also demonstrate its determination to protect itself by maintaining adequate defensive capabilities.
The controversial arms-procurement bill to fund weapons purchases from the United States is still pending in our parliament, the Legislative Yuan. I believe all sides need to refrain from politically or emotionally-charged accusations about this issue. Instead we should deal with it by weighing up four factors – cross-strait relations, Taiwan’s defense needs, its financial capability, and public opinion. This is a grand debate about Taiwan’s national security and a valuable exercise in democracy. A consensus forged in good faith will be all the more cherished in future.
Opportunity and challenge always exist side by side. In the last five years, Taiwan has focused more on challenges at the expense of opportunities. With more democracy, openness, and pragmatism, Taiwan can rectify this, and the voyage ahead will be smoother and swifter as a result.
Mr. Ma is chairman of the Kuomintang in Taiwan.[/quote]