Page 2 of 2 What's going on in Taiwan?
By Peter Lee
Well, almost everybody. David Brown, a professor at Johns Hopkins and a member of the board of the American Institute in Taiwan, the de facto US embassy, pointed out some of the holes in the democratic logic of this exercise in an open letter to the Nelson Report.
Beyond the AIT's engrained discomfort with the DPP and the nagging fear it will upset the US-PRC diplomatic applecart with an unplanned Taiwan crisis, one might speculate that the Obama administration is not keen on establishing the precedent that its cherished Trans Pacific Pact or TPP - a lobbyist-penned giveaway to multinational corporations that, ironically (or if you're a cynic, inevitably) recapitulates the CSSTA in its globalization lineaments, free trade principles, and need for discrete executive
negotiation to keep the populist hounds at bay - might also be subjected to the indignant scrutiny of a crowd of flower-waving, slogan-chanting students.
The DPP's furious response to Brown came from the DPP's representative to the United States, Joseph Wu.
Per Focus Taiwan:
Wu said seeing the movement as a DPP election mobilization effort rather than as an extension of previous activist movements against land expropriation in Miaoli County and the controversial Fourth Nuclear Power Plant constituted "slander of the 500,000 people who took to the streets" Sunday.
If the best example of KMT anti-democratic tyranny the DPP can come up with is the KMT's studious disregard of a county government landgrab and the issue of the Fourth Nuclear Power Plant, the DPP is pretty much working with "intense feelings of grievance" - which it holds in abundance and can summon up on any political occasion - as opposed to "genuine grievances incapable of redress through the democratic system" to justify its anti-democratic charge.
Consider this August 2013 report on the contretemps surrounding the Fourth Nuclear Power Station, which the DPP adamantly opposes:
A parliamentary vote in Taiwan on whether to hold a referendum on the completion of the Lungmen nuclear power plant descended into a brawl between opposing parties.
The vote, proposed by the ruling Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) party, had been scheduled today in the Legislative Yuan on whether construction of Taiwan's fourth nuclear power plant, which is already nearing completion, should continue.
Some 40 lawmakers from the opposition Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) barricaded themselves inside the legislative chamber yesterday. They remained there overnight in an attempt to stop today's session, including the vote, taking place. The DPP is calling for the Lungmen plant to be scrapped without even holding a referendum.
The brawl broke out this morning as KMT lawmakers tried to take possession of the podium to allow the vote to proceed. Television footage showed two male legislators wrestling on the floor while groups from the opposing sides threw bottles and cups of water at each other.
The scuffle led to the session being suspended, without the vote on the referendum taking place. This will now be rescheduled.
The anti-nuclear DPP claims that it would be difficult to get at least 50% of the population to vote in a referendum with the majority voting against the plant's completion. The party said that it would do whatever it can to stop the referendum proceeding.
It will come as no surprise that no referendum has been scheduled.
An interesting case could be made that the DPP genuinely and accurately embodies popular will in a perfect fashion that renders conventional democratic practices moot, but it's clear that one-person one-vote democracy for its own sake is not a DPP fetish.
The hapless KMT has subsequently agreed to a line-by-line review of the pact. Inevitably, the DPP has escalated in response to its opponent's collywobbles (the operative phrase for taking advantage of an enemy's helplessness, "beating a dog in the water" applies here), endorsing the students' demands for a implementation of a new oversight mechanism for cross-straits negotiations before the review can commence.
Oversight is a nice idea in principle; in practice it compounds the institutional dysfunction of the ROC government and offers the DPP an additional venue for obstruction. So expect the KMT and the business community to be disappointed if they believe that this concession will finally smooth the way for the anodyne CSSTA, or that the KMT will gain much political respite as it trudges toward the presidential 2016 election season.
Setting aside the questionable elements of the DPP campaign against the CSSTA, it looks like the campaign of polarization has achieved an important purpose by revealing that the KMT lacks the will, clout, and resources to overcome the resistance of a sizable minority determined to sabotage its cross-strait initiatives.
There are also some concerns that the KMT will try to fight fire with fire, ie try to match the DPP's advantage in confrontational street action by green-lighting a PRC-linked underworld figure, Chang An-lo, to put KMT-friendly goons on the street. Indeed, Chang and a rent-a-mob appeared in front of the legislature on April 1 to denounce the students, but was faced down by students and a phalanx of policemen. If the KMT has to rely on the foul-mouthed Chang An-lo, a.k.a. "White Wolf", to serve as the face of public support for the CSSTA, the KMT is in sorry straits indeed.
It is perhaps more likely that that the faction-ridden KMT, with its jello-like adaptability, will opportunistically slosh over into the "warier of the blandishments of the mainland" position instead of trying to intimidate the DPP with a mainland-friendly street presence.
Therefore, it's unclear that the humiliation of Ma Ying-jeou will translate into decisive broad spectrum support of the DPP, whose addiction to confrontation and crisis as a political strategy and its insistence on threatening to play the independence card many voters find disturbing.
If the DPP does gain the presidency in 2016, the PRC will be facing an interesting situation in which four of the Asian democracies - Japan, Taiwan, Philippines, and India - are committed to a policy of resisting the PRC's eastward military and economic expansion and preferentially developing their own China-excluding economic and security order.
Superficially, this looks like a godsend for the US pivot. Practically, however, it would mean that the Asian democracies as a Japan-led bloc (the DPP and Japanese ultra-nationalists quietly and persistently pursue their shared anti-PRC agenda) are achieving a critical mass and the United States, instead of exercising its treasured leadership, is regarded more as a powerful but problematic asset for these nations as they chart their independent course.
In the matter of Taiwan, the ability of the United States to restrain the island's political and diplomatic aspirations is decreasing, and the day that Taiwan declares de jure independence has probably crept a little closer.
Peter Lee writes on East and South Asian affairs and their intersection with US foreign policy.