Tsai Ing-wen maintaining ‘common sense’
Presidential candidate and Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) Chairwoman Tsai Ing-wen’s U.S. trip has already been lauded by her aides as being very successful, and her speech on Thursday at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in Washington, D.C. could be seen as icing on the cake, with sections of it to please everyone — that is everyone except her idealistic supporters who have promoted her as a viable alternative to the politics of current President Ma Yingjeou.
Her speech, titled “Taiwan Meeting the Challenges: Crafting a Model of New Asian Values,” has already been lauded by the U.S., and is seen as having placated American allies regarding her cross-strait policy should she win the 2016 election. Aside from comments pertaining to Taiwan’s cherished democratic values, and pushing an economic model that moves to innovation, Tsai had something to say about the status quo, saying it “serves the best interests of all parties concerned,” while placing cross-strait ties “in accordance with the will of the Taiwanese people and the existing R.O.C. constitutional order.”
The ruling Kuomintang ( KMT) was not impressed (at least not outright). And neither was China, since there was no outright mention of the “1992 Consensus” or Ma’s oft repeated lingo of “no unification, no independence, no use of force” in maintaining the current status quo. The Presidential Office spokesman accused Tsai of “taking for granted” the last seven years of the Ma administration even though she stated that both sides should “treasure and secure” the fruits of 20 years of cross-strait negotiations.
But what Tsai’s speech and her actions in the U.S. have revealed is that a much wished for “consensus” that exists in Taiwan between the KMT and the DPP has reared its not-so-ugly head. The quicker Taiwanese society becomes aware of this fact, the less disappointed they will be after the transfer of power in 2016. Stability and consensus have prevailed. But we must ask, how?
Italian philosopher Antonio Gramsci wrote convincingly about how the values of political elites become the “common sense” values of all major segments of society and permeate the thinking of potential political rivals, causing them to adopt and even work to maintain a “status quo” that is not necessarily in their interest.
While stating that Tsai had “taken for granted” the fruits of Ma’s framework for a cross-strait consensus these past few years, the current administration is probably quietly swelling with pride: by a means of transfusion and supplanting of ideas, a “common sense” has prevailed and has blurred partisan boundaries on conduct in politics with China — and best of all, it was achieved without much arm-twisting or protest.
The formation of a cross-strait consensus on three levels (domestically in Taiwan, in the cross-strait context, and internationally) reveals the pervasive power of ideas that are impervious to much advocated, much promised notions of transparency, accountability and control. While it is perhaps fitting to say that Tsai Ing-wen is a realist shaking off her oppositional cloak in favor of the garb of an eventual leader, this observation is only made more complete when we consider the relative weakness of democracy and citizen accountability toward their candidates of choice.
The majority of Taiwanese citizens have long realized that the world does not revolve around the island and that the whims of greater powers must be hedged in order to achieve a balance conducive to the benefit of the greater good. Today’s lesson is not how Tsai has let down her supporters and the undecided voter, but rather the overarching strength of prevailing ideas that supplant pragmatism with critical thinking in many voters’ minds, making them ready to accept (perhaps begrudgingly) that a viable candidate on the island must horse trade vaunted principles in order to build consensus.
“Will of the people?” How many people does it really take to build “societal” consensus? Apparently, not that many.