Tsai Ing-wen main­tain­ing ‘com­mon sense’

The China Post - - COMMENTARY -

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.

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