China’s tirade against Tsai shows its lack of democracy
Presidential candidate and Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) Chairwoman Tsai Ing-wen is in New York after a meeting with Antony Blinken, the U.S. Deputy Secretary of State. In a tour that State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf described as yielding “constructive exchanges,” Tsai appears to have scored a high mark in her pre-election tour for presenting ideas. Her mission was to reassure the U.S. of the ramifications of a possible DPP victory in the upcoming 2016 presidential elections.
Bilateral trade, national defense, and international participation were among the topics of discussion, Tsai said. The United Daily News mentioned in yesterday’s paper that the U.S. terminology was an upgrade from its expectations of a “productive exchange” prior to the meeting.
While such delicate shifts in diplomatic terminology are always subtle, it is gratifying to see one of Taiwan’s two major parties pull off smooth consensus-building with a major international partner. “The simple fact is that I walked in,” Tsai said, regarding her meeting with Blinken in the state department building, a fact that has been highlighted as a first for a Taiwan presidential candidate.
Tsai’s platform of “maintaining the status quo” has been attacked as “empty” and she also faced a direct challenge from the mainland, with the country’s U.S. Ambassador Cui Tiankai coming out in an open challenge to Tsai by demanding that she “pass a test with 1.3 billion Chinese people.”
She has not embraced the “1992 Consensus,” but the basic point of maintaining prosperity — and protecting the peace that is a precondition for that prosperity — is a common goal. The “status quo” is a dangerous concept to rely on if it is purely defined as resistance to change. Instead, it should engender resolving the crossstrait disagreement on Taiwan’s terms.
From the PRC’s perspective, they are annoyed at the internationalization of Taiwan’s politics. Cui started off from this premise, rebuking Tsai for not “talking about affairs with compatriots” and instead going to America. In a direct response, Tsai said that “If I needed to take a test, the Taiwanese people are my only evaluators, and I need only present my answers to the 23 million people of Taiwan.”
But that ignores the reality of the very proper and necessary role that diplomacy, and behind-the-scenes negotiation, play between Taiwan and the United States, and of course among all countries. The very existence of politics speaks to the necessity of striking deals in confidentiality, of brokering agreements, of addressing issues with relevant people. While China may be annoyed at Taiwan’s activities in forging relationships and discussing issues, it is not reasonable to expect discussions on only “economic issues” when Taiwan reaches out across the globe.
The discussion of populations, and the meaning behind it, is vastly different between Cui and Tsai. Whereas China’s reference to its massive population contains not a little trace of haughty overbearance, Tsai’s response was a simple statement of the accountability that comes with democracy in Taiwan. Lin Chia-lung, Taichung’s mayor, put it well when he said that China’s claim to represent its people is shaky since they don’t go through democratic elections.
Indeed, the discussion of a mandate implies the respect for opposition that Taiwanese hold dear. When Tsai talked about a passing grade for the Taiwanese people, there was the expectation that she would be faced with disapproval from a significant number of the populace. For China, however, there is no significant opposition tolerated by a one-party state. Cui’s challenge for Tsai to “pass a test by 1.3 billion people” while most Chinese officials come to office unelected shows only Beijing lack of understanding of the basics of democracy.
This is not a true appreciation of democracy, and the contrast is strong between the standards that Tsai has to live by and the standards that China’s words carry. Whichever presidential candidate wins in Taiwan, she or he will indeed have to pass the test of majority government, but simply claiming a mandate from 1.3 billion is just a lip exercise.