China’s tirade against Tsai shows its lack of democ­racy

The China Post - - COMMENTARY -

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.

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