Wednesday, 23 July 2014

On DPP Strategy & Taiwan's "Status Quo": A Brief, Tangential Response To Timothy S. Rich's Article At "Thinking Taiwan"

It is now after 8pm in the evening and typhoon Matmo has long since left Taiwan and is on its way to China. It has been perfectly safe to go outside since about lunchtime and I could have been working for at least the second half of today but there is an election coming and the city mayor felt it necessary to cancel the greater part of everybody's economic activity for the day. Lost earnings.

Anyway, I have been meaning to read some of the recent articles up at "Thinking Taiwan" for a while but have been too busy with work and my own interests. Now is an opportunity to do so. One of those articles is very brief and is entitled "Defining Taiwan's Status Quo". The context of the article is the DPP's electoral strategy for the upcoming local elections this year and the presidential and legislative elections in 2016. The foreground subject is the question of whether the DPP should continue its charter support for de-jure independence for Taiwan, or whether it should replace this clause with one favouring the status quo of de-facto independence in some form or other. The author, Timothy S. Rich points out some problems with the definition of "status quo". I found a couple of semi-interesting points in his article...
 "For others the status quo is just a game of wait and see, both in terms of what China may or may not do, but also as Taiwanese identity evolves." 
This was a strange point that I didn't understand. In as much as the stipulated context here is Taiwan's political status viz China, is not Taiwanese nationalism a simple binary? You either are Taiwanese or you aren't. Remember that the political point at stake here is a simple binary: Taiwan will come under direct rule from the government in Beijing or it won't. So in that strict context the only political implication of how people in Taiwan identify themselves is whether they are Taiwanese (and thus do not favour direct rule from the government in Beijing) or not. What else is there for Taiwanese identity to "evolve" to? How many bicycle trips they make, how many pictures they take of Taroko gorge and other such fluff is strictly irrelevant.

Other than that, if nationalism is going to affect Taiwan's political status at all, it will surely be the nationalism on the other side of the Strait, in that a less and less strident Chinese nationalism may reduce popular support in China for any aggression against Taiwan, though I don't think too much confidence could be placed in that even if it were to happen and besides there are many other factors that would affect a Chinese attack on Taiwan.

The second point I found interesting...
"While greater appeals in general to status quo identifiers benefit the DPP’s electoral chances, redefining the status quo — for example to focus on strengthening the quality of Taiwan’s democracy — may provide a better means to this end."
It is easy to see the logic behind that point; after all there does not appear to be anywhere else to go for a DPP intent on replacing its' charter support for de jure independence. All they can do is make noises about how China needs to change to become more like Taiwan before they would support unification.

However, I still think this is a mistake. If they are going to insist on something like that at all, it would be better to state the object at a higher level of abstraction as governance or systems of governance rather than democracy. The reason for this is that the term "democracy" necessarily implies electoral mechanisms, and these are not necessarily the best (and may in many cases be the worst) and certainly not the only means for establishing and sustaining social orders. Whilst a commitment to "strengthening the quality of democracy" sounds like a relatively safe substitute for de-jure independence as a means of articulating opposition to rule from the government in Beijing, it may also commit the DPP to all kinds of votist idiocies where alternative means of sustaining social order might have worked better. In particular, I am thinking of private property rights, optional purchasing agreements for major infrastructure projects and the despised Land Theft Act and the Urban Renewal Act which facilitate such projects by simply legalizing theft. The problem lies with the fact that both of those pieces of legislation rest upon the democratic, utilitarian premise that the many get to violate the rights of the few on the basis of contestable "public interest" claims. If I were asked what I would alter the DPP's de jure independence clause to, I would say "depoliticization" as I continue to argue repeatedly.

On the other hand, a commitment to "strengthening the quality of democracy" might allow the DPP to pull an unexpected move or two. For instance, they could argue for dropping the nationality requirement for election to public office. That would allow Chinese and other nationality candidates to directly stand for election in Taiwan and to explicitly compete with Taiwanese politicians. The possible advantage of that is not that the foreign candidates would be better politicians and administrators, though in some cases they might, but that Chinese candidates may force Taiwanese candidates from the KMT to move closer to the DPP. Competition with the Taiwanese may in turn affect Chinese candidates and require them to adopt policies that more Taiwanese would support - possibly to the frustration of the government in Beijing. Imagine for instance a Chinese candidate in a Taiwanese election; in order to win election, he or she is going to have to make significant overtures to an electorate worried about annexation in order to garner votes. In so doing, the fact that the candidate is Chinese may mean he or she will have to go much further than a Taiwanese candidate would be willing (or able) to do. These may include things like more transparent oversight of trade agreements. The logic here is similar to the claim that Richard Nixon was able to carry public support in opening talks with Deng Xiaoping only because he had previously established anti-communist credentials in the U.S. media.

However, I am not in favour of voting on other people's values for basically the same reason I am opposed to cannibalism. I'd rather have competing and cooperating systems of private governance that tend to respect individual property rights and to produce more efficient outcomes. Of course that may be dismissed as unrealistic, but I don't see that I have any other acceptable choice than to support liberalization and depoliticization against centralized, monopolistic, Statist forms of governance whether of the red, blue or green variety.


I see J.M. Cole has published a piece about the DPP's independence clause at the Diplomat.

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