Taiwan’s elections: Chen won’t act without Bush

Ahead of Taiwan’s elections on 11 December, Taiwanese socialist Huang Ding-wang who is living abroad gave the following interview to Laurence Coates of Rättvisepartiet Socialisterna (CWI Sweden).

The dispute over Taiwan, regarded as a "renegade province" of China by the ostensibly "communist" regime in Beijing, is potentially one of the most dangerous in Asia, involving an ascendant China, US and Japanese imperialism, and much of the world’s computer industry. President Chen Shui-bian, reelected by the narrowest of margins in March, hopes for the first time to secure a parliamentary majority for his Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) by again playing the "China card" in these elections. The DPP is a bourgeois party committed to neo-liberal economic policies, which adopts an increasingly populist stance on Taiwanese independence at least when campaigning in elections. The opposition Koumintang (KMT), which ruled the island as a one-party dictatorship for 40 years, currently control parliament and are blocking the president’s plan to purchase $18bn-worth of hi-tech weaponry from Washington.

LC: In the run up to elections the debate over cross-strait relations is hotting up in Taiwan. During a recent meeting with a visiting delegation from Mongolia, president Chen referred to that country’s referendum on independence in 1990, stating this was "something Taiwan should learn from and turn to". Is he serious about a referendum on independence?

HD-W: He would get serious only when the Bush administration allows him to do so. The referendum held earlier this year [at the same time as the presidential election in March] was simply part of his election campaign. The formulation of the questions was amended after US intervention. The DPP leadership planned to hold independence-related referendums, but Washington was against the idea. Under American pressure, the questions became: 1) Shall Taiwan re-open the cross-strait talks with China? 2) Shall the Government purchase weaponry to defend Taiwan?

With the first question, which looked stupid, Chen expected most people would vote yes, and counted on an increased turn out which would help his election prospects. The second question was obviously designed to please the Bush family in exchange for Bush’s agreement to the referendums.

In the event, the referendums failed because supporters of the KMT-led electoral alliance refused to take part, and therefore turn out failed to reach the threshold of 50 per cent of eligible voters.

LC: It seems at first glance paradoxical that the old ruling party, the KMT, today takes a decidedly softer line towards the regime in Beijing than president Chen’s DPP. Why is this?

HD-W: I would say the KMT is more flexible on some cross-strait issues, like direct transport links and Taiwanese investments on the mainland. The KMT has never said that Chinese workers were welcome to work in Taiwan!

The DPP would do the same if the Taiwanese industrial capitalists were to press hard enough. Actually the DPP did de-regulate investments to the mainland. The rules were more rigid during the KMT regime. The DPP likes to provoke Beijing, but only verbally, to please independence-minded people and benefit electorally. The issue of Independence/Unification in Taiwan has become an issue of nationalism with a certain racist tendency. There are Taiwanese people who dislike Beijing because China is a poor "communist" country, Chinese people are "lower class people" and Beijing has always intervened in Taiwan’s diplomatic affairs which results in Taiwan’s difficulties in the field of international relations. The KMT looks soft on Beijing because they don’t play the verbal games. Their sluggish response to Taiwanese nationalism/racism means the KMT has lost in the battle of populism.

LC: What is the social base of the DPP? Does its support derive solely from the question of relations with Beijing?

HD-W: The DPP was established by the leaders of the Taiwanese bourgeois democratic movement – with the support of the working class. Its supporters include small-medium sized business, industrial capitalists and middle class professionals.

In the 1980s, before the establishment of the DPP, bourgeois politicians (mostly lawyers) led the anti-KMT political movements which were alliances of environmental movements, students’ movements, political reform, labour and peasants’ movements. At that time, Taiwanese independence was not the most important issue and most opposition politicians (to the KMT) did not even dare to mention the concept of independence. At that time democratic demands were the dominant political issue: the right to have opposition parties; the right to have demonstrations, rallies, and assembles; freedom of the press; freedom of speech; parliamentary reform and direct elections for the presidency. Around these slogans there were demonstrations of peasants, workers and students. Unfortunately, the working class planted the trees but the bourgeois politicians got the fruits.

The question of relations with Beijing has, however, become the most important issue since the mid-1990s. People would say the reason for supporting the DPP is still dislike for the KMT’s conservatism. However, the two national election campaigns in 2004 can prove that the question of relations with Beijing is the most important issue.

LC: How strong relatively is the support among Taiwanese people for independence, reunification with China, and maintaining the status quo?

HD-W: People have different ideas on Independence. There are different degrees of Independence. The extremists in the independence camp argue the Taiwanese are a different people from the Chinese. "Taiwanese culture is a different culture. Taiwanese is not Chinese. Taiwan will need to have a new name, new constitution, new national anthem and flag", they say.

Then there are those who say: "Taiwan IS an independent state. Independence means that we are not ruled by the Beijing government".

An amendment of the old constitution would be needed for Taiwan to become an independent nation-state. Taiwan would need to become a member of UN and have official diplomatic relations with most countries.

I would say that most people support the idea of maintaining the status quo. However, regarding the cross-strait issue, people are still divided by the questions of direct communications and investments. Only very few people would support reunification.

LC: There has been a significant modernisation of China’s military capability in recent years. Previously, few commentators thought China had the military capacity to stage a successful invasion of Taiwan. Is this the case today?

HD-W: I don’t think China has the ability yet, if the definition of successful invasion is an invasion without destroying much infrastructure. However, they do have the ability to block all transportation in and out. That would paralyse Taiwan’s economy.

Taiwan has always expected/relied on American and Japanese military intervention in the event of a cross-strait conflict.

LC: As part of a new round of sabre-rattling between the governments in Beijing and Taipei, Taiwan’s prime minister Yu Shyi-kun recently threatened "If you strike Taipei and Kaoshing [with missiles] I should at least be able to strike Shanghai". How are these statements received in Taiwan? Is there mass support for a "tough" stand against Beijing and high military expenditure?

HD-W: President Chen denied making threats. He said Premier Yu’s talk was not "properly manicured". The ultra Taiwan-nationalists welcomed the speech but not the majority of Taiwanese people. Yu has been competing for nomination for the next presidential election. This speech was his first attempt to comment on international/cross-strait affairs, in order to show Taiwanese people his potential ability as a national leader.

LC: There is speculation that Chen has an agenda: to push for a constitutional change more clearly defining Taiwan as an independent state in 2008, when the Olympics come to Beijing and – so the argument goes – the regime in Beijing wouldn’t risk a military confrontation with Taiwan. What’s your assessment?

HD-W: The agenda is obvious. The question is: how strong his intention is. Chen has never been an idealist, revolutionist nor extremist. He is very "practical". Beijing would ask Washington to intervene if Chen crosses the line. Beijing has always won so far (since it changed tactics and started hiding behind Washington).

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