Friday, July 17, 2009

Taiwan can’t afford a fissiparous DPP [UPDATED]

The Democratic Progressive Party’s (DPP) Central Advisory Committee will hold a meeting next Thursday to make a final decision on the expulsion of members Fan Chung-tzung (范振宗) and Hsu Jung-shu (許榮淑) for defying a party ban on attending a cross-strait forum last week. DPP regulations stipulate that DPP members are allowed to visit China in a personal capacity, but are barred from doing so as officials, which is why Fan and Hsu are facing expulsion.

While the cross-strait forum is very much a Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT)-Chinese communist Party (CCP) affair, this time around Beijing made “accommodations” so that DPP members could attend. As I argued in a previous article, as the main opposition party the DPP cannot afford to not know what’s going on at the forum, especially at a time when cross-strait rapprochement is being managed by the KMT and CPP in less than transparent fashion and when the Legislative Yuan has been sidelined by the executive. My argument was that the DPP should seek to achieve an admittedly difficult balancing act by sending observers while clearly stating its opposition to the manner in which rapprochement has been orchestrated under the administration of President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九).

Fan and Hsu did not go as observers, nor did they attend in a personal capacity. In other words, they attended as DPP members, which the CPP (and to a lesser extent the KMT) could exploit to tell the world that the pro-independence party agrees with the process of unification — in other words, that it has come to its senses. In TV interviews last night, Hsu made it clear that her attending the forum in Changsha should not result in questioning of her allegiance to Taiwan, which, given her long service to country and party, is a fair statement. Her participation does not mean that she has abandoned her aspirations for Taiwanese independence.

Yes, Chang and Hsu broke party rules. But expelling them would be self-defeating, as it would play into the CPP’s divide and conquer strategy and splinter a party that since its twin defeats in the legislative and presidential elections last year, added to its minority in the Legislative Yuan, has struggled to remain relevant. Delinquent members, if they can be thus called, should be reprimanded for their infractions, but expulsions are too drastic and would further weaken the party while serving as fodder for those who argue that the DPP is intransigent, intolerant and unable to make accommodations.

The DPP’s problem is not that it bars members from going to China — to wit, Kaohsiung Mayor Chen Chu’s (陳菊) visit in May to promote the World Games — but that it lacks a strategy regarding its members’ participation in cross-strait talks, which whether we like them or not are simply inevitable. Dialogue is not intrinsically bad; what’s needed is for a confident opposition to ensure that talks do not sabotage Taiwan’s sovereignty and right to determine its own future. Expelling members for attempting to do so simply closes the door on dialogue and monitoring, and helps ensure that the process remains opaque. Admittedly, that opacity creates fears in the Taiwanese polity, fear that the DPP can exploit to its advantage. But a self-respecting political party worthy of running a country must have more to propose its people than that. Fear is the weapon of the weak, a poor alternative to ideas and policies.

DPP Chairperson Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) should overturn the decision to expel Fan and Hsu — hopefully via democratic means, meaning through party vote — before more harm is done to the party’s image. Failure to do so will open yet another door, one that allows critics of the DPP and Taiwan independence to portray the party as “extremist” and oppositionist at all cost. In other words, a party that claims to fight for democracy but that in reality acts far short of the principle.

UPDATE

Thanks to Taiwan Echo (see comments for this story) for providing extremely useful precisions on Hsu’s comments after she returned to Taiwan. This has forced me to revisit my assumptions about the gravity of her “error” and what the DPP should do about it. One question that needs to be asked, now, is what motivated her to do and say what she did? This is highly hypothetical, but I’m beginning to wonder if Chinese operatives might not have been keeping DPP officials under observation for signs of weakness or shifts in ideology for possible cultivation. It would be interesting to see if Hsu was directly invited by the CPP to attend — and if so, who. I have long argued that increased contact following an influx of Chinese in Taiwan would result in more espionage, collection and — yes — influence of local leaders. If, and this is a big if, Hsu was cultivated and approached by China because they were aware of a “weakness” in her identification with the DPP (old age, conflicts of interest, blackmail or perhaps even failing mental health), she could indeed have been used to create a rift within the DPP. Under such a scenario — this calls for investigation, not a witch hunt — I would definitely be in favor of her being expelled from the party.

16 comments:

FOARP said...

Yeah, I simply do not get why folks at the DPP don't get the obvious opportunity to play on potential KMT-CCP rifts (and anyone who thinks that there aren't any needs a reality check), and front themselves as the people best equipped to deal with the mainland. You see this in Europe all the time - the public preferring for Eurosceptic parties to represent them as they are much more likely to get their way since they are not committed to making up and being nice. Refusing to play any part in this and then banging on about 'secret deals' when they had an opportunity to at least partly confirm for themselves what was going on is just pure stupid. If these guys get thrown out expect Taiwan to have a new political party - Taiwan Progressive Party sound like a good name? Either that or they'll go over to the KMT taking their supporters with them.

David said...

I must disagree. I think the DPP is totally right to ban its members from participating in the KMT-CCP forum. The forum is part of an undemocratic process that is undermining Taiwan's sovereignty. If the DPP participated it would give the forum a veneer of legitimacy which it doesn't deserve.

Of course the DPP desperately needs to create a creative and productive strategy for dealing with China. However, participation in the KMT-CCP forum should not be part of it.

FOARP said...

@David - DPP attendance only adds legitimacy in the view of that shrunken cohort of people who still support the DPP. Judging by recent poles people broadly support the KMT, and presumably these meetings.

Dixteel said...

I agree with David on this one.

DPP's participation in it will only legitimize the forum as a platform between China and Taiwan, which it definitely should not be. (It should only be party-party platform, at most. But even that is not good for Taiwan IMO.)

That is what Ma and CPP intended. To make this matter INTERNAL instead of international, by negotiating between only political parties.

DPP's participation would be a great disadvantage to Taiwan, because it will lead Taiwan down the same road as Tibet and Xinjiang.

MikeinTaipei said...

I don’t disagree with you, David and Dixteel. Just trying to think of alternatives to the DPP as “outsider” in the talks. And I think expulsion is a little harsh, and ultimately divisive. We’ll see how this one plays out.

Here’s a thought: As DPP members are not barred from visiting China in a personal capacity, why don’t they organize their own cross-strait forum with likeminded reformists in China (or vice-versa, by inviting Chinese reformists to a forum in Taiwan)? This would show the party’s willingness to engage China, and if, as can be expected, Beijing prevented such a forum from taking place, the DPP would be scoring points anyway.

Άλισον said...

I am afraid these reformists in China will not be allowed to leave China to come to Taiwan for a DPP-initiated cross strait forum.

The CCP–KMT forum is a meeting between the two parties that seeks to extend their cooperative efforts on continuing to dominate China and Taiwan’s political affairs, and maybe to make Taiwan’s KMT party officials become China’s regional governors in the near future.

Do we see China’s economic progress benefit the vast majority of China’s poor people? Do we see Taiwan’s KMT policy of opening-up to China benefit the majority of Taiwan’s working class?

Obviously, it’s a forum to ensure that the two parties look after the benefits of their party officials.

How about the rest of the people on both sides?

Craig Ferguson said...

It's ultimately a no-win situation for the DPP. By not attending, they lessen their options for criticizing the forum. The KMT and CCP can simply respond by saying "we invited you and you didn't come. If you wanted input or to criticize etc. you should have attended". And to a point they're right.

On the other hand, attendance gives ammo to China in their unification statements.

Lose-lose for the DPP.

I don't think the two members should be expelled. Attempts at talks, no matter how futile or misguided should be encouraged. Lack of dialogue just creates more tension and mistrust. At the end of the day, peace between the two sides is the most important thing and peace only comes through talking.

Taiwan Echo said...

I am not sure if what Hsu and Fan said to Taiwanese about China after they came back are truthfully conveyed to the public, or, be exact, to the English world.

I read that they told Taiwanese that "only after you actually visit them will you know how wholeheartedly the China government treat Taiwanese, just like treating own families." (not word to word)

Comments like that are probably even more damaging to Taiwan than many of KMT China-visiting members did.

With that, keeping those two members inside DPP and try to argue that they are doing that for Taiwanese benefit will most probably cause DPP support base to crash completely.

That is, to kick them outta DPP is a necessary step to keep DPP intact.

Therefore, I am surprised that Mike would argue his support to Hsu and Fan's China visit based on the reason of preventing DPP from splitting apart.

Άλισον said...

Thanks to Taiwan Echo for informing the English-only readers on critical update of the real situations. Your continued information and feed is absolutely appreciated. Thanks!

MikeinTaipei said...

I agree that under its current configuration, the KMT-CCP cross-strait forum creates a lose-lose situation for the DPP. Aside from creating a whole new paradigm, the DPP will have to try to minimize the negative repercussions and choose the lesser evil, I guess. I would never encourage “participation” by the DPP, whatever form it could take, if doing so risked lending credibility to the KMT-CCP talks — this must be avoided at all cost. But internally, I’m afraid that if the DPP starts expelling members who fail to toe the line (first the forum, then what next), it’ll implode and risk sounding authoritarian, which could be even worse in the long-term than the repercussions of having people attending the forum.

Taiwan Echo: Thanks for the additional information. I had heard, and read, those comments by Hsu about the “warm welcome” she received at the hands of Chinese officials. “Troubling” though her comments were, everybody with a critical mind should see through Beijing’s charm offensive and take her views with a grain of salt — and I hope people are. Every official who’s ever been to China has been treated the same way, as Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger’s memoirs about their visits there will tell you. Of course officials in Beijing will not start insulting (at least not openly) visiting DPP officials, as they’re trying to woo them and show how “hospitable” and “reasonable” they are.

Hsu should be asked by the DPP to clarify the matter publicly — and perhaps to issue an apology. But I disagree that she should be expelled over this.

Thomas said...

Here's an idea: Not expel them and have them on the condition that they publicly express their loyalty to Taiwan as an independent country. Meanwhile say that this is a warning and that further participation in this forum will result in expulsion but that the DPP will support exchanges that are legal and do not denigrate Taiwan. In otherwords, give them the slap on the wrist they deserve and save the big guns for the next time, if it happens.

Thomas said...

I actually think that position would be quite supportable. As this is the first time such a thing has happened, and as there was not sufficient notice, the party should use this as an excuse to formally craft a new engagement policy. They could even make a big deal about it in a positive way, referring in each press release to the no-no that these two members committed and how it incited the DPP to positively make its position clear. The DPP needs to work on media relations and on its image. And they need to learn how to spin the negative into a positive.

Taiwan Echo said...

"Hsu should be asked by the DPP to clarify the matter publicly"

I think Hsu has been in the politics probably the whole life. She is not a 3-year-old who needs people to tell her what damages her move has made and what she should have done to control or reduce the damages.

Besides, I believe she had plenty of chances to do just that. It's not like she is forbidden from speaking to the public after she came back from China.

The difference between our points of view might come from that you look at it from a broader angle, but I look at it from a position closer to what a DPP supporters might stand.

From that position, what she said about China, "中國對待我們像骨肉", is very very damaging. Its direct translation to English is "China treats us like bone and meat." It's not just a common description of "warm welcome." In Chinese language, it means China treats them like "parents to kids". The term is to describe extremely close family relationship -- not even siblings can be described with that term. It is probably hard for English readers to picture the culture meaning and implication of what she said.

Like I said before, not even KMT members who visit China dare to say that to Taiwanese (except 吳伯雄, the current Chairman). To many Taiwanese, Hsu has made it crystal clear what she aims for. That makes it crystal clear to DPP as well -- it's either Hsu, or DPP supporters. There's no blurry line here.


ps. There are 3 levels that China uses to brainwash Taiwanese:

同胞 a fellow citizen
兄弟 a sibling
骨肉 a son/daughter

Anyone from Taiwan who uses 同胞 or 兄弟 will be criticized heavily. Hsu went even further by describing Taiwanese are children of China officials.

MikeinTaipei said...

Taiwan Echo: Thanks for all this; this is extremely helpful and I had indeed missed some of the nuances — as most non-native-Chinese-speakers probably did. Which now begs the question, given Hsu’s long affiliation with the DPP: Why did she say these things?

MikeinTaipei said...

This is highly hypothetical, but I’m beginning to wonder if Chinese operatives might not have been keeping DPP officials under observation for signs of weakness or shifts in ideology for possible cultivation. It would be interesting to see if Hsu was directly invited by the CPP to attend — and if so, who. I have long argued that increased contact following an influx of Chinese in Taiwan would result in more espionage, collection and — yes — influence of local leaders. If, and this is a big if, Hsu was cultivated and approached by China because they were aware of a “weakness” in her identification with the DPP (old age, conflicts of interest, blackmail or perhaps even failing mental health), she could indeed have been used to create a rift within the DPP. Under such a scenario — this calls for investigation, not a witch hunt — I would definitely be in favor of her being expelled from the party.

Taiwan Echo said...

Can you believe this? DPP trashes their own rules of firing Hsu and Fan !!!

范振宗許榮淑訴諸情感 中評會逆轉

According to the report, Hsu and Fan behaved "emotionally touching" in the Central Review Committee (CRC) (Fan was weeping) and said that they would accept any decision of CRC as long as they remain DPP members. That got CRC to violate their previous consensus of kicking them out and gave them 3-year suspension instead.

After the meeting, however, Hsu and Fan turned their faces immediately and started to complain that the ruling is unacceptable and they are gonna appeal.

Whatever Hsu and Fan have in mind, it seems obvious that they made a great effort to ensure that:

(1) They appear in the CCP-KMT forum;

(2) They say something more damaging to Taiwan than KMT members dare to say

and most suspiciously,

(3) They must remain DPP members.

That brings the situation much closer to your suspicion, Mike.