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.
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.