The Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) and Chinese Communist Party (CPP) — rather than Taiwan and China, as some wire agencies would have us believe — launched this weekend the fifth round of cross-strait economic, trade and cultural forum in Changsha, Hunan Province. Despite what Wang Yi (王毅), head of the Taiwan Work Office of the CCP said, the forum is not “in line with the common aspirations of people in the mainland and Taiwan,” as the main opposition party in Taiwan, the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), refuses to participate. It is, at most, a meeting between CCP and KMT representatives, two political parties whose views on unification tend to run in parallel.
The principal reason why the DPP will not send officials is that by doing so it would risk playing into the CCP’s hands. As Michael Turton of The View from Taiwan pointed out yesterday, DPP participation would quickly be manipulated by Beijing, which would claim that the party’s presence was proof that “splittists” had finally come to their senses. Another risk is that its presence at the forum would divide the pan-green (“pro-independence”) camp and draw accusations from the grassroots that it has abandoned its pro-independence spirit, which is enshrined in its Charter.
Conversely, by choosing not to participate, the DPP invites accusations that it is intransigent and against cross-strait dialogue, which helps both the KMT and the CCP (via the media) score points in the war of minds over the Taiwan independence question. Whatever it does, the DPP’s image gets hurt.
Where I differ with the DPP leadership and Mr. Turton, however, is in their insistence that nobody from the DPP should attend the forum. Rather than keep itself in a lose-lose position, the DPP could clearly state its moral opposition to unification while sending non-participating observers. Doing so would serve a number of purposes:
First, it would help mute accusations that the DPP is a “radical” party that opposes dialogue at all costs. Second, by sending observers it would make it more difficult for Beijing to portray its presence as a seal of approval to the talks and unification. And third — perhaps the most important element — by monitoring the talks, DPP officials would be able to see what’s going. This is primordial, as ever since Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) came into office on May 20 last year, cross-strait talks between the KMT and the CCP have been anything but transparent. The lack of accountability has fed fears that the KMT is selling out Taiwan while allowing the KMT and its Chinese counterpart to bypass democratic processes in the road to rapprochement. We need to know. The presence of DPP observers could infuse some accountability into a negotiation mechanism that so far has been marked by opacity. More information would also help the DPP formulate better policies as it strives to ensure that the interests of Taiwanese are protected during cross-strait negotiations.
It’s one thing for the DPP to stick to its principles — and let us hopes it never abandons them. But as the main opposition party, it also has a responsibility to keep its eyes open and ensure that the Ma administration and the KMT do not hide things from the public, which they ostensibly have done, to some degree. The DPD cannot afford to remain an outsider and to remain in the dark as a result of moral opposition to the forum. What is required at this sensitive moment is a little more than principles — what’s needed is ingenuity in a critical, and by no means easy, balancing act.