President Ma has come out swinging over the past few days. Two statements are particularly interesting.
First, Ma noted that Tsai Ing-wen claims she will maintain the status quo. Ma demanded to know if she wants the status quo from seven years ago or the status quo from today, seven years later. This is a brilliant trap question, like asking a man whether he has stopped beating his wife. No matter which way she answers, Tsai is backed into a corner. If she were to answer that she wants today’s status quo (her current position), she has to acknowledge that Ma’s seven years of governing have produced something worth keeping, that ECFA has produced benefits, and that the 92 Consensus has been useful. If she answers that the status quo from seven years ago was better (not her position), she will look like someone trying to live in the past and she will threaten everyone with interests in China. Tsai will ignore the question and insist simply that she wants to maintain the status quo. However, I expect to hear this question a few more times over the next eight months.
Second, Ma responded to criticism that One China was currying favor with China by arguing that One China is grounded in the constitution. Ma proclaimed, “This is delineated in the Republic of China’s constitution. How can our constitution permit two Chinas? How can it permit one China, one Taiwan? How can it permit Taiwan independence?”
Perhaps we should allow 2006 Ma Ying-jeou to rebut 2015 Ma Ying-jeou. In 2006, when KMT Chairman Ma was preparing to run for president, the KMT placed an ad in the Liberty Times stating that independence was a legal choice for Taiwan. Ma clarified that the KMT certainly did not support independence, but it did see independence as a possible choice, albeit a lousy one. As a democracy, Taiwan’s citizens certainly had that option. At the time, this was a major step for Ma and the KMT, and it was fairly controversial within the party.
Apparently 2015 Ma Ying-jeou no longer believes that Taiwan independence is a legal option. None of the relevant parts of the constitution have changed since then, but Ma seems now to believe that Taiwan independence is unconstitutional. Taken to the logical extreme, the government should revert back to Premier Hau Pei-tsun’s suggestion for how to deal with advocates of Taiwan independence: Arrest them all.
What Ma (and everyone in Taiwan) has to decide is what the essence of the constitution is. Is the most important point that the country is China, or is the most important point that the country is a democracy? Is it a nationalist constitution, or is it a democratic constitution? If it is a democratic constitution, the citizens of the state have the fundamental right to determine the nature of the state. If they become dissatisfied with the nature of the state, they have the right to change it. If the nature of the state is set in stone and the citizens of the state are not allowed to change it, it isn’t a democracy.
Israel can either be a Jewish state, or it can be a democracy. In the short run, it might be able to remain a Jewish democratic state, but if the population changes preferences, it will have to decide. In the USA, there are many who argue that the USA is a Christian state. Again, it can be a Christian state or a democracy, but it can’t be both. Iran has confronted this head on. It is an Islamic state, specifically one that gives special status to one sect of Shiites; democracy has clear limits. Thailand also seems to have confronted the fundamental choice it faces between democracy and monarchy and opted for monarchy.
In Taiwan, most people believe that the fundamental division is between a Chinese identity and a Taiwanese identity. I wonder if the real battle for Taiwan’s soul is actually nationalism against democracy.