Ma on independence

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.

9 Responses to “Ma on independence”

  1. Ben Goren Says:

    Head of nail, meet hammer.

  2. Pat Says:

    Excellent analysis as always. The only thing I’d add is that while Ma’s question is an excellent campaign tactic, it is not one that he himself should be making; as an incumbent president with an approval rating south of 20% whose policies are incredibly unpopular, the less he involves himself in the election the better for his party. The DPP must be pleased to see him wading into this fight.

  3. Tim Maddog Says:

    Wait, what? “Tsai will ignore the question”? Tsai has already answered the question without falling into that not-so-brilliant trap. She said it’s “a status quo that sees Taiwan as not belonging to China.”

    • frozengarlic Says:

      Tsai ignored his version of the question. The KMT will continue to try to get her to admit that if she approves of the status quo and they had something to do with creating that status quo, she must approve of KMT policies over the past seven years.

      • Tommy Says:

        Yes, that is what the KMT would like her to admit. The question is over the good that this persistence will do for them. Fundamentally, it does not matter what the KMT’s interpretation of the status quo question is. It is more important what voters think. A voter who has not benefited much from the past seven years has no reason to accept Ma’s interpretation over Tsai’s.

        The question is the degree to which Ma looks like a broken record. So I guess I agree with Pat’s comment and think that it is a poor idea for Ma himself to be making these points. The more that it is Ma who makes them, as opposed to Chu or Wang, the more an unpopular blowhard steals the limelight from the guys who need it most.

  4. ジェームス (@jmstwn) Says:

    I believe many Taiwanese would say, and the DPP itself would even argue, that democracy is an essential element of Taiwanese identity, citing 228 and other events as support. (Democracy may even become THE essential element as the nation simultaneously becomes more integrated and more ethnically diverse.) Thus they’d edit your “nationalism vs democracy” framework to “Chinese nationalism vs Taiwanese democracy.” How would you respond to that?

    • frozengarlic Says:

      Nope. There are a lot of people within the DPP (and larger green side) who are also primarily nationalists. They don’t speak as loudly these days, but there are voices who see all mainlanders as illegitimate residents who should be sent back home to China. The big differences is that the state architecture and status quo were designed by Chinese nationalists, and the Chinese nationalist side has a powerful ally in the PRC which could overturn the current regime. The Taiwan nationalist side is muted because democracy is their most powerful weapon. However, if the DPP takes power in 2016, the Taiwan nationalists will come out of the woodwork and try to impose their vision with disdain for democratic processes. The greater pressure on democracy comes from the Chinese nationalist side, but there is also a threat from the Taiwanese nationalist side.

  5. Tommy Says:

    Incidentally, your question over the constitution is relevant to Hong Kong. In HK, the pro-establishment has been going out of its way to claim that the composition of the nominating committee must be within the parameters of the Basic Law, which the NPC has supposedly used as the basis for its decision on political reform.

    The pan-democrats, much to my disappointment and disgust, have never managed to utter the reality that the Basic Law has provisions for amendment. Therefore, the NPC did not have to make its decision on the composition of the nominating committee based on the Basic Law. It should suffice for HK people to determine the type of system they want, then submit an amendment to the Basic Law, which the NPC has the power to approve. This would resolve the controversy over the nominating committee.

    I am disgusted with the fact that this point has not been made because it is so obvious, yet nobody is talking about it. The decision to or not to amend the Basic Law, from the start, has been a political one, not a legal one. Similarly, who gives a poop what the ROC constitution says? It only says what it says until it is amended. At that time, it will say something else. It’s as easy as a hooker in Pattaya.

  6. After Ma-Xi | Frozen Garlic Says:

    […] to pursue Taiwan independence or One China, One Taiwan in Taiwan today. Even Ma Ying-jeou himself once took out an ad in a major Taiwan newspaper stating that Taiwan independence was a legal, though not desirable, […]

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