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Tuesday, May 22, 2007


Moderate Hsieh?

Since Frank Hsieh's victory in the DPP primary, we have been treated to a series of stories about how Hsieh is a moderate on relations with China compared with Chen Shui-bian. The corollary is that Taiwan's relations with China will improve even if the DPP wins again in 2008. This of course is music to the ears of those who are living Jim Mann's China Fantasy.

Peter Enav's take on the significance of Hsieh's nomination a few weeks back was typical:

Hsieh's candidacy raises the prospects of a significant improvement in Taiwan's relations with China, from which it split amid civil war in 1949.

Because according to Enav:

Unlike President Chen Shui-bian, also of the Democratic Progressive Party, or DPP, Hsieh has tried to trim expectations that Taiwan can ever formalize its de facto independence.
But let's take a look at what Hsieh actually says himself on these issues. On April 19th, Hsieh's blog posted a scan of a open letter from Hsieh. The letter is structured as a series of questions and answers on core issues facing Taiwan.

People have asked me about the Constitution's One China.

When the DPP took power in 2000, it was forced to recognize the Constitution. But to resolve the structural problem of the One China constitution, we have to face this issue and debate it before we can get rid of it.

I am the only premier to have publicly said before the Legislature that we should amend the Constitution to take out the One China language. I am confident that if we deepen democracy and strengthen consciousness of Taiwan as a community, Taiwan will have a new constitution that comports with Taiwan's current status .

This is hardly "trimming expectations that Taiwan can ever formalize its de facto independence." Like Chen, Hsieh advocates a new constitution that eliminates One China and formalizes Taiwan's current status.

What does Hsieh think Taiwan's current status is?

People have asked me about the issue of normalizing our country.

Taiwan's road to democracy can be compared to crossing a powerful river. If you cannot cross directly, sometimes you have to go around to move forward. Through the reform of the 10,000-year legislature, direct elections of our president, the elimination of Taiwan Province, the abolishment of the National Assembly, and the creation of constitutional right to referendums, the Republic of China has already been "Taiwanified." The next step is to make Taiwan a normal country. If more than 80% of the people identify with Taiwan, the 3/4 threshhold for amending the Constitution won't be a problem. We need to have confidence and continue applying for UN membership as Taiwan so that the international community will recognize Taiwan.
First, the Republic of China has been localized over the past two decades of political reforms. The Republic of China has become Taiwan. Now Taiwan needs to normalize. One aspect of that normalization is that the Taiwanese people need to become secure in their Taiwanese identity. A second aspect is that Taiwan should apply to world organizations under its own name.

Hsieh is unequivocal that Taiwan's current status is that of a sovereign and independent nation.

People have asked me how I am different from Ma Ying-Jeou

Ma Ying-jeou and I are different. He advocates keeping the Constitution's One China article. I advocate getting rid of it. Ma Ying-jeou thinks that Taiwan's current status is that of a political entity, not a sovereign, independent country. I think that Taiwan's current status is that of a sovereign, independent country. Ma Ying-jeou also recognizes the right to referendum. But his vote will be for unification with China. My vote will be to defend Taiwan's sovereign and independent status and to make Taiwan a welfare state founded on dignity, justice, and happiness.

We can now see the cold, hard propositions that Hsieh sometimes obscures with his frothy rhetoric.

  • Taiwan needs a new constitution that reflects Taiwan's current status.
  • Taiwan's current status is that of a sovereign and independent state.
  • Therefore, Taiwan's constitution should be amended so that Taiwan is a sovereign and independent state.

The question of course is how and when to do it.

People have asked me about reconciliation and coexistence.

Taiwan is a country with diverse peoples and cultures. If we do not coexist we have no future. You must be a subject [主體 In the philosophical sense of one who is the master of one's own fate as opposed to an object of the will of others] before there can be reconciliation. You must have your own identity before you can coexist. If we are divided, our enemies will benefit and the people will suffer. If outside forces threaten Taiwan's existence, we need to speak as one to the outside world and demand that China remove its missiles.

Identifying with Taiwan as a community is the precondition for coexistence. I hold that the new Taiwanese identity should be one of self-affirmation and tolerance so that all of our people can feel secure, free from fear of retribution or discrimination, and feel a sense of being at home. Reconciliation is for the people and coexististence is for Taiwan. This day will come to pass. I am sure of it.
Hsieh's concept of coexistence 共生 is an originally Buddhist term that is now the standard modern translation for symbiosis via Japan. It is also an important term in modern Japanese and Korean thought that has both Buddhist and biological overtones. Hsieh's use of the term is simplified in the English-language media as meaning that Taiwan needs to find a way to get along with China by adopting a lower profile and not doing things China dislikes.

But we can see here that the main force of reconciliation and coexistence is domestic. Reconciliation and coexistence is Hsieh's way of building up and solidifying Taiwanese identity so that the political goals of a new constitution and normalization can be realized. A strong Taiwanese identity is the precondition for external
reconciliation and coexistence with China rather than the erroneous notion that Hsieh is advocating that reconciliation and coexistence with China take priority over Taiwanese identity and nationhood.

Beyond the issues of identity and independence, Hsieh also has an alternative vision of a Taiwan based on the DPP's reformist core values. Hsieh is admittedly fuzzy on the specifics but it should not be that difficult to see that Hsieh wants to move Taiwan in the direction of a European-style welfare state away from the development state that is the KMT's default model for Taiwan and one that the current DPP administration has essentially acquiesced to.
People have asked me what kind of country Taiwan should be?

Vision is not something that changes every day. It should be a commitment, something that you work on for a lifetime to realize. My commitments to the well-being of the people of Taiwan are
  • Taiwan first
  • Culture first
  • Environment first
  • The disadvantaged first
I moved the old Kaohsiung Railway Station 83 meters to preserve it. After the new station was built, I moved it back to preserve Taiwan's memory. This was protecting Taiwanese identity as a subject. I succesfully brought the 2009 World Games to Kaohsiung and I will seek to bring the 2020 Olympics to Taiwan to create a common experience for our future generations and thereby build a collective Taiwanese consciousness.
Frank Hsieh the moderate? I don't think so.

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At 2:29 AM, Blogger channing said...

Like Chen before his election, Hsieh is giving himself an aggressive profile, but Hsieh also wants to distance himself from Chen's mistakes.

Chen's mistake was exactly by taking this course: To please his main support base, he screams crazy and "provocative" ideas. To please the US and Beijing, he openly contradicts his ambitions with "four noes" and whatever else.

In the end, Chen became a distrusted lame duck (at least to the educated population) because of his obvious self-contradictions. In everyday life, these are called lies.

In the end, did Chen start working on a referendum? Did Chen make Taiwan de jure independent? Did Chen start proposing a new Constitution and national name as he said he would? Did he start a legal investigation into the history of KMT and CKS so that the 228 finger pointing would end? Did Chen unify the DPP when the party has to distance itself from him when he says something controversial?

Moderate or not, I hope Hsieh would not tread this unwise path if he is elected.

At 4:18 PM, Blogger 阿牛 said...

Great post, Feiren.

At 11:36 PM, Blogger Taiwan Echo said...

Great post, Feiren. This helps me to know Hsieh better too. I am hoping that I have time to translate your article into mandarin and post it somewhere, but most probably I won't have time in the near future.

At 11:50 PM, Blogger Taiwan Echo said...


I don't think you treated President Chen fairly.

How many countries in the ENTIRE HUMAN HISTORY has ever walked from an authoritarian system to a democratic one in such a short time (~20 years) WITHOUT BLOODSHED ???

To my knowledge, NONE !!

Being the first Taiwanese president to kick KMT out of office, Chen's priority is to prevent the retaliation from pro-china power from launching another 228-like massacre to wipe out Taiwanese elite (judging from the way pan-blue reacted after they lost elections, this is not a remote possibility). He has to play the card of ambiguity in order to keep all sides balanced.

Your comments on him might make sense if he was a president at some other time of Taiwan history but not now as we are standing in a cross-road where the conflict between Taiwanese conscience and the pro-China power is at its peak.

From my point of view, it's a blessing to have him being the president at this very moment of Taiwan history --- A blessing for both green and blue supporters.


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