2008 has almost left the scene, and while I can't say that it has been a great year for me, it hasn't been a bad one, either. The same can't be said for Taiwan, unfortunately. There is the rapidly deteriorating economy to be concerned about, of course. But although things are going to get much worse before they get better, the economy will eventually turn upwards again. Politically, however, the situation has been getting bleaker and bleaker since May, and only a die-hard believer in the cause of Chinese nationalism has any reason to be optimistic about the future. It looks like 2008 will go down as the year Taiwan turned a corner, only the path turned out to be a U-turn leading back towards the dark days of the past.
The administration of Ma Ying-jeou (Ba Eikyū) 馬英九 has taken a lot of criticism over the course of the last seven months, virtually all of it justified. In its defense, it can be argued that there isn't much that can be done to shield Taiwan from worldwide economic trends, and that the long list of broken promises and failures isn't unique to this island in that all politicians in all democratic countries will say anything to their electorates in order to get voted in. But what cannot be explained away so easily is the slow, steady erosion of the components of Taiwan's democratic system of government. We have seen opposition politicians getting jailed, the judicial system being tampered with by the ruling party and heavy-handed police responses to public expressions of discontent with the current state of affairs. All this (and more) has gone hand-in-hand with the growing rapprochement with China, at the cost of Taiwan's status as a sovereign nation. This island is inexorably marching towards the day when it "returns" to the Chinese fold, most likely as some kind of "Special Administrative Region", no doubt with KMT 中国国民党 politicians of reliable mainlander backgrounds running the show, and what remains of the DPP 民主進歩党 either imprisoned, exiled or cowed into silence by the police and the courts (a la Singapore).
There are those out there in the blogsphere who hope that the Taiwanese will soon wake up to what is going on, and do something to stop the clock from ticking back to the days of the martial-law era police state. It shouldn't be forgotten, though, that 59% of the voters opted for Ma and the KMT. They knew (or ought to have known) full well what they would be getting into (despite all of Ma's reassurances to the contrary during the campaign), but nevertheless they chose to believe the promises about growth, GNP and standards of living, and thus gambled on attaining "immediate" economic benefits over long-term solidification of a still-young democratic political order. Now it appears they've lost the bet. At least they've gotten a couple of pandas out of it all. As it is increasingly unlikely there will be a fair and open presidential election in the year 2012, at least they can enjoy going to Taipei Zoo to see Tuan Tuan and Yuan Yuan, safe in the knowledge that Chinese missiles are protecting them from the threat posed by a hostile Japan (a country which has never wavered in its determination to recover Taiwan, issuing a constant stream of threats to attack, building up its offensive forces in the area and conducting intimidating military exercises...)
Speaking of those revanchist Japanese, Hisahiko Okazaki in the Japan Times ジャパンタイムズ wonders why there has been "No sign of a 'peace agreement'" between China and Taiwan (http://search.japantimes.co.jp/cgi-bin/eo20081230ho.html). Some of the points he brings up are interesting. To wit:
"More than six months have passed since the presidential election in Taiwan. After a hiatus of eight years, the Kuomintang is in power. This actually represents the restoration of the mainland-lineage forces for the first time in 20 years — if you count the Lee Teng-hui (Ri Tōki) 李登輝 era as rule by non-mainland-lineage forces."
"For one thing, I believe there is recognition that the awareness of Taiwanese identity is now irreversible. The KMT government did things like rename the 'Taiwan Post' to 'Chunghwa Post' 中華郵政 as soon as it came in. But it did not take much time to perceive that it would cause a backlash among the Taiwan populace. The cross-strait exchanges have also brought about opposition demonstrations from time to time. This appears to be one of the reasons for the abrupt decline in the approval rating of the Ma administration."
"The biggest problem seems to be that China still does not have a Taiwan strategy and is responding with difficulty. Up until the presidential election, China had a clear policy of overturning the Democratic Progressive Party government. All its efforts — including diplomacy with the U.S. — were concentrated on this goal. However, it now looks as though they don't know how to reap the fruit of success."
As Okazaki sees things:
"...if China permits the Ma government to (become a member of international organizations), it will also have to do the same for future succeeding administrations...there is the possibility that it would lead to the gradual annulment of the one-China principle 一つの中国; thus China seems undecided on how to respond. For a country with imperialistic intentions, a moderate, conciliatory adversary is a problem to deal with. The sympathy of the international community that Tibet's Dalai Lama ダライ・ラマ has garnered with a moderate stance must annoy China. China's real intention toward Tibet is a complete Han-ization. In fact, it may be aiming for an across-the-board crackdown on radicalized Tibetans after the demise of the Dalai Lama. In the DPP era, which advocated independence, China was able to entertain the expectation (which I believe was an illusion) that the U.S. would not act against the use of force or threats by China against Taiwan. But if China lays a hand on Taiwan, a free democratic system, without any provocation by Taiwan, an intense backlash in public opinion and in the U.S. Congress would be inevitable. In the end, the only option is a policy of unification through natural development of closer economic ties. On the other hand, that would mean doing nothing at all politically or militarily."
Okazaki is much more optimistic than I am about the days ahead:
"The only possible change in the status quo might be if the KMT government accepts a Hong Kong-type of 'one country, two systems'一国二制度 formula through peaceful negotiations. However, as far as I can see from my meager experience meeting with KMT people, that likelihood is small. Taiwan is a free and democratic society under the rule of law, and is prosperous and safe. Very few people are willing to play second fiddle to the mainland, a backward society under the one-party dictatorship of the Communist Party 中国共産党. Those individuals in Taiwan with ties to the mainland may be motivated to continue monopolizing political and economic privileges in the days to come, but that lacks moral legitimacy and cannot be a political objective. The KMT government already seems to be learning this from its brief experience this time. As a second consideration, the emergence of a KMT government this time may be good for Taiwan in the long run. The DPP must have realized that they could not stay in power only by stressing Taiwanese identity. The longer a regime stays in power, the harder it is to avoid a degree of scandal and a fed-up public. That's the principle of democracy. The KMT also must have learned that the Taiwanese identity — national self-determination and democratic principles — are deeply rooted in the Taiwanese people. There is no way that even the KMT can survive other than by accepting and adapting to that fact."
I hope he's right.