New Cross-Strait Relationship
By Frank Ching
Taiwan's new leader Ma Ying-jeou worked closely with President Chiang Ching-kuo during the latter's final years, when Chiang began to implement a strategy to gradually democratize Taiwan with the aim of influencing the political development of mainland China.
Judging from his inaugural address, the newly inaugurated President Ma has inherited this ambition from his former mentor.
Observing that Taiwan has just completed a second democratic turnover of power with the Nationalist Party, or Kuomintang, regaining the presidency eight years after having lost it to Chen Shui-bian and his Democratic Progressive Party, Ma said:
``Ethnic Chinese communities around the world have laid their hopes on this crucial political experiment. By succeeding, we can make unparalleled contributions to the democratic development of all ethnic Chinese communities. This responsibility is ours to fulfill.''
While Singapore can also be considered an ethnic Chinese community, by far the largest ethnic Chinese community in the world is found in Mainland China. Ma seems to be saying that Taiwan's success in its experimentation with democracy will contribute to the eventual democratization of the mainland. And, he added, Taiwan has become ``a beacon of democracy to Asia and the world.''
Ma started to work for Chiang Ching-kuo at the age of 31 and continued this association until the president's death seven years later in 1988. Ma, who had obtained a doctor of juridical science degree from Harvard in 1984, was formally responsible for the promulgation of laws and decrees as well as the drafting the safekeeping of confidential documents. However, as Chiang's English secretary, he had a front-row seat as he viewed Chiang transform Taiwan from a police state into something resembling a democracy.
Chiang told the world, through Katherine Graham, then publisher of the Washington Post, in October 1986 that he was planning to lift martial law, which had been in place for 38 years, thus paving the way for democracy in Taiwan. In that historical interview, Ma acted as Chiang's interpreter.
On Jan. 12, 1988, the task force on parliamentary reform passed a proposal drafted by Ma to end the era of mainlander control of Taiwan's political process. President Jiang died the same day, before Ma could report this news to him.
Chiang's program to democratize Taiwan as a model for the mainland was initially continued by his immediate successor, Lee Teng-hui, who set up the National Unification Council, an advisory body that created the National Unification Guidelines, which were adopted by the Executive Yuan, or Cabinet, in 1993. According to the guidelines, there is only one China, where two different government entities exist, neither subordinate to the other.
According to the guidelines, unification would be achieved through three stages. In the first stage, there would be increased exchanges between the two sides. In the second stage, there would be direct trade, transport and postal links. And in the third stage, a consultative organization would be formed by the two sides to map out a constitutional arrangement for unification under a ``democratic, free and equitably prosperous China."
For the last eight years, Taiwan was governed by President Chen Shui-bian of the Democratic Progressive Party who, instead of seeing Taiwan as a model for mainland China's political development, sought de jure independence for Taiwan and sought to minimize the island's association with China.
In 2006, Chen precipitated a crisis with both Beijing and Washington when he announced that the council would ``cease to function'' and the guidelines had ``ceased to apply." It is unclear if Ma will revive the council and its guidelines, though he has been called on to do so by some members of the KMT's old guard.
President Ma has said since his inauguration that he does not expect to see unification in his lifetime. However, he has also made it clear that he will not press for independence. In fact, in his inaugural address, instead of pushing the position that Taiwan is a sovereign independent country, he said: ``In resolving cross-strait issues, what matters is not sovereignty but core values and way of life.''
His message to the mainland could not be clearer. ``We care about the welfare of the 1.3 billion people of mainland China,'' he said, ``and hope that mainland China will continue to move toward freedom, democracy and prosperity for all the people.'' Then he added a line fraught with significance: ``This would pave the way for the long-term peaceful development of cross-strait relations.''
Even if the National Unification Guidelines are not formally revived, it seems, Ma is following them in his mind.