Friday, August 3, 2007

DPP's Normal Country Resolution: A Challange to Itself?

-DPP's internecine fights over its nominal China policy: not just a war of words.

by Thomas Huang

DPP's presidential candidate for 2008 election, Mr. Hsieh Chang-ting ("Frank") received a hard blow from his own party as the welcome-back gift after his return from a campaign trip to the east coast of the United States.
The party, led by a pro-independence Fire-eater, Mr. Yu Shyi-kun, semi-officially published on August 1st a draft of the proposed "Normal Country Resolution," which will act as a policy guideline of the party once formally ratified. The draft calls for a transfiguration of Taiwan into a fully functioning, constitutionally independent state instead of trembling in the shadow of ambiguity under its historical name, "Republic of China."

Anyone who knows a bit about the DPP's position would probably find the proclamation little more than a tasteless regurgitation of the party's long-held policy goal of Taiwanese independence. Yet the allusion goes far beyond that. Despite Mr. Yu's "clarifications" that refer to the document as an attempt to secure the party's deep-green (radically pro-independence) votes, the ambitious wordings of the draft has made it a face-to-face confrontation with Mr. Hsieh's moderate stance on the issue.

Mr. Hsieh wants independence, too, no matter what the independence will eventually look like; yet his adept manipulation over the bewildering political nomenclatures makes him a more acceptable choice to lead the island than any other DPP candidates in the eyes of both Beijing and Washington. Of course, in terms of China-friendliness, Hsieh can never match his KMT counterpart, Mr. Ma Ying-jeou,[1] not to mention that, after winning the party's presidential nomination, he even raised his pitch for moves toward independence to challenge Mr. Ma's loyalty to the island.

Nevertheless, Hsieh is, at heart, a pragmatist. In contrast to the incumbent president, Mr. Chen Shui-bian, who is being overwhelmed by his family's corruption scandals and now desperately trying to boost his job-approval with his idiosyncratic stunts like the recent doomed-to-fail bid for UN membership, Mr. Hsieh has a much better grasp of Beijing's wants and hates. He will, for sure, cling on to the banner of "Taiwanese sovereignty" in front of his DPP supporters; but judging from his history, Hsieh's version of independent Taiwanese state has encompassed little more than the status-quo of Taiwan's de facto independence, which is precisely what Washington wants and what Beijing can tolerate.

The most conspicuous clash between Hsieh and Yu, i.e. whether or not the old name of "Republic of China" would fit a new Taiwanese republic, is highlighted in the DPP's internecine fights over the "Normal Country Resolution." The draft calls for a departure from the "obsession with ROC's Constitution," which seems to take on Mr. Hsieh for his past policy trademark of "conservation of the ROC's Constitutional framework" (Hsien Fa Yi Chung 憲法一中). Although both the DPP party leaders and Hsieh's campaign staff are swift to downplay their divergence for the sake of party unity, their conciliatory words are soon to be lost in the widening ideological disjunction between the fractions of the party. During the primary season earlier this year, Mr. Hsieh was ostracised by all the other three DPP candidates, Mr. Yu one of them, for his seemingly half-hearted commitment to the cause of Taiwanese independence. However, in the end it was Hsieh who won the party's candidacy with a landslide victory in the voting of party members. After all, most Taiwanese, green or blue, do not want war with the mainland. Hsieh's clever maneuvering or even blatant flipflopping over the tricky Mainland-policy issues is the only hope for pan-green supporters to maximize Taiwan's de facto independence while minimizing tensions with Beijing and, potentially, Washington. Mr. Yu and his adherents would commit a major mistake that can cost the party's reelections next year if they ever try to corner Mr. Hsieh into a clarification of his position, instead of letting him maintain a beauty of mystery with the ambiguity in his China policy.

[1] Interestingly, Ma is now backpedaling (hopefully just for now) from his pro-China position to tackle Hsieh's challenge as both parties are trying to curry the favor of the "indigenous" Taiwanese voters. More about this in the future posts.

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