Su Chi, Chairman of Taipei Forum 
United Daily News (聯合報), November 22, 2020, Page A12


In the spring of 2008, Taiwan had a close call with disaster. According to a book published by Michael Tsai, then Minister of Defense in the Chen Shui-bian administration, following his government service, the U.S. and Taiwanese intelligence informed him at the time that if the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP)’s presidential candidate Frank Hsieh had won the election that year, the People’s Republic of China (PRC) would surely have taken military action against Taiwan. Chen Administration completely covered up all the information on the actions of the PRC's armed forces during those months. The Taiwan people, unaware of the situation, inadvertently saved themselves at the ballot box by voting Hsieh's opponent into office.


This year Taiwan had another close shave with danger. Before the U.S. election, the People’s Liberation Army put pressure on the U.S., and the U.S. in turn leaned on the administration of Tsai Ing-wen, forcing Taiwan’s Foreign Minister Joseph Wu to publicly utter words completely dejecting to DPP supporters such as "[we are] not to resume diplomatic relations with the U.S." and "not to rely on the U.S. to protect Taiwan," and to issue a warning that, following the US election of November 3, "China might have improper notions to threaten Taiwan militarily." Compared with the unabashed cover-up in 2008, Wu's public warnings can be considered a step forward.

This time it was the American voters who saved Taiwan. If President Trump had been re-elected and both the U.S. and Taiwan continued next year to play the "Taiwan card,” Beijing might lose patience soon enough and take steps to "teach Taiwan a lesson." Mr. Biden's victory has thus given Taiwan some breathing room. The question is: Why the Tsai administration played its hand so poorly to end up in such dire straits, and what are the major blind spots in DPP's policy thinking?


Those who have long observed the DPP know that although there is a large number of talented people within the DPP, overwhelming majority of them seem to focus only on domestic politics and rarely have any contact with foreign countries. They are so focused that they are known to have the domestic political scene figured so precisely that they can pinpoint very accurately where and how to slit their political opponents’ throats. But their grasp of the international situation is coarse and rough. Of the tiny minority in the party involved in matters outside of Taiwan, by far most only handle international matters and hardly, if ever, deal with mainland China. Only the tiniest portion of this small group participate in cross-Strait exchanges, yet they rarely interact with countries other than China simultaneously. And most of them have been relegated to the deep freeze by President Tsai anyway. Hence, only very few people in the DPP seem to be capable of looking at the big picture outside Taiwan. Most are left with one half of the windows open and the other half closed. The most distorted perspective seems to belong to those of President Tsai and the coterie of strategists at her side who ought to have a total and well-balanced grasp of the entire situation. Their totally one-sided inclination, fueling the inherent enmity of the DPP rank and file toward China, naturally resulted in Taiwan standing alone in East Asia rooting for Trump throughout the U.S. election campaign.


The DPP’s closed or half-closed windows toward understanding of the Mainland is most worrying. They think that as long as Taiwan does not engage in de jure Taiwan independence and Beijing continues to attach importance to economic development, the Mainland will put up with Taiwan's de facto independence, including its various provocations, for a long, long time. They have forgotten that in the genes of the Chinese Communist Party, in fact any and all communist parties in the world, strategic and political considerations always take primacy over economic considerations. For the CCP it was no easy matter for economic thinking to finally gain a firm foothold in Mainland China over the past two decades. The DPP mistakenly believes that this has become the norm for the CCP for eternity. Worse, the DDP did not realize that their frequent maneuvers toward Taiwan independence have already caused Beijing to quietly change its priorities. Hopefully the close calls of 2008 and 2020 had served to wake them up.


Over the past four years, the DPP’s pro-Independence words and deeds, coupled with the U.S. and Taiwan joining in a common stance, have heightened Beijing’s strategic alertness. Meanwhile, the DPP’s de-Sinification plus the fact that many DPP supporters do not consider themselves ethnically Chinese, have deeply hurt the feelings of many people in the Mainland and sparked a heated debate about Taiwan on the Mainland. Some in the DPP delight in prattling on about economic/social problems on the mainland, as if these would constrain and divert Xi Jinping away from Taiwan. In fact, the more difficulties Xi faces at home, the greater the possibility of Taiwan becoming a sacrificial lamb on the altar of nationalism. Now that the mainland economy stands out in the world as the least wrecked amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, economic considerations would carry even less weight than strategy and politics.


The same is true for their understanding of the United States. The DPP only had ears for what the Trump administration had said, but failed to understand its larger motivation. Nor did it clearly grasp the macro trend of US-China relations or of US politics. The DPP seems to assume that Trump represented America and its future, that the U.S. today is still the country that rushed to rescue Taiwan in 1996, and that the flattering expressions of US officials and members of Congress prove that they all "love Taiwan" and would be willing to put blood and treasure on the line to save it.


Most fundamentally, because the DPP’s collective foreign-related experience is so limited, it often regards international relations as personal relations, and uses subjective likes, dislikes and ideologies, rather than objective situations and pragmatic needs to formulate policies. In personal relations, people indeed tend to associate mostly with those they like, and stay away from those they dislike. But in world affairs, there is no need for the governments to like each other before they talk to one another. For the benefit of their peoples, to maintain communication with countries all around remains a duty that no government can or should shirk. Furthermore, the DPP at all levels of the party seems unaware that the international community has no court or police, either. And international disputes are ultimately decided by the balance of power. On the surface, all countries sit on an equal footing, but what actually determines how loudly they speak is their fists, not lung capacity


The DPP also makes too much of public opinion. Within Taiwan, public opinion is of course important. But once external matters are involved, public opinion cannot be absolute, it can only be relative, because other countries also have their own public opinion to consider. If all countries respected the will of other peoples, there would not be so many disputes or even wars in this world. It is precisely because public opinion can only be used as a reference that it falls on the bright people in government to contact, negotiate, and compromise with other countries. The DPP has been extremely successful in manipulating public opinion internally, but it too often applies the same methodology to their dealings with the rest of the world. Those with kind intentions toward Taiwan would only regard this as a coquettish play for attention and laugh it off, but those less well-intentioned may well put up their dukes.


After all these close calls, we hope that the DPP will seize this rare window of opportunity, take a hard look at its blind spots, open up its mind, and adopt a pragmatic approach toward the overall situation, so that the ship of Taiwan can navigate safely with the wind. It may not be favored again by the gods of good fortune next time.