Future Prospects and Challenges of Taiwan’s Democracy

It is a great honor for me to speak to you today. To be perfectly frank, I don’t have any idea what I am doing talking to Taiwan’s assembled political scientists. I am a political scientist by training, but I confess that I gave up my membership in the American Political Science Association a long time ago. I have the deepest respect for work that all of you have done to understand this island’s political system, how it has evolved and how it works or doesn’t work. In my own research and writing, I have borrowed extensively from the findings of many of you. So there is some question whether there is anything new I can tell you this morning. My only excuse is that Professor Liao asked me to give your keynote address and I usually do what she asks.

Personal Indulgence

Dr. Liao asked me to speak about the Future Prospects and Challenges of Taiwan’s Democracy. Of course, Taiwan’s democracy is a subject which has been an important dimension of much of my career. With your indulgence, let me give you just three examples, While I was working for the Asia Society, over twenty years ago, I edited an essay that Tien Hung-mao wrote for the Society in which he suggested that when moderates in the Kuomintang and dangwai were strong and coordinated their actions political progress occurred, but that retrogression took place when more radical forces in the ruling and opposition two camps were in the ascendant. I don’t know if Dr. Tien would agree, but I would suggest that these four streams have continued in a new form today, that we call them Dark Green, Light Green, Light Blue, and Dark Blue, but that that his insight still applies—that centrist, reformist coalitions produce progress.

My first major task after joining Congressman Steve Solarz’s staff was to draft a speech on “Democracy and the Future of Taiwan,” which he gave a speech to a dangwai audience at the Ambassador Hotel in August 1983. Solarz’s main theme was that Taiwan, having achieved an economic miracle, was ready for a political miracle. In retrospect his most telling argument was the potential international impact of democratization: that other countries, particularly the United States, would be more likely to support a Taiwan that was democratic. That was a bargain that Chiang Ching-kuo decided to take, and the results were very positive. The people of Taiwan, who for their entire history had been denied a say over their destiny, finally got a say. Previously, the United States had made some choices for Taiwan without regard to the wishes of the populace, Americans like Congressman Solarz played a part in helping them finally get the voice that they never had and so compensate for previous American actions. Now whether the bargain that Congressman Solarz offered still holds—that the United States will support Taiwan simply because it is a democracy—is a question to which I will return.

I take some credit for introducing into American policy rhetoric a connection between Taiwan’s democratization and cross-Strait relations. This occurred in the middle of 1998. President Clinton had made his trip to China and, aside from stating the three nos, he also proclaimed the value of freedom and democracy for China. President Lee Teng-hui was unhappy that Clinton had not mentioned the only ethnic Chinese society where democracy existed, Taiwan. I thought the United States should respond to him, as well as to those in the United States who at this time were complaining that democracy in Taiwan was destabilizing. So when it came time to draft my next public speech as AIT Chairman, I included a final paragraph that made several points: Taiwan’s democracy was a force for stability; Taiwan was a model for the PRC; the island’s people were wise and prudent, not reckless; and the results of cross-Strait dialogue must meet with the Taiwan public’s approval. I sent the draft to the State Department to approval, uncertain what would happen to that last paragraph. To my delight, it was approved with virtually no change. Having been authorized to say, in effect, that the people of Taiwan had gained a seat at the negotiating table, I kept saying it. And I was gratified in February 2000 when President Clinton picked up the concept and asserted that the Taiwan Strait issue had to be resolved not only peacefully but also with the assent of the people of Taiwan. Why, by the way, the Bush Administration is now saying that it has to be resolved with the assent of the people of on both sides of the Taiwan Strait puzzles me.

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