Listen up, KMT: Taiwan’s democracy is non-negotiable

The following is a guest post from frequent contributor Dr. Jerome Keating.

Democracy, Paradigms, Bought Loyalties and Obfuscations

What price would one put on democracy? What would one trade democracy for? What would it take to sell out someone else’s right to self-determination?

A pair of pandas? Better trade relations? A chance to make more money? Or even the alleged glory of being the mythical white horse prince who could stake a claim that he/she brought Taiwan and China together?

Democracy is the real issue in the Taiwan/China debate and the questions on democracy are the real questions. The rest is all smokescreen and, pardon the word, obfuscation.

In a global age where national boundaries begin to blur and the world for better or worse begins heading more towards corporate identification and influence, the rights of the individual granted by democracy and rule of law remain and cry out for recognition. These are the same rights the People’s Republic of China (PRC) in its paradigm of control avoids discussing like the plague, be it SARS, bird flu or anything else.

In the same vein, as Lien Chan, James Soong, and so many other pan-blue leaders fawningly run to Beijing, they appear embarrassed to even bring up the ‘D’ word. If it is brought up, it is done in almost apologetic terms.

The distinct role that democracy must play in negotiations on Taiwan and China’s future is crucial. Behind democracy are the paradigms and priorities that people hold for themselves and these two countries. On one side is Taiwan’s experience of a long, hard struggle over a one-party state that has still not come clean on its past murders and thefts. On the other side is another one-party clique also steeped in suppression that justifies its control with the claim to be defender of the myth of one, indivisible China.

As a result, the Taiwan/China debate unfortunately continues to be smoked over by words and/or phrases like “independence, inalienable, inseparable, internal problem” and even “a shared common culture.”

Independence! In this debate, China has made no bones about its demand to forbid this word in discussions of the future. There can be no talk of Taiwan independence. Such a demand by the PRC is tantamount to saying both sides must agree to come to the PRC’s conclusion and control before they begin to debate, still statements of non-negotiables are a part of bargaining. Taiwan’s pan-green leadership has stated its own non-negotiable by saying that both sides must come to the table as equals and have the freedom of choice of equals.

What is most surprising, however, is the complete lack of non-negotiables or sine qua non’s from the pan-blue leadership.

In the old controversial days of Chiang Ching-kuo, the Kuomintang (KMT) at least had fire in its belly in dealing with the PRC. At that time they were bold enough to state their own three no’s, “no contacts, no negotiations, no compromise.” Now in sharp contrast, KMT leaders trip and fall over each other as they run to bow and scrape to accommodate the PRC. Such kow-towing makes any rational person ask why.

Where has the fire in the belly gone? What has changed? The answer lies in seeing the KMT’s true past paradigms and priorities and how these were affected by democracy.

The KMT that was brave enough to issue its three no’s was one which gave lip service to democracy. It did this because it operated from the paradigm of the secure power and privilege of a one-party state similar to that of the PRC. Hidden behind its three no’s was its own basic sine qua non that saw unification only in terms of the KMT maintaining power over all.

Democracy ruined that for the KMT; it broke their paradigm of privilege and destroyed their sense of entitlement to power. Democracy is the antithesis of any one-party state paradigm. Choice and absolute control cannot co-exist. Democracy allows the people to vote a government out; understanding this, the KMT knows full well why it is anathema to bring the word up with the PRC and so it bows in submission.

One cannot say the pan-blue have totally avoided mentioning democracy. To his credit, James Soong hinted at it by once saying that perhaps it might be best to put off any discussion of unification for another thirty to fifty years and just expand trade links etc. Ma Ying-jeou in his usual pussy-footing way of trying to keep his feet in two boats also hinted at the issue. In an interview he stated that he suspected that the PRC is still a ways from democracy. Nowhere however, and I say nowhere, has there been anything close to making democracy a non-negotiable part of or a sine qua non for discussions.

Why not? Why are there no non-negotiable on discussions from the pan-blue side? The scenario is strangely reminiscent of seventeenth century China when the Qing was defeating the Ming. In this process the loyalty of several Ming generals and leaders was bought off by the Qing. By 1679, the Qing had even created the Xiu Lai compound where opposing generals and leaders could surrender and retire in comfort. This was certainly part of the enticement they offered to followers of Zheng Zhi-long, the father of Zheng Cheng-gong (Koxinga). Zhi-long had been bought off but of course he then faced reciprocal obligations.

When Zheng Zhi-long came home to the Qing, he was expected to bring with him his son Zheng Cheng-gong and all of his troops. When they didn’t come, Zhi-long’s wife Tagawa committed suicide and Zhi-long didn’t get a chance to enjoy his retirement. Bought loyalty, particularly between past enemies, must still deliver.

Zhi-long had promised to deliver his son; have the pan-blues promised to deliver Taiwan? Is this the real reason why they continually block bills to procure defensive weapons in the legislature?

As the PRC wines and dines the pan-blue leaders and legislators it would seem the same machinations are at work. The pan-blue leadership remains surprisingly quiet on any mention of democracy as a non-negotiable/sine qua non for discussions on future relations between Taiwan and China. Instead they talk of harmonious interests; how close the talk seems to Xiu Lai (cordial relations).

At stake here are conflicting paradigms on Taiwan. Where are each party’s priorities and how does democracy fit in? Operating from a paradigm of hard won democracy the pan-green camp maintains its right to self-determination. Since democracy by its nature allows many points of view and free choice, it has to be open to voting on unification or not. The flip side is that it also is open to vote on rejecting it. The pan-blue camp refuses to cross that bridge.

The pan-blue camp is still mired in its one-party state paradigm, the same paradigm as held by the PRC. The priority of this paradigm is that the one-party state must first control all. The unification of Taiwan and China must always take precedence over democracy. Lip service can be given democracy but control must dominate over free choice as in Hong Kong. Thus the KMT would rather see a Taiwan that is stripped of its democracy and a part of China than one with choice. Are the benefits and future privileges of such a metaphorical Xiu Lai really worth that?

Democracy denies privilege to any one party and places it in the hands of the people. The people can bestow the privilege of leadership on those whom they feel worthy; they can also take it away in the next election

The issue of independence is a smokescreen. For over a half a century, Taiwan is and has been independent whether as a one-party state under the KMT or a democracy since 1996.

The real issue is the role of democracy in Taiwan’s future as it relates to China. Since 1996 when the people first directly elected their president, Taiwan has utilized that freedom of choice twice. In the elections of 2000 a peaceful transfer of power took place. In 2004 it was confirmed. Taiwan’s democracy won at the cost of blood, sweat and suffering should not be sacrificed for “cordial relations.”

The KMT fought the PRC only as long as they were masters in Taiwan. Once the people exercised the democratic right to vote and voted them out of office, the blue camp lost interest in democracy. More like lost dogs seeking to lick the hand of the bully that drove them off the mainland, they return. Better to be someone else’s live dog than a dead lion may be an appropriate proverb. Perhaps they will get a bone.

This paradigm also reveals the true feelings of those waishengren that have never found a home in Taiwan. Comfortable in Taiwan only if they could be superior colonial masters, they seek other advantage once that privilege is lost.

Slogans once expressed the pseudo KMT dedication. Who cannot recall, “Gentlemen will not stand with thieves” which expressed the KMT distaste of co-existing in the UN with the PRC. As Lien Chan and others wine and dine with Chinese Communist Party (CCP) leaders and vow that as brothers they will fight Taiwan’s independence (translate democratic choice) one wonders what the new slogan will be?

Carved on Kinmen’s highest mountain are the words “Remember our days at Chu.” And elsewhere is found another demand. “Give me back my land.” How times have changed. It now appears that the pan-blue slogan could be “Forget Chu and go for the money.” Westerners had a saying, “Better dead than Red.” Current pan-blue feelings reflect “Better Red than lose power and privilege.”

As China and Taiwan approach discussions, Taiwan voters have a right to know what paradigms and priorities each party holds. There has never been transparent accountability on the state assets taken by the KMT, nor has there been true accountability on all involved with the suppression and deaths during the White Terror period. Will the KMT’s position on democracy be added to this list?


Jerome F. Keating Ph.D. has lived and worked in Taiwan for the past sixteen years and is co-author of “Island in the Stream, a Quick Case Study of Taiwan’s Complex History” and other works. Other writings can be found at

The Discussion: 21 Comments

Hi Jerome, I think you’re describing the Lien Chan years here – and so you’re being a bit harsh on Ma Ying-jeou when you say that the KMT haven’t made any demands on the PRC.

Although Ma hasn’t made any obvious breaks from Lien’s policy, he has made a couple of fairly clear pre-conditions to any talk of unification:

“At the moment, we are not ruled by mainland China or by a foreign country. We are independent in that political sense,” he said. “The people of Taiwan at least would like to see a democratic mainland before they can consider” unification.


“If Beijing doesn’t redress June 4, we can’t talk about reunification,” Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九), Taipei mayor and leader of Taiwan’s opposition Nationalist Party, said in an interview with Hong Kong’s Cable TV, part of which was broadcast yesterday morning.

Of course, we’ll have to wait and see how strong he is in standing up for Taiwan’s interests in any negotiation (as you imply, a common view is that he’s too soft to stand up to the PRC)

November 15, 2005 @ 12:59 am | Comment

i thought you were talking about negotiating taiwan’s democracy……it turned out you wanted pan-blue to fight for the mainland’s democracy. great expectation. 🙂

November 15, 2005 @ 2:50 am | Comment

“The KMT fought the PRC only as long as they were masters in Taiwan. Once the people exercised the democratic right to vote and voted them out of office, the blue camp lost interest in democracy”

you meant to say Chiang kai-shek had some interest in democracy? ????

CKS fought PRC for their survival, not for democracy.

November 15, 2005 @ 2:53 am | Comment

the logic just seems so muddled.

zheng chenggong,
democracy in taiwan,
communication with mainland

totally unrelated issues.

it is like saying negotiating with N Korea in the 6-party talk would jeopardize the democracy of S Korea, Japan and US.

November 15, 2005 @ 2:56 am | Comment

muddled logic?

The CCP woudn’t tolerate the demands of Dear Leader that there is only one Korea and China is a part of it.

You missed Dr. Keating’s point entirely.

November 15, 2005 @ 9:10 am | Comment

You are wrong Sun Bin. The KMT, while in reality never seemed to have any inclinations towards democracy, always pushed their commitment to democracy…and putting the wishes of Sun Yat Sen into action. In words, they WERE committed to democracy. In words, what kept them from that goal was the need to maintain a strong resistance against the communists. That is the point. Whether they truly were committed to democracy or not, they talked big about democracy. However, they have not been talking much about democracy recently. In fact, I hear a lot of KMT supporters talking about “reclaiming their rights.”

November 15, 2005 @ 9:37 am | Comment

This “all political parties in Taiwan are running to Mainland” is simply the result of the “United Front” strategy of the Mainland. This is something popularized by Mao during his revolution (everyone was on Mao’s side during the revolution, therefore isolating the KMT at the time). Hu Jintao is now simply playing the same old trick again. And right now it’s working pretty well, the leader of every single major political opposition party in Taiwan has made high-profile visits to the Mainland recently and seen on camera as shaking hands with Hu Jintao. Each of those leaders were also made visiting their “old home towns” in China from generatios ago, and visiting their ancestrial burial places, as a symbolic way to remind people that after all the “roots” of Taiwan is still in China.

All of this worked very well, as now people in both Mainland and Taiwan are getting the sense that “we were all connected at the roots, so why can’t we work out our differences and strive for unification.” The CCP is trying to turn the debate from “should we reunite” to “how should we reunite”.

As a result, I foresee a continuation of the weakening and marginalization of pro-independece forces in Taiwan, and I see KMT re-gaining power in the next election, thanks to CCP.

From this perspective, I think the CCP is winning this game.

November 15, 2005 @ 10:53 am | Comment

“However, they have not been talking much about democracy recently.”

huh? you mean Taiwan is not democratic and people need to “talk a lot” and fight for “democracy” in taiwan?

“not talking much about democracy” means one plans to sell out democracy?

that is quite a big leap in logic.

November 15, 2005 @ 11:12 am | Comment

Qiang Gong

Sounds like the CCP is interfering in someone else’s political process then. Didn’t it accuse the US of doing the same in the Ukraine, etc? Or was that just Russia?

November 15, 2005 @ 1:24 pm | Comment


I think you will find that there won’t be any unification until the mainland becomes a multi-party democracy. KMT have stated this enough times that I can’t see as how people forget it. Given that the CCP recently opposed any change to one-party rule in it’s “democracy” white paper, I can’t see that happening any time in the next 10+ years.

Plus, Taiwanese support for unification is very low. Most people just want to keep the status quo.

November 15, 2005 @ 1:26 pm | Comment


what point? if there is one, it has nothing to do with any fact. maybe with his fantasy, but not supported by any fact.

KMT/PFP has NOT been negotiating with CCP, it just sent a couple people to communciate. (so the title of the post is extemely misleading. if no negotiation has taken place, how could they have negotiated Taiwan’s democracy.

the worst strategy is let panda/trade relationship overwhelm the real issue is to make a big fuss of it, with lame logics.

the best approach is just take it and focus on other stuff.

November 15, 2005 @ 4:43 pm | Comment

the worst strategy to counter the panda/trade relationship issue is to let it overwhelm the real issue by making a big fuss of it, with lame logics.

the best approach is just take it and focus on other stuff.

November 15, 2005 @ 4:44 pm | Comment

Can’t really understand sun bin’s logic, especially with the comparison of KMT-CCP talks with 6-state talks with N. Korea over its nmuclear brinksmanship. I have no idea how asking DPRK to forgo its development of nuclear weapons which it uses to blackmail the region has requires South Korea to be an evil dictatorship.
Liked these words though from Richard’s President:
“Modern Taiwan is free and democratic and prosperous. By embracing freedom at all levels, Taiwan has delivered prosperity to its people and created a free and democratic Chinese society.”

November 15, 2005 @ 6:41 pm | Comment

Hi David, I don’t think I am being too harsh on Ma, I have followed him since the mid 90’s when he first got attention as one appearing to want to eliminate “black gold.” I have watched him step by step (some of which I mention in my Aug. 21 and 28 postings on my site) Most of what I have seen is style, hype, window dressing etc. but little clearly expressed committment and clear follow through. The Taiwan media has been extremely soft on Ma (excepting the pan-gren of course) and does very little depth examination.

I grant that since he is aiming for a presidential run in 2008, he will want to keep his base as broad as possible, but it does not take much to say, “If that is your non-negotiable, fine here is ours.” As I said, in almost all statements, the horse treads like a cat.

November 15, 2005 @ 6:45 pm | Comment

Keir, I too have trouble following Sun Bin’s logic.

November 15, 2005 @ 6:49 pm | Comment

I’m just wondering: if 23 million politically active people (who unlike HK are self-sovereign) are introduced into the CCP under some sort of 1c 2sys or even federal approach, wouldn’t that erode the CCP’s power? Because the CCP couldn’t lie about how destabilizing and corrupt democracy is. Somehow I think the Taiwanese ppl should read Machiavelli and realize they are the perfect 5th column for democracy in China.

November 15, 2005 @ 7:26 pm | Comment

Most of what I have seen is style, hype, window dressing etc. but little clearly expressed committment and clear follow through

In other words: he’s a politician. Excellent! It’s about time Taiwan got a few of those 🙂

Seriously, I agree there are big question marks over Ma’s ability to lead a country (or indeed the KMT) effectively, but there are also positives:
1) He’s not Lien Chan. A big (huge, enormous) plus in my book.
2) He understands democracy. Everything he does is aimed at getting votes/public approval. Unlike his predecessor, democracy has been the making of Ma, so I don’t see him selling it out …
3) Corruption. He has got a good record on this – and I suspect will continue to do so (if only because he realises the PR disasters that corruption inevitably brings)
4) Did I mention that he’s not Lien Chan?

While I may not like whatever policy he develops on China, I trust him to be more upfront and clear about that policy (to the Taiwanese people) than any other member of the KMT would – and also react more quickly if those policies are unpopular.

November 15, 2005 @ 7:31 pm | Comment

Qiang Gong, only the blue political parties have sent reps to China, not all. And, after Lien made his visit, the popularity of the KMT dipped. It did not rise. So I don’t see where you are getting your ideas about the Taiwanese happily prancing towards unification…the mainland media probably.

November 15, 2005 @ 10:07 pm | Comment

well…this is not my logic. this is jerome’s logic.

jerome is saying KMT/PFP’s visiting China is trying to negotiate away Taiwan’s democracy.
it is like meeting someone who does not beliebe democracy is negotiating away your democracy.

so, good. it you find the NK statement absurdm then the statement about pan-blue is jsut as absurd.

November 15, 2005 @ 11:16 pm | Comment

(typo above)

well…this is not my logic. this is jerome’s logic.

jerome is saying KMT/PFP’s visiting China is trying to negotiate away Taiwan’s democracy.
it is like saying meeting someone who does not beliebv in democracy is negotiating away your democracy.

so, good. if you find the NK statement absurd then the statement (anf the title of this post)about pan-blue is just as absurd.

November 15, 2005 @ 11:18 pm | Comment

Not all KMT members are traitors. Mayor Ma Ying-jeou seems not one.

November 16, 2005 @ 6:40 am | Comment

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