A New Era of Authoritarianism
Vice President of Taiwan 2000-2008
Prague, Czech Republic
October 17, 2016
Authoritarianism is no stranger to many of us. In fact, it was a nightmare for Taiwan and many other countries in the world. Taiwan had been ruled under 38 years of martial law. Tens of thousands freedom fighters had been victimized, either to be executed or imprisoned, including myself. Not until 2000 the 50-year-long one-party autocracy Chinese Nationalist Party was overthrown by the candidates of the Democratic Progressive Party Chen Shui-bian and me peacefully, when we were elected as President and Vice President.
The road to democracy in Taiwan, or elsewhere for this matter, is not smooth nor strait. The Chinese Nationalists did stage a political comeback in 2008. With the cooperation of Beijing, the Nationalists attempted to bring Taiwan’s union with China, a dream of the Communist leaders since Mao Zedong.
Most people in Taiwan oppose such political agenda and they voted overwhelmingly for the DPP’s law makers and the President, Tsai Ing-wen. Now the DPP to which I belong is back in power under the leadership of the first female President Tsai Ing-wen. Our major challenges are to revive economy, consolidate democracy, and safeguard Taiwan from China’s annexation and attack.
Speaking of new authoritarianism in Asia, recently the Philippines just elected one of the most unpredictable and outspoken President Rodrigo Duterte. He vows to kill 3 million drug dealers and addicts and likens himself to Adolf Hitler. He condemns anyone who condemns him with his filthy language. There are two other big brothers from two major communist regimes, President Xi Jinping of China and Chairman Kim Jong-un of North Korea. Both have nuclear weapons and are all close to President Vladimir Putin of Russia, making a new bloc of 4 authoritarian leaders.
Another big brother from far across the Pacific, the U.S., in fact has become fragile. When and whether their newly elected President can discharge the duty smoothly and effectively is a breathtaking matter. Can Prime Minister Shinzo Abe of Japan, President Park Geun-hye of South Korea, and President Tsai Ing-wen of Taiwan cooperate together to form a solid democratic bloc? The answer is not optimistic. While South Korea and Japan inhere historical resentment, South Korea is always distant from Taiwan because of their fear of China.
The tension in this region has deteriorated since China began to challenge the sovereignty of the islets both in the East and South China Seas and has strengthen their military capacity in contested waters. In return, the U.S. has taken muscular measures, such as sending aircraft carrier battle groups on close passes by China’s artificial islands in defense of the principle of freedom of navigation. To confront and contain China’s hegemonic ambitions and its increasingly aggressive behavior in the South and East China Seas has become a focus of rising tensions between China and the U.S., as well as Washington’s regional allies.
The dilemma being this, what can be done? What is the best strategy to be taken?
The Pivotal Role of Taiwan
Being located between the world’s largest ocean and largest mainland, and at the center of the first island chain in Asia Pacific, Taiwan occupies a strategic position which is undeniable and irreplaceable.
Geopolitically, while the U.S. tries to strengthen the first island chain, China seeks to breach it. If China controls Taiwan, its naval ships and aircrafts will have free access to the Pacific Ocean to challenge the U.S.-Japan Alliance directly. Taiwan plays a key role in regional security and economic development.
Historically, Taiwan owned the sovereignty of the Diaoyutai/Senkaku Islands; today it exercises effective control over the Pratas Islands and part of the Spratly Islands, including Itu Aba in the South China Sea. Taiwan Strait is important for international air and sea transport, with over a thousand planes and vessels passing through each day. Taiwan stands at the pathway, and is pivotal to the freedom of navigation in the Taiwan Strait and the South China Sea.
China’s creation of artificial islands on disputed South China Sea reefs since 2014 represents Beijing’s attempt to extend its territory and to expand its military bases. Military installations in the South China Sea would provide platforms for land, air and sea-launched weapon systems. It will be a particularly useful supplement to China’s anti-access, area-denial systems (A2/AD), and could also do more to offset Washington’s basing advantages in the Asia-Pacific theater. A2/AD allows Beijing to compete with the United States asymmetrically.
In 2013, China established Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ) over East China Sea. About half of the area overlaps with a Japanese ADIZ, even to a small extent with the South Korean and Taiwanese ADIZ. In March 2015, Beijing’s new M503 commercial air route next to Taiwan’s air force training areas made a step in its quest to slowly change the status quo along China’s maritime border. It is suspected that another Air Defense Identification Zone over South China Sea will be proclaimed by China soon.
If military conflicts happened in this area, the People’s Liberation Army would try to prevent the entry of the U.S. fleets from India Ocean and the Strait of Malacca. Similarly, China also wants to deny the U.S. and Japan’s access in the East China Sea by occupying the Diaoyutai/Senkaku Islands. Thus, the U.S. pivot-to-Asia policy will fail and the Pacific Ocean will be co-managed by China and the U.S.
Taiwan Aspires for Peace and Neutrality
Given Taiwan’s pivotal strategic position in the region, China has demonstrated its anxiety to take over Taiwan as the first step to build its China Dream. Apparently, China’s menace to Taiwan is a menace to the Asia Pacific.
The dilemma being this, what can be done? What is the best strategy to take?
For the sake of world peace, and of the sustainable development of the Pacific Ocean, I have been advocating a Peace Initiative, based on the spirit and principles of the 1959 Antarctic Treaty signed by 50 countries. Thanks to it, the Continent of Antarctica has been preserved for peaceful and sustainable development.
My Peace Initiative includes 4 points:
- Preserve the disputed islands as international marine conservation zones exclusively for peaceful purposes.
- No territorial sovereignty claims should be allowed to undermine the stability and peace in the area.
- All armed forces withdraw from 12 nautical miles of the islets, making it a no-flying, no-fishing, and no-navigation zone within the area.
- Military and nuclear activities are not allowed to be conducted in the area.
Based on the same spirit as the Antarctic Treaty, Taiwan also aspires to be a permanent neutral nation. It seeks to safeguard its independence and sovereignty through a self-reliant national defense, democratic institutions and a free economy as well as a new green culture.
We will call for all peace-loving democracies to recognize and support Taiwan’s neutrality. Taiwan will maintain and strengthen the status quo of “coming closer to the U.S., making friends with Japan, and maintaining peace with China.” Taiwan pledges to be an active and responsible international stakeholder in promoting peace and justice in the region. We aspire to become the Switzerland of the Orient, and a beacon of peace and democracy in Asia.
The campaign has been winning support both domestically and internationally. Recently, I visited overseas Taiwanese business leaders and international think tanks and politicians in many countries, and have earned their encouragement and supports. Domestically, our Congress is expected to amend the Referendum Act at this congressional session and a nationwide campaign to collect signatures to initiate the referendum will be reinforced right afterward. We will schedule to submit the initiation sometime next year. I am glad to take this opportunity to seek your understandings and support. A friend in need is a friend indeed.