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Chen, Soong affirmed 'middle way'
Paul Lin

The dust has begun to settle after the controversial meeting between President Chen Shui-bian and People First Party (PFP) Chairman James Soong. Calm and thorough analysis is now required as we cherish this hard-earned reconciliation. Pro-independence groups were not opposed to the summit prior to the meeting, although they felt uneasy about it. Pro-unification groups opposed it, and even protested outside the Taipei Guest House where Chen and Soong met.

This is evidence that the pan-green camp does not oppose inter-party reconciliation, while certain pro-unification politicians were against the summit, instead favoring reconciliation between the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) and the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). This is a reflection of their lack of interest in domestic reconciliation and their amity toward the CCP.

Taking a balanced view of the 10-point declaration made by Chen and Soong, we must recognize that it defines Taiwan's national status as moving neither toward unification nor independence. In other words, it takes the "middle road" position, which means that it recognizes the existence of the Republic of China (ROC), while also recognizing a Taiwan where sovereignty rests with the people.

This stance is, in my opinion, acceptable given Taiwan's current political situation. As to the future orientation of Taiwan, it will depend on the will of all Taiwanese people.

But I also have some reservations toward the 10-point consensus, especially that cross-strait economic, trade, cultural, academic and other exchanges, as well as the three direct links, are looked upon with optimism, with China's threats to Taiwan's security disregarded. Ignoring these issues will serve to make the already psychologically ill-prepared Taiwanese even more unprepared, and they will also negatively impact on the "effective management" policy.

The biggest controversy was evoked in the post-meeting press conference. Both Chen and Soong should have offered explanations and calmed their supporters. But it turned out that Chen did not do enough while Soong did too much.

Chen explained the issue of changing the national title by saying that though there would be no change, there would be no opposition to government agencies that wanted to adjust their names. It is indeed difficult to change the national title in the absence of a public consensus for such a change.

Former president Lee Teng-hui also recognized this problem, and he put forward the objective of obtaining the support of at least 75 percent of the people.

But Chen's comments about deceiving oneself hurt supporters' feelings, especially since he agreed with Soong's comments and thus appeared to turn his one-time enemy into a bosom buddy.

I believe this to be one of the reasons behind the strong reaction from pro-independence groups. If it was just a mistake, a slip of the tongue, Chen should explain himself immediately.

The problem is that Chen did not attend any activities commemorating the 228 Incident, which took aim at China. This was seen as Chen's attempt to "disengage" himself from pro-independence groups which has heightened tensions in their relationship. It is understandable that Chen showed humility toward the pan-blue camp for the good of inter-party reconciliation, but he, at least, should also extend equal humility toward his supporters.

In order to appease his supporters, Soong mentioned a "constitutional one China" at the press conference. His remark seemed to reflect the tone of the Chen-Soong meeting, and of course caused further displeasure among green-camp supporters because it is hard to see how this is different from China's "one China" policy.

To make matters worse, Soong even said that China had been forced by Taiwan to consider its proposed "anti-secession" law. As China's National People's Congress moves to pass the law, Soong's remark will only speed the growth of China's hegemony. Of course, Soong was also under considerable pressure. But toadying to China as a way to relieve that pressure will only make him lose his footing, and it is tantamount to supporting a tyrant. Such behavior also runs counter to the "Taiwan First" spirit of the agreement he had just signed.

Given that the DPP is in government and Soong is at risk of becoming marginalized, it should have been Soong who was begging favors from Chen and not the other way round. But in the end, Chen gave more than he took. Maybe Chen made a greater sacrifice to show his sincerity, or maybe it was Soong's addressing him as "President Chen" -- a slap in the face for KMT Chairman Lien Chan -- that made Chen feel well-disposed toward Soong.

In order to win back the faith of his supporters, the most important thing that Chen should do -- apart from improving his communication and explanations -- is to produce results, for example passing the slightly modified arms procurement bill to see if Soong really was sincere. Besides, when China's anti-secession law is passed, Taiwan must prepare countermeasures.

While the forceful response of pro-independence supporters has seemingly damaged Chen's image, it was in fact a show of support. Many actually support him in his attempts to try to safeguard the bottom line of Taiwan consciousness and so push him toward the "middle way," all in order to win over voters who are neither extremely pro-independence nor pro-unification. But this is easier said than done, and Chen should therefore be given more time.

Domestic disputes are still focused on the big picture and the main enemy is despotic China. Chen must strike appropriate compromises with the pan-blue camp, and I don't believe that he will forget the DPP's ultimate goals, since the current retreats are for the sake of future advances. Soong's retreat is also for the good of future progress.

Ultimately, both sides' goals -- be it the pan-blue camp's bid for unification or the pan-green camp's attempt to change the national title -- will require patience in winning over support from the public and international community. Most importantly, the will of the people will determine both sides' success or failure.

Paul Lin is a commentator based in New York.

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