Larry Diamond, a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution and a professor of political science and sociology at Stanford, has written extensively on factors facilitating and obstructing democratic development in East Asia and elsewhere. Besides his work in Asia, he has investigated developments in Africa and the Middle East, and was a policy advisor under Paul Bremer post-Saddam Iraq, emerging as a vociferous critic of US actions there, the subject of an upcoming book. He spoke to us about Taiwan's economic integration with the Mainland, and impact this could have on the island's waning independence movement. Excerpts:
Q: How do you see economic priorities sidelining Taiwan's independence movement?
A: I think they are beginning to sober up Taiwan in two respects. Number one, I think that they are realizing that they need to be more pragmatic; they will put a lot at risk in terms of their security and their economic future if they go down the independence road. I also think that economic integration generating social as well as economic ties that are going to have an impact as more and more Taiwanese have interests on the Mainland beyond just making profit. They are living there part time, they may even have second families, and so all of this is having an impact.
Q: How do you see the hollowing out of Taiwan industry [as it migrates to the Mainland] shaping political trends?
A: I would say the obvious, that Taiwan, like any country at the advanced stage of production, is going to have to learn how to live and adapt very rapidly – in terms of the structure of production, in terms of new technology, in terms of training and so on – Tom Friedman's Flat World [an evened-out, integrated global economy, as described the New York Times columnist's new book]. Taiwan is on it now and they are going to have to move up the production chain and learn to occupy new niches. Or they are going to remain competitive – economic growth is going to slow and that is going to have a serious impact on political administrations. I don't think, at least for some time to come, the result is going to be regime instability. But I think political administrations will pay some political price for not being able to halt economic decline. Therefore over time, voters are going to migrate away from ideological and ethnic voting toward more pocketbook voting. I think the next election, where there is a growing chance of [Taipei mayor and KMT leadership contender Ma Ying-jeou] Ma getting elected president, something I predicted years ago, could be the first where we see that happening. Voters will take a look and ask, "What has eight years of DPP done for us?" and if it hasn't done more than it has by now in terms of generating new jobs and pragmatic opening with China [voters] may say, "Let's have party rotation of power again."
Q: Huang Tien-lin, a policy adviser to President Chen Shui-bian, recently blamed Taiwan's economic decline on industrial migration to China. Huang said that, instead of going "cheap," it should have invested in higher technology as industry did in South Korea. What do you make of that argument?
A: I don't feel competent to comment on that aspect of things, but I think Korea is doing other things that are leading it to adapt to an innovative global economy. No country can simply follow the model of another country. Taiwan has to ask itself what is going to be its niche that is going to generate continued economic vitality? Just look at the map. I think it's going to be an ability to relate in a distinctive way to the Mainland and, while not putting all its eggs in one basket, to have more direct economic relations. Looking at the map, looking at history, looking at future trends of the world, it's very difficult to argue that Taiwan's economy is not going to be helped by links of a direct and a social nature with the Mainland. It is difficult to argue that it isn't being hurt now by the fact there are no direct fights. It's just economically irrational.
Q: Is the independence movement history?
A: Not entirely. I definitely don't think that, but I do think that the Mainland will be better off in halting the slide to independence by showing a positive, integrative face rather than a hostile, belligerent face. I think one reason the political slide of the Pan-Blue [coalition] was arrested in the legislative elections and would have been arrested in the presidential election in 2004 without the assassination attempt is because China has not been engaged in that belligerent missile firing. So I think if China cools it and has a more pragmatic attitude, and is a little more patient and lets the natural plan of history and lets natural social and economic trends emerge, we may have seen the peaking of the independence movement in this period, say 2003 to 2005. But there are lots of things that could ramp it up again…
Q: Like Beijing's anti-secession law?
A: You're right, but I'm talking about things more serious than that – like the attempt to use force in an actively belligerent way. Another round of missile firing, or demeaning attitudes by China towards Taiwan, could generate a nationalist response.
Q: The one country-two system formula proved workable for Hong Kong, but Taiwan is a democracy.
A: Taiwan will never accept "one country-two systems." It has to be "one country-three systems" with "country," at least initially, construed in a much more general and in some ways cultural and symbolic way. But I think in the near term, unification will not be achieved with that formula. There's going to have to be a much more gradual approach to it, one that recognizes the distinctiveness of Taiwan, separate and apart from Hong Kong.
Q: The concern with Hong Kong at the beginning was democracy sentiment spilling over into Guangdong province – if Beijing went too fast, too tight with democratic Taiwan, wouldn't that threat loom?
A: Yes, it's an interesting speculation and it's one reason why, if I were Taiwanese, I would not accept any kind of political unification until the Mainland itself is democracy. What's interesting is, that was one of the national unification guidelines that Lee Tung-hui spelled out in the mid-1990s. When he redid them – he didn't say "we won't unify" which wasn't his position yet – he said unification can only happen when the Mainland itself is a democratic political system and when the two sides of the strait had achieved much more similar standards of living. I thought that was clever in two respects: Number one, it said, "We're not opposed in principle to some form of unification," and number two, it said, "but now that we are a democracy we're not going to unify into a non-democracy – so you become a democracy and we'll sit down and talk about it."
Q: What's your take on this round of opposition party visits (most notably by KMT Chairman Lien Chan)? Amid the hugs and kisses and panda bears, KMT leadership candidate Ma back in Taipei seemed to have urged everyone to remember Taiwan as a whole in their discussions, not just business interests.
A: It's too early to know what the impact is going to be. If it's managed carefully by the KMT, it can be a signal that they can talk to the Mainland and get pragmatic limited progress in a way that the ruling party cannot – but if Mainland leaders and the KMT mismanage this, again it could produce a nationalist reaction – [with the electorate effectively telling Beijing] "You're not going to pick our leaders for us." Ma understands this is a slippery slope and [the relationship] has to be handled very carefully.
Q: Getting back to this hollowing out concern – and people losing their jobs – Ma seemed to be hinting that it was for Beijing to come up with something of benefit to Taiwan's population as a whole.
A: Very possibly, and that is something that will be really worth watching.
Q: Any other observations to make about Taiwan-Mainland integration?
A: I think there was a historic turning point – and we really will look back and define the moment when the Taiwan independence movement peaked. And that is when the Bush administration turned on Chen Shui-bian when he went ahead with the referendum after he promised the administration that he wasn't going to do it. It was a somewhat different referendum, true. But he went ahead with it and the president felt betrayed and realized – when we were bogged down in Iraq and had a lot of defense obligations around the world – that Chen, the leader of a small country that we had been very supportive of, was putting the United States on a collision path, one that could possibly lead to war with the Mainland. And the president of the United States, probably the single most pro-Taiwan president we ever had, said, "This has to stop."