President Lee Teng-hui at the National Press Club
At a press conference at the prestigious National Press Club in Washington DC on October 20th, 2005, former Taiwan President Lee Teng-hui gave the following speech:
Taiwan’s Path to Democracy
Director Hickman, Ladies and Gentlemen:
I am delighted to have the opportunity come to the United States of America, a country built upon the spirit of democracy and freedom. Several hundreds of years ago, your forefathers braved dangers to reach a new land. In 1776, they adopted the Declaration of Independence, which provides that all men have certain unalienable rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, and that governments are formed to secure these rights upon the consent of the governed.
When our ancestors came to Taiwan, they may not have a Mayflower Compact, but they possessed the same intentions to pursue freedom and happiness. This ideal of Taiwan people to pursue freedom and happiness were gradually realized, step by step, in 1989, the beginning of Taiwan’s democratic era.
As with it’s previous economic miracle, Taiwan’s democratic reform is a success story that won the attention of the world. During the democratization process, I led the KMT government administration to listen carefully to the people’s demands, to respect the will of mainstream popular opinion, and to become the main force for promoting reform. At that time, the opposition DPP also advocated reform and therefore both parties, though competitors, worked together shoulder to shoulder on political reform. Through tenacious reform, authoritarian rule gradually gave way to the boulevard of democracy. The ethnic tensions that materialized from the 1940’s also dissolved under the harmony of democracy.
In the year 2000, Chen Shui-bian, the DPP candidate, won the presidential election. However, the victorious DPP government faced the predicament of a legislature controlled by opposition parties and consequent boycotts of its government policies. Furthermore, the inexperienced DPP administration was not tolerant enough, leading to major clashes between the political parties and re-igniting ethnic tensions.
What is regrettable is that present ethnic tensions under the new political environment, combined with China’s divisive efforts, have worsened into conflicts on national identity. Therefore, I have put forward the “new era Taiwanese,” an idea that promotes using the democratic spirit to overcome internal disparity.
During the last decade of the 20th century, the tidal “third wave democratization” that began in the early 1970s swept over Taiwan. We accepted baptism into this third wave democratization through a “quiet revolution” without bloodshed, though with some inevitable social tensions and conflicts. Taiwan’s democratic experience earned the attention of Professor Samuel P. Huntington, a renowned political scientist. Nevertheless, as Professor Huntington had noted, some of the countries that were part of the “third wave democratization” face obstacles, and thus, may not become a full democracy.
From where do the threats to Taiwan’s democracy come? There are certain political parties in Taiwan that are antidemocratic. These remnants of the authoritarian era, which are unwilling to give up their vested interests or face the fact that authoritarian rule had crumbled, attempt to baffle the people through ideology to replace the people’s choice.
In Taiwan, this antidemocratic force is quite rampant, and supported by the Chinese totalitarian regime. China, across the Taiwan Strait, has never wavered from its ambitions to annex Taiwan although its tactics may have changed. For example, in the past they launched missiles to threaten Taiwan, but the Taiwan people stood tall. Now they adopt softer tactics such as economic profits to attract Taiwan people, however the substance is still the same. As long as Taiwan is not subsumed into China, Chinese tyranny will never cease offering incentives and using coercions.
The antidemocratic forces with their ideological wrappings inside Taiwan and the authoritarian Chinese quickly became good friends. With the support of the Chinese, their antidemocratic actions become more unrestrained and unhampered. The interplay of these internal and external factors has led to complexity and confusion of Taiwan’s national identity. This is the most significant threat to Taiwan’s democracy.
Some Asian leaders advocate the so-called “Asian values.” Asian traditions are not irreplaceable, yet the political process of some countries shows that “Asian values” ultimately is used as an excuse to deprive the people of human rights, becoming a major stumbling block in their path to full democracy. Fortunately, for Taiwan, the influence of Confucian traditions is not entrenched enough to create this problem. Currently, the major issue for Taiwan to resolve in its path toward full democracy is the confusion in its national identity.
Various surveys show that more and more Taiwanese people see themselves as being Taiwanese or do not deny that they are Taiwanese. This is proof of the assimilation of different ethnic groups in Taiwanese society under democracy. Regrettably, those political groups that have been rejected by the voters use political maneuvers to fracture social harmony and stir dissensions on national identity. They want to adopt the “Greater China” ideology, used in the authoritarian period to amass power, to subvert the modern democratic Taiwan.
Today, their support comes not from domestic voters, but from the hegemonic arguments, military threats, and economic tactics of China across the Taiwan Strait. Undeniably, Chinese national power is growing and such “bringing Ching soldiers to enter the gate” or Trojan horse tactics, used to cooperate with the communists in order to control Taiwan, worsens Taiwan’s predicament.
For Taiwanese people to overcome these challenges, they must first strengthen national identity. If we look closely at Taiwan, we find that Taiwanese people from over fifty years ago and Taiwanese people of fifty years later have undergone a qualitative change. In the past, after being brainwashed by outside regimes, Taiwanese people had no other choice but to deem themselves as Chinese. Today, more and more people have come to realize that it was both a factual and historical fiction.
In reality, during the process of democratic reforms in the last decade of the 20th century, we frequently asked ourselves, “Who am I? Who are we?” Professor Huntington also mentions in his new book, Who are We?, that many countries currently face various national identity issues, albeit in varying form and substance, mentioning that in Taiwan, the people’s national identity is in the midst of dissolution and reconstruction.
The French philosopher Sartre said: “…man being condemned to be free carries the weight of the whole world on its shoulders; he is responsible for the world and himself as a way of being.” He further reminded us: “Imbedded in man’s attempt to surpass himself, transcendence, is the meaning he has been looking for in his life.”
Speaking of which, I cannot help but think of the philosophy established by Immanuel Kant’s three major critiques. My inspiration from his philosophy is – Humans must understand their own limitations in order to manage self-reliance and motivation so that life is elevated to higher purpose and becomes more worthwhile. If we take his analysis to a higher level, we find what Kant has said, “that one should never act in a way that one could not also will that this maxim should be a universal law,” to be very significant.
The International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights adopted by the United Nations in 1966 undoubtedly represent modern interpretations of this proposition. It is the obligation of the Taiwanese people toward themselves and the world to strive for the realization of the international human rights standards delineated in these covenants.
The “new era Taiwanese” ought to engage in such philosophical analyses and take action to practice them, starting from invigorating their minds to realize Nietzsche’s “revaluation of all values (Umwertung aller werte),” so that they can shape an all-encompassing spiritual transcendence and cultural renewal.
Owing to the combination of free will and civism, it would not be difficult for such enlightened new era Taiwanese to breakaway from the situation of being shackled by historical fabrications toward developing a firm and resolute national identity for democratic Taiwan.
Only upon this new foundation can democracy eradicate lingering ethnic conflicts, prevent antidemocratic political forces from stirring unrest for their own self-interests, and keep the political warfare of hegemonic greater China ideology from gaining an inadvertent advantage.
A national identification based on democracy is the best guarantee for Taiwan’s democracy. Like some of the other countries included in the third wave of democracy, Taiwan has also lapsed into a worrisome democratic cadence in recent years. This is a situation that cannot be ignored by friends who are concerned about Taiwan’s democratic development.
In the future, whether the democratic achievements that Taiwan has made in “the third wave of democracy” will further be consolidated or unfortunately take the road backwards certainly will affect the expansion or contraction of global democratic values. In other words, how democratic countries can mutually support each other deserves everyone’s close attention.
From a geopolitical point of view, the strengthening of Taiwan’s democracy is an important link in the democratic front line of defense in the Asia Pacific region. Once this line is broken, it will be devastating for global democracy and peace.
Nevertheless, I would like to make an optimistic prediction that the threats to Taiwan’s democracy are not fatal as long as we do not lose confidence in democratic values, as long as our democratic functions do not go off track, as long as our legal institutions improve and as long as the 23 million Taiwan people finally deem their national identification with Taiwan as natural and proper. At some point in the future, Taiwan will march with even firmer footsteps toward the goal of becoming a full democracy.