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Peng Ming-min: Pass the Democratic Flame of the 1964 Self-salvation Declaration to Our Youth to Kindle; the Democratic Imbalance of One-Party Domination Will End.

Tzou Jing-wen (2014).  “Peng Ming-min: Pass the Democratic Flame of the 1964 Self-salvation Declaration to Our Youth to Kindle; the Democratic Imbalance of One-Party Domination Will End.”   Liberty Times, September 15.

Peng Ming-min Profile: Born in 1923, Professor Peng holds a Ph.D. in law from the University of Paris. [Prior to his escape] Peng previously served as professor and chairman of National Taiwan University’s Department of Political Science, and as an advisor to the Republic of China’s United Nation’s delegation. [During his twenty-two years of exile] Professor Peng served as a research associate at the Center for Chinese Studies at the University of Michigan and also [co-founded and] served as president of the Formosan Association for Public Affairs (FAPA). [Following his return to Taiwan] Peng served as a presidential advisor [to Chen Shui-bian].

On September 20th fifty years ago, then-National Taiwan University professor of political science, Peng Ming-min and his students, Wei Ting-chao and Hsieh Tsung-min, were jailed for issuing “A Declaration of Formosan Self-salvation.” Today, in an interview half a century later, Peng notes that democracy takes time, and that, although Taiwan’s democracy is still in its early stages, as long as Taiwan isn’t consumed by China, the outlook for democracy in Taiwan remains hopeful. Just as martial law was ultimately unsustainable, KMT one-party dominance will inevitably succumb to the democratic imbalance to which it has given rise, and bring an end to this current unfair state of affairs.

Bring the Constitution in Line with Cross-Strait Reality: Finding Salvation in the Ballot Box

Reflecting on the “Self-salvation Declaration” fifty years after the fact, how would you compare Taiwan’s past situation to its present?

Peng Ming-min: In 1964, the Chinese Communist Party government in Beijing had already been internationally recognized, but fifteen years after landing on Taiwan, the KMT continued to call itself the sole legitimate government of China. By that point, although return to China was impossible, the KMT still insisted it would counter-attack the mainland. This claim served as an excuse for the indefinite continuation of martial law. Martial law, in conjunction with the “Permanent Parliament,” cemented KMT dictatorship. We felt this was an act of self-deception, so my two students and I conducted an analysis of Taiwan’s situation and the avenue it should pursue; our hope was to wake people up and prevent them from heading toward a dead end. That’s why we wrote the “Declaration,” to call for Taiwan’s democratization, for direct election of the president, for the dissolution of the National Assembly, and for the necessary revision of the Constitution.

That Constitution had been established in 1947; two years later, came the escape to Taiwan. The constitutional process was extremely hasty, devoid of any serious discussion. As we saw it, the only way out for Taiwan was a new Taiwanese constitution, a differentiation between Taiwan and the country newly established under the leadership of Mao Zedong, and a return to the United Nations under the name of “Taiwan,” but our view was considered “traitorous.” Some were jailed, some escaped abroad. We knew we had lit a fire; we hoped the fire of democracy, freedom, and human rights would continue to burn brightly, and now, looking back, it has already been fifty years.

What we advocated then is still applicable today, and that shows that we weren’t wrong then about the path we advocated. Direct election of the president and dissolution of the National Assembly have already been realized, and that’s very encouraging. However, the Constitution is still the constitution of 1947. According to this constitution, China is our territory, but in actuality this territory was lost sixty years ago and it has a formal, internationally-recognized government. A portion of this territory has already become Mongolia, a UN member-state, so to continue to say that it belongs to us [Taiwan] is laughable–it’s an international joke. Only when our government formally declares our territory as limited to Taiwan and Penghu [the Pescadores] will the international community consider recognizing the claim. Of course, it will be a long wait for recognition, but we need to speak rationally and truthfully, because that’s the only way others believe you are speaking in earnest. This is the greatest fundamental difficulty we currently face.

And, for China to say that Taiwan is a part of it is also absurd. Historically, practically, and legally, Taiwan is decidedly not a part of China. That’s what makes it so difficult for the international community to comprehend the positions of the KMT and the CCP. These two governments bear responsibility for the inability to normalize cross-Strait relations. The Taiwanese people are constricted in this regard, and that’s really quite sad. What’s more ironic is that, at home, this government refers to itself as “China,” but as soon as it sets foot outside Taiwan, it won’t dare to call itself the Republic of China. It simply states, “I’m from Taiwan.” It’s apparent that they themselves don’t even believe their own line.

In 1996 when I was running for president, the first item on my political agenda, if elected, was to establish a constitutional commission to discuss what form of constitution was best suited to reality. As revolution was out of the question, the hope was that the Taiwanese people could use the vote to demonstrate their will and decide for themselves. This would be the first step in Taiwan’s self-salvation.

The democracy of which Taiwan is so proud, has not progressed, but rather regressed–particularly after 2000. At the same time, the government has tried in every respect to ingratiate itself with Taiwan’s greatest threat, China, even looking to integrate with it; this is an extremely dangerous trend. In the past fifty long years, obstacles have risen up to block Taiwan’s path, and it’s a truly lamentable situation.

It could be that the path to democracy is a winding one, with three steps back for every five forward and two steps back for every six forward; it could be that we are currently in the process of taking more steps back.

The KMT Asset Issue: Fatal Obstruction to [Taiwan’s] Democracy

Since 2000, two political parties have held power in turn. [Doesn’t this indicate that] both parties share responsibility for Taiwan’s democratic regression[?]

Peng Ming-min: One of the critical factors in democratic regression is [KMT] party assets. If the party assets issue isn’t resolved, it will be difficult to establish a strong democracy. Ma Ying-jeou has promised several dozen times to resolve the asset issue, but nothing has ever actually been done. When Chen Shui-bian was in power, he took a much firmer approach, but he still didn’t do enough. This is another chief obstacle to Taiwan’s democratic development, but it is an obstacle that Taiwan itself can resolve if public opinion can bring enough pressure to bear on the KMT. However, if there is no [DPP] majority in the parliament, there’s little a [DPP] president can do–people need to be conscious of this. It all depends on whether Taiwan is mature politically, and comes to understand the importance of the legislature, that parliament is more important than the president. Beginning with the 9-in-1 elections at the end of November, the force for change must grow, moving from local politics to the central government level until change is finally realized within the legislature.

In the past, my generation had always seen Taiwan’s youth as interested only in a good time, but the student movement of this past March quite unexpectedly and happily changed our minds. We suddenly began to think there might still be a way for Taiwan. We saw hope. I don’t personally know these students, but when I listen to them speak I’m moved. We had failed to appreciate the potential of Taiwan’s youth, and that was wrong. But I hear that although youth hold definite political views, the voter turnout rate among youth is low. If this is the case, then we need to encourage youth to turn out and vote to bring real change to the political situation. And as to the issue of vote-buying, whatever the case may actually be, voters must consider whether a few hundred [NT] dollars is worth trading away the future. This is a matter of [political] consciousness; and on matters such as these, Taiwanese themselves must bear responsibility. On the issue of die-hard Blue-Green voting blocks, it’s important to recall that in the past, there were solid iron blocks. Now, these voting blocks are gradually breaking apart. But as to the question of how fast and to what degree this transition will occur, I can only watch and see.

Absent a PRC Takeover, There Is Reason to Be Optimistic about Taiwan Democracy

Elections are an important democratic process, but it seems that among politicians standing for election, there is an increasingly apparent unspoken rule that candidates must first seek approval from China. Isn’t this a bit of a paradox?

Peng Ming-min: Taiwan has only had democracy for twenty years. Among European and American democracies, there are some with four hundred years of experience and some with two hundred, but in their early stages, all of them experienced disorder. I’ve often said that democracy is experimentation; if a reform fails you have to try it again and again. There is no guarantee of success, and if you fail, you continue to try–this is the unceasing process of democracy. If Taiwan were a separate and independent entity, I would be optimistic about Taiwan’s democratic process and autonomy, but all along Taiwan has faced an important obstacle in China. The threat China poses has led a number of people to be influenced into seeking China’s seal of approval before taking any kind of action. Paranoia of China has become a political trait of some Taiwanese. This sort of mentality of first considering China’s reaction before doing anything is really lamentable. Many people will say, “If you advocate that, China will attack;” and this is where politics comes in. We aren’t intending to stand in opposition to China and quarrel over everything, but rather to develop relations with China from an independent position. For example, China always says that if we give up Taiwanese independence, anything is open to discussion. Why don’t we say, “If you’re willing to guarantee Taiwan’s sovereignty, anything is open for discussion?”

There are issues that I find rather unbelievable, ECFA negotiations for example. The president essentially ordered the delegation to sign the agreement before a particular date. Is this done anywhere in the world? To say that something must be done? That no matter the cost, it must be accomplished? I simply can’t understand this type of thinking. And if Chang Hsien-yao [deputy minister of mainland affairs] is really a spy, how could he be sent to participate in negotiations? Wouldn’t this turn negotiations into a discussion between a Communist spy and Communist cadres? The attitude of this government toward negotiations is baffling.

Recently, we held an activity to reflect on the self-salvation declaration; the point of the event wasn’t to commemorate the past, but rather to pass on to Taiwan’s youth the fire that was kindled then. As individuals, our flames will eventually be extinguished; that’s why we must pass the flame on to our youth–so that they can keep the fire of the spirit of democracy burning. Where we have fallen short or failed, we must pass the baton to our youth to carry forward.

Democracy takes time. Although Taiwan’s democracy remains in its infancy, as long as Taiwan isn’t consumed by China, the outlook for democracy in Taiwan remains hopeful. Martial law ultimately proved unsustainable, but the people living under martial law could never have imagined we would be where we are today. When I escaped from Taiwan [in 1970], I believed I would never return, but I did. And not only did I come back, but I even stood for election [for president in 1996]– something I never could have imagined. Politics is living. KMT one-party dominance will inevitably succumb to the democratic imbalance it has created, ending this current unreasonable state of affairs. This is my hope.


This article was translated from the Chinese and published here with the permission of the author, Tzou Jing-wen. The original article appeared in print in Liberty Times, September 15, 2014.   鄒景雯(2014)。〈彭明敏:自救宣言的民主火種要傳給少年人繼續; 一黨獨大民主失衡終究會打破〉,《自由時報》,9月 15 日。


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