Chen's trial is a test for Taiwan's democracyBy David Pilling 2009-01-19
陈水扁受审考验台湾民主作者：英国《金融时报》亚洲版主编戴维·皮林(David Pilling) 2009-01-19
The arrest and internment of Chen Shui-bian, former president of Taiwan and burnt-out beacon of the island's miraculous democracy, has been tracked locally with all the intensity bestowed on the first OJ Simpson trial. Instead of blood stains and ill-fitting gloves, media in Taiwan and China have pored obsessively over the “Son of Taiwan's” prison conditions, down to the thickness of his gruel, as well as over the diaries and poems he has penned behind bars.
The most recent accusation was that the former leader of the opposition Democratic Progressive party had been caught by security cameras snacking on peanuts and chocolate bars while, supposedly, on a 16-day hunger strike against what he says is a politically motivated trial. It might be my personal bias, but almost more damaging than allegations that his two-term administration was scandalously corrupt is the idea that an embodiment of Taiwanese democracy should have been scarfing midnight snacks while boasting of supreme willpower in going without food. If true, this is a bit disappointing for the man whose election in 2000 cemented Taiwan's remarkable transition from authoritarian police state to multiparty liberal democracy.
Though there are farcical aspects to his incarceration, the outcome of his trial, which starts at the Taipei district court next week, matters. Taiwan, one of the few genuine democracies in Asia, needs to show it can simultaneously root out official corruption and maintain the independence of judiciary from political manipulation.
That is no easy matter in a state as divided as Taiwan, where political differences are often an expression of attitudes towards mainland China and to a voter's identity as a Chinese or a Taiwanese. Any suspicion that the Kuomintangparty, the nationalists who regained power last year following eight years in the wilderness, is out for revenge could open unbridgeable rifts among the island's 23m people.
Mr Chen's 2000 election represented the first – and only – transfer of power from the Kuomintang since the nationalists, led by Chiang Kai-shek, fled mainland China and set up on the island in 1949. The victory of
Mr Chen's party, which campaigned on a pro-independence and (ironically) anti-corruption stance, set the seal on a textbook transition from authoritarianism.
People round the region, not least in mainland China, watched as the sword of Taiwan's Kuomintang police state was refashioned into the ploughshare of a lively democracy. That has been a rare event in Asia, matched only in South Korea. Even in democratic Japan, the Liberal Democratic party has managed to conduct a series of elections over half a century without the inconvenience – save for one brief period in the early 1990s – of actually giving up office.
The test for Taiwanese democracy is an important event for China. Taiwan proves that democracy can take root in a Chinese political context. For obvious reasons, Beijing has chosen to view Mr Chen's camp as a nest of pro-independence vipers. In so far as his administration was proof that authoritarian governments need not last for ever, he set an unfortunate precedent in an island state regarded as a mere province of China.
China's official media have not carped too loudly about the trial of a former president deemed to have abused his power for corrupt ends. That is a dangerous precedent for Beijing too. The worst anti-Chen venom has been limited largely to the websites where nationalist sentiment has revelled in the discomfort and embarrassment of a leader who dared to peddle his splittist agenda.
Certainly, Mr Chen's downfall and the revival of the Kuomintang under Ma Ying-jeou, elected in a landslide victory last year, has been superficially positive for Beijing's unification agenda. Mr Ma has warmed up the cross-Straits relationship, which had slipped into almost warlike rhetoric when the populist Mr Chen was nudging the island state towards an ever more explicit declaration of independence.
Symbolic of warming relations was last month's arrival of two pandas in Taipei. The cuddly duo, provocatively named the equivalent of “re” and “union” by the Beijing propaganda machine, had been refused admission by Mr Chen, who perhaps wanted to name them “bugger” and “off”.
Yet despite the rapprochement, Taiwanese public opinion has been remarkably stable, with a big majority continuing to favour maintenance of the “status quo”, code for de facto independence. The island's sense of Taiwanese identity has been strengthening. More than 95 per cent of its inhabitants are ethnic Chinese but there has been a sharp divide between those whose families have been there for hundreds of years and those who fled to the island in 1949. That divide has been narrowing. Before Mr Chen took power, only
30 per cent of people thought of themselves as Taiwanese first. That has now swelled to 70 per cent.
Growing confidence in Taiwan's identity and independent institutions suggest that liberal democracy has taken root. That does not mean that Mr Chen's arrest will not severely test Taiwanese democracy. Yet Taiwan has been here before. In 2004, the day before Mr Chen was re-elected by a hair's breadth, he narrowly missed assassination. Some Kuomintang supporters still insist the attack was staged to bring out the sympathy vote. Yet Taiwanese democracy survived. If it can come through that, it can come through almost anything.
不过，尽管两岸关系有所缓和，但台湾的民意却一直相当稳定，多数人依然赞成维持“现状”，即维持事实上的独立。岛内的台湾认同意识一直在增强。岛上 居民逾95%为华人，但在那些已定居数百年的居民与那些1949年逃至该岛的居民之间，存在着巨大的鸿沟。这个鸿沟近年在缩窄。陈水扁上台前，该岛只有 30%的人认为自己首先是台湾人，现在这个数字已经升至70%。
台湾人对台湾认同与独立体制的信心不断增强，表明自由民主已在这里生根。这并不意味着陈水扁的被捕不会严峻考验台湾民主。但是，台湾以前也经历过类 似情况。2004年，在陈水扁以微小优势再次当选的前一天，他险些被暗杀。有些国民党支持者依然坚持认为，那次袭击是陈水扁为博取同情票而上演的一场戏。 但无论如何，台湾的民主得以幸存。如果它那次可以化险为夷，那么它就能度过几乎一切难关。