Taiwan Touts Its Model for Mainland Reformers Taipei Pushes Consitutional Reform along with Economic Progress

By James L. Tyson, writer of The Christian Science Monitor | The Christian Science Monitor, February 18, 1992 | Go to article overview

Taiwan Touts Its Model for Mainland Reformers Taipei Pushes Consitutional Reform along with Economic Progress


James L. Tyson, writer of The Christian Science Monitor, The Christian Science Monitor


TOUTING its economic success of the past 20 years, Taiwan plans soon to advance its messianic campaign to lead all of China from ox carts to disk drives, and from prison cells to voting booths.

The next step comes in March as Taiwan's National Assembly takes up the revision of the country's Constitution, enacted on mainland China 45 years ago.

Since fleeing communist forces on the mainland in 1949, the ruling Kuomintang (KMT), or Nationalist party, has clung to the Constitution in order to justify its claim to sovereignty over all China.

To the KMT, the constitutional revisions are essential for the long-term effort to export rapid capitalist growth and democratic reform to mainland China.

The KMT is driven to "recover the mainland" by patriotism, deep cultural ties to China, and a 70-year vendetta against the communists in Beijing.

In the short term, Taipei will promote the "Taiwan model" through radio, television, and people-to-people contacts, and other forms of "public diplomacy" until it can once again freely organize on the mainland, according to a detailed government plan on mainland relations.

For the long term, a revised democratic constitution would be a touchstone for the effort to export rapid capitalist growth and democratic reform across the Taiwan Strait.

But political scientists are skeptical of the KMT's ability to fulfill its grand ambitions. They say Taiwan offers only a rough model for how to engineer democratic change among the 1.1 billion people on mainland China. Two Chinas

After 42 years of separation, the "two Chinas" are vastly different. The mainland is so large, poor, and politically undeveloped that it will not be ready for the fast reformist pace of Taiwan for several years, say political scientists in Taiwan.

Still, Taiwan has left behind useful guideposts for reformers in China, they say. Taiwan offers proof that China's ancient Confucian traditions of hierarchy, discipline, and order do not preclude democratic institutions.

Taiwan is steadily becoming an example of a "dominant-party democracy," in which a ruling party competes with the opposition but rarely, if ever, alternates with it in power, says Samuel Huntington, a political scientist at Harvard University.

Japan, South Korea, and other Asian countries similarly uphold consensus and stability rather than conflict and change. They stress the importance of the group rather than the primacy of the individual, he adds.

Taiwan also identifies for China's would-be reformers the pivotal role of a middle class in democratic reform, say political scientists in Taiwan.

A literate, urban middle class has sprouted during Taiwan's prosperous times and formed labor unions and other interest groups outside government control. This large bloc has proved to be an irrepressible champion for liberal institutions, they say.

Taiwan offered its most tangible lesson in how to build democracy by impelling the economy to an average annual growth of more than 8 percent over the course of four decades, the political scientists say. …

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