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
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
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.
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
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. …