It's time to take a look back at the past quarter of a century since it was 25 years ago today that Taiwan lifted martial law and entered a period of rapid democratization, the result of which, in our view, is intertwined with cross-Taiwan Strait relations.
When former President Chiang Ching-kuo announced an end to the Republic of China's 38-year era of martial law on July 15, 1987, ushering in constitutional democracy and the opening of cross-strait exchanges, he was building a "historical structure" that was to inseparably link Taiwan's democracy to its relationship with mainland China.
Chiang, through his good instincts, was able to achieve that because under the structure, cross-strait exchanges would continue because of public opinion, but both sides of the strait would remain separated, also because of public opinion.
For 25 years, Taiwan has been walking on the road paved by Chiang Ching-kuo -- a path for which not even Beijing has been able to offer an alternative in managing cross-strait relations.
The most important issue for Taiwan is to handle cross-strait ties well. That was true when Taiwan was ruled under martial law, and it was also true after martial law was lifted. The only difference is that Taiwan must now follow constitutional democratic principles in handling its ties with China.
History is full of ironies. After the Kuomintang (KMT) under Lee Teng-hui lost a critical election battle in 2000, transferring power to the Democratic Progressive Party's Chen Shui-bian, Lee's successor Lien Chan made an ice-breaking visit to China in 2005 to open a window of opportunity on cross-strait exchanges.
The pro-Taiwan independence approaches of Lee and Chen have resulted in a deep reflection on the part of Beijing, which has learned to change its "military threat and psychological menace" strategy into one that underscores "peaceful development" in cross-strait ties.
That part of history can be summed up as follows: Lee and Chen's pro-independence policy was vetoed by Taiwan's people through democratic procedures. But after China's high-handed threats failed to intimidate Taiwan's people, Beijing has finally realized what Taiwan's public opinion means.
The moral for both sides of the strait is that Taiwan's constitutional democracy is intertwined with its China ties: cross- strait ties that satisfy public opinion will be ties that are reasonable; reasonable cross-strait ties must be supported by constitutional democracy.
In spite of the firm foundation of the historical structure laid down by Chiang Ching-kuo, cross-strait ties have seen rocky days over the past quarter-century. But even these volatile incidents have contributed to consolidating that foundation.
For example, without Lee Teng-hui losing the 2000 election battle to the DPP, Lien Chan would not have visited China in 2005. Had Chen Shui-bian not discredited the DPP's pro-independence agenda, Taiwan's people may not have realized that the pan-green camp's campaign to change the national title by adopting a new Constitution was a false issue. Without China's 1996 missile tests to terrify people -- which ended in failure -- Beijing would not have adopted its current "peaceful development" strategy toward Taiwan.
So the past 25 years have shown that the pan-blue and pan-green camps in Taiwan as well as the red regime in Beijing have all been forced to realize that for Taiwan, its constitutional democracy is indeed deeply, closely and inseparably intertwined with cross-strait ties.
After Chiang died, some leaders in Taiwan and in China have tried to deviate from the historical structure he built, but they all failed.
In the future, there will likely be more leaders on either side of the strait who will try to beat Chiang's grand design -- and will likely face failure, again. (Editorial abstract -- July 15, 2012)
(By S.C. Chang)