Taiwan tries liberalization

TAIWAN, to its credit, is joining its fellow Asian counterparts South Korea and the Philippines in edging toward a more democratic system. Manila is gingerly advancing along on that road - following Corazon Aquino's dramatic electoral win last year. Seoul and Taipei still have a long way to go. For the ruling Kuomintang (KMT, or Nationalist Party), there are sound reasons for liberalization. Younger Taiwanese are now far removed from the passions of the late 1940s, when some 2 million Chinese headed by Gen. Chiang Kai-shek fled the mainland for safety on Taiwan. The KMT still dominates Taiwan's government and economy. But for all that, Taiwan is an affluent, productive society eager for overseas trade.

President Chiang Ching-kuo is cautiously nudging his nation toward reform. He is seeking to strike a balance between his old guard, opposed to reform, and opposition forces eager for casting off the KMT's grip. Thus, Chiang's government has just ended four decades of martial law. It has, however, added new restraints that critics maintain will continue to stifle democracy. To cite another example, the government lifted the ban on the main opposition group last September, thus allowing the opposition to make gains in the National Assembly. Yet the government established guidelines that in effect prevent the opposition from calling for an independent Taiwan, not linked to the mainland. Linkage continues to be a primary KMT goal. China has listed a declaration of independence by Taiwan as one of several steps that would prompt an invasion.

It is surely to Taiwan's advantage to move quickly toward a more truly representative political system. Not to do so is to invite the type of turbulence that racked the Philippines and is now troubling South Korea. The aspiration for a more just society cannot be stifled.

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