“You should have stuck to your original contract. Or your second plan. Or your third. You should, in fact, have stuck to something. Anything. Your total self-interest didn’t make you strong. It made you a rag in the wind, anybody’s to pick up.” — The Vor Game

News today reports that Chen Shui-bian, our energetic President, has signed a contract with James Soong, the head of the “opposition” People First Party (PFP). Lots of people are already complaining; after all, didn’t we elect A-bian in part to keep that fox Soong out of the henhouse?

Before we get too upset at our President for signing a contract with that Peron-wannabe Soong and his faction of corrupt, power-hungry, Taiwan-hating mainlanders, let’s recall that there are three major parties involved here, the DPP, the KMT, and the PFP. The DPP needs a deal to get a majority in the legislature, and while the KMT is for sale like any political party, the DPP cannot afford the price. On the other hand, the PFP is solely interested in power, and thus, belongs to anyone willing to bargain.

But what exactly did A-bian give up? He promised not to declare independence, stage any referendums, change the name of the country, and so on. Raise your hand if you really believed any of this was going to happen in the second term of a man whose country has hundreds of missiles pointed at it, whose senior military officers are apparently sympathetic to Taiwan’s enemies, whose capital is essentially a territory of rival political party formally committed to the eradication of an independent Taiwan, whose major western ally, the US, is now a power clearly in decline (and which supports his political rival Soong), who gets no support at all from Europe eager to sell weapons to China, and who rules with a razor-thin majority atop a completely divided legislature. Yes, all those things were really going to happen in the next four years. I’ll bet you also believe that the 2004 Florida vote count was kosher too.

No, essentially, A-bian is promised that he wouldn’t do things he wasn’t going to do anyway, in order to get cooperation from the PFP on some urgent political needs. No doubt this will last about as long as the triumvirate of Marc Antony, Octavian, and Marcus Lepidus, as two sides fundamentally opposed to each other stick it out exactly as long as interests are served. Fifteen minutes?

Once the smoke clears and tempers cool, A-bian’s political acumen will once again be revealed. By signing a deal with the PFP, he has put another spike into the wedge between the KMT and the PFP. Loyal KMT cadres already hate Soong for selling out the KMT, and now here’s another reason to hate him: a deal with Darth Vader himself, Chen Shui-bian. What is the real cost to A-bian? “Ink on a page” as one of my favorite TV shows once put it. Should an unlooked-for miracle occur and the opportunity for independence arise, does anyone really think that this contract will constrain Chen?

And let’s not overestimate the real effects of this. Taiwanese political parties are notorious for their inability to impose discipline. The figures at the top can do what they like, but the bottom will crawl along as before: locally focused, gloriously corrupt, and contemptuous of the center as only Taiwan can be. Can the PFP really muster the kind of party discipline needed to make this deal go? Inquiring minds register doubt. Really, looking at what goes on in the legislature, I do not even know why Beijing would want this crazy island; they ought to be paying Taiwan to stay away.

So relax, and enjoy what promises to be an entertaining 15 minute partnership.