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Mar 12, 2008

NYT piece on TI

Update: Michael Turton does a better job on this one.

Taiwan’s Independence Movement Likely to Wane, runs the headline of Edward Wong's article. Let's get into it.

No matter who wins Taiwan’s fiercely contested presidential election on March 22, the fervent independence movement that has so agitated relations with mainland China in recent years seems destined to suffer a significant setback.
Agitating China probably has little to do with Taiwanese voters' decisions. Also, why is the Independence Movement described as fervent? If you ask me, it's been pretty complacent for at least the last four years, and really more like a decade or more.

Both candidates, Ma Ying-jeou and Frank Hsieh, want closer ties with Beijing, differing only in how quickly and to what degree they would strengthen relations. By calling for closer economic cooperation with China and rejecting any notions of separatism, they are repudiating the tough nationalist policies of the departing president, Chen Shui-bian, whose confrontational stance has angered officials in Beijing and Washington and has stirred anxiety among many Taiwanese.

I think the main difference is really about the preconditions for those closer economic ties, with Hsieh insisting on equal footing (no preconditions)for negotiations while Ma believes accepting "One China" provides equal footing. No question Chen Shui-bian is no longer the man of the hour; everyone wants some distance.

“Both sides will try to seek common ground and seek engagement across the straits,” said Philip Yang, a political scientist at National Taiwan University who has advised the Ma campaign. “If Ma is elected, the pace will be faster, and with bigger expectations.”

The pace will be faster because Beijing and the KMT likely already have some tactic agreements, but this is a pretty fair evaluation.

Mr. Ma, a Harvard-educated lawyer, is favored in polls and by political commentators to beat Mr. Hsieh, who is from the Democratic Progressive Party, or D.P.P., of Mr. Chen and is campaigning in his shadow.

Ma is not a lawyer. He is favored in polls. Hsieh is a human rights lawyer. Why leave that out? And why leave out what Ma actually did with his career?

Mr. Ma’s party, the Kuomintang, governed Taiwan for 51 years, often with an iron grip, before Mr. Chen was elected in 2000. The Kuomintang’s revival this year is
rooted in widespread disenchantment with Mr. Chen, whose party took power on a wave of optimism.

Fair. But shouldn't "sometimes ruled Taiwan with an iron fist" be "ruled Taiwan with an iron fist using the world's longest period of martial law?"

Mr. Chen initially tapped a vein of support among many Taiwanese for steps to promote Taiwan’s separate identity. Those feelings ran especially deep among
people whose families had lived in Taiwan for generations and did not have close
political ties to mainland China. Many Taiwanese also hoped that Mr. Chen would
end the corruption and authoritarianism associated with the Kuomintang.

I would have reversed the order. Chen's calls for reform got him elected in 2000 more than identity issues.

Instead, Mr. Chen has been mired in corruption scandals involving close relatives. Also, his tireless efforts to promote independence created constant tension with the mainland and led to disagreements with the United States, which has helped guarantee Taiwan’s security but has discouraged unilateral steps by either side to change the island’s political status.

What are those "tireless efforts to promote independence?" Insisting that Taiwan does not belong to the PRC? By that measure, all candidates have said something to the effect, although the KMT position is so wrapped up in contradictions its hard even for them to make heads or tails of it. Also, practically speaking, there is little or nothing Taiwan can do to unilaterally change the status quo except as defined by Beijing, which is defining it based on fiction as opposed to some reality.

In the end, Mr. Chen alienated people in the broad center of the electorate who say they support the status quo and who depend on strengthening economic ties across the Taiwan Strait. As he finishes his second term, his popularity ratings are in the 20s.

This confuses the issue: what is the status quo? Lack of war? De facto independence? One China? According to the most recent opinion polls, people would say de facto independence, which sort of changes the spin on this, doesn't it? I mean, really this is the crux of the issue. If you suggest the independence movement is on the wane, you're right that the idea that Taiwan must make an active declaration of independence from the PRC and throw off the ROC government and constitution is basically dead. That hardly means people have stopped believing in de facto independence or that they no longer hope to enjoy de jure independence.

And Chen's low popularity has everything to do with the scandals and stagnant wages.

Despite his troubles, he has prepared a parting shot: a nonbinding referendum on March 22 that asks Taiwanese whether they want to apply for the United Nations under the name Taiwan rather than the island’s formal name, the Republic of China. Taiwan left the United Nations in 1971 when the General Assembly recognized the Communists as China’s legitimate government.

What about the KMT's referendum? Every one's doing exactly as the CCP and KMT do, ignoring the KMT initiative and focusing only on the DPP's as "provocative." The CCP surely considers the KMT measure provocative too, but doesn't wish to say so since the KMT is doing the job for them by not pushing their own referendum. And characterizing a vote as a "parting shot?"

Mr. Ma, in trying to establish himself as a centrist voice, has criticized the referendum and other government policies aimed at stoking nationalist sentiments. “The D.P.P.’s drive toward de jure independence led only to Taiwan’s internal decay and international isolation,” Mr. Ma, 57, said at a recent news conference. “It is therefore high time for both Taiwan and the mainland to revert to what I call the three noes: no talks on reunification during my term of office, no pursuit of de jure independence and no use of force by either side.”

Again, this only makes him a centrist if you pretend there is no KMT referendum and ignore that the vast majority of Taiwanese want to be in the UN.

Many of the policies proposed by Mr. Ma and Mr. Hsieh, 61, are similar, though Mr. Ma appears more willing to engage directly with Beijing. Mr. Ma has said he will increase the number of charter flights across the straits and explore opening up commercial flights, all to spur the economy, which voters see as a major issue. He has also said he supports increasing tourism in Taiwan from the mainland and lifting many government limits on cross-straits investment.

As we all know, the economic policies are fairly similar, with Ma backtracking on several promises and trying to insist at this point he would really limit a lot of free trade issues, effectively making his position closer to Hsieh's.

Mr. Ma said he would ensure that the defense budget was equal to at least 3 percent of Taiwan’s gross domestic product. The military needs “to be strong enough to deter an initial attack from the mainland,” he said.

No comments on how they've actually handled the arms budget or how this statement flies in the face of years of their policy.

Since campaigning began in earnest, Mr. Ma has been dogged by issues of character, with Mr. Hsieh relentlessly questioning him on having received United States permanent residency. Critics of Mr. Hsieh, also a lawyer, say raising the character issue is a sign of his desperation, as his party tries to battle back from a painful defeat in legislative elections in January. The vote, in which the Kuomintang won almost three-quarters of 113 parliamentary seats, was generally seen as a referendum on Mr. Chen’s leadership.

I'd say that's a pretty fair paragraph.

“We’re operating against the tide,” said Hsiao Bi-khim, a former legislator and a spokeswoman for Mr. Hsieh, who has declined to meet with foreign journalists. “Our defeat in the parliamentary elections on the one hand has brought our party spirits to a low point, but has also brought on a sense of urgency.”

That's some honesty from Bi-khim. You go, girl! It's interesting that Hsieh is shunning foreign journalists at this point. Maybe you have to blame the DPP for the lack of a green perspective in international media, then.

To distance himself from Mr. Chen, Mr. Hsieh has called for maintaining the status quo, rather than pushing for independence, and has proposed allowing direct Chinese investment in Taiwan and lifting limits on Taiwanese investment in China. He has also said little about the United Nations referendum, although many party members continue to say it is important.
“We see China as a giant with its hands around our neck, trying to suffocate us, trying to shut off our space on the international stage,” he said. The referendum, she added, “is an expression of the desire of the Taiwanese people for its space, to be part of the international community, to join international organizations. It’s not about declaring independence. It’s not about changing the legal status of Taiwan.”

It's hard to tell if this quote is from Bi-khim or Frankie. But in any case, I tend to agree.

Nevertheless, American officials continue to warn Taiwan not to provoke China.
In Beijing on Feb. 26, Secretary of State
Condoleezza Rice said, “this referendum is not going to help anyone, and, in fact, it shouldn’t be held.”

Shelley Rigger, a professor of political science at Davidson College in North Carolina, who wrote a book about the D.P.P., said that because of Mr. Chen’s policies, “U.S.-Taiwan relations are about as bad as they’ve ever been.”

Well, sorry Condie, but too late! And how can a vote that can't change the reality at the UN really be considered provocative? Also, Rigger seems to be basically correct on the point about US-Taiwan relations.

“The U.S. is very eager for the new administration to take office because there’s considerable concern in Washington that Chen Shui-bian could still destabilize matters even before inauguration,” she added. In Mr. Chen’s tenure the government carried out domestic policies centered on Taiwanese nationalism, such as promoting a Taiwanese dialect.

He certainly will have some card up his sleeve should Ma win. But tying the promotion of Holo Taiwanese (and labeling it a dialect) to nationalism is a gross oversimplification taken out of context. The DPP has also promoted Hakka, Aboriginal language education and standardization and has worked to put Filipino, Thai and Vietnamese language soap operas on public TV to recognize the demographic influx of speakers of those languages. And this claim ignores the fact that these languages were all actively repressed for 50 years, to such a degree that Holo Taiwanese, Hakka and all Aboriginal tongues are endangered. Mandarin is still also the only language government documents are published in.

The DPP language policy is simply not related to nationalism, even if nationalists link language to their cause.

1 comment:

Raj said...

Mais not a lawyer. He is favored in polls. Hsieh is a human rights lawyer. Why leave that out? And why leave out what Ma actually did with his career?

Because the NYT like other American newspapers have a stick up their arse about American universities and couldn't care less about Taiwanese ones. And they can't be bothered to fact-check.