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May 4, 2009

But a whimper? the portion of my brain devoted to Taiwanese politics (usually carefully cordoned so as to keep me sane), I am at some emotional state between panic and despair (which also seems like a pretty good definition of 'feeling impending doom').

I have to say that all the recent developments in the Taiwan-China discussions about opening Taiwan to Chinese investment, along with the clear ideological alignment of the KMT and their determination to sign a peace treaty which I now am convinced surely must resolve the sovereignty question, and also along with the feebleness of the DPP "opposition," have combined into a perfect emotional storm in my head.

I am worried for the first time in my 12 years of involvement that we are going to lose this battle to maintain Taiwan's independence from China, and worse yet I feel the final nail (well, perhaps the next to final nail) in the coffin may be hammered in within two, at most three years. This is also the first time I've ever felt like I am on the ultimately losing side of a political cause, and that surely does not help.

While not quite debilitating, this is a deflating feeling, and I can't decide if the appropriate course of action is to start distributing revolutionary propaganda, flee the country, or protest like hell for the remaining two years before the Final Sellout occurs.

Thinking of all this also reminds me of a what a friend of mine in Taipei, who had been taken in his youth by his father to protests-turned-riots, demanding democracy, told me while he was up all night at the Chen Yunlin protests: "It feels like the democracy movement in the 80s all over again." But today I wonder if the difference is that this time, we are on the side about to be crushed.

The Taiwanese political portion of my brain has never been feeling at such a loss. Is this irrational, or has the last decade of hard work been for naught?


skiingkow said...

I will always see the turning point as being during the 2004 legislative elections in December. The Taiwanese had the chance to give a pro-Taiwan pro-democracy party full control to make the essential changes needed to move on as a free independent and democratic country.

The Taiwanese electorate failed to produce. This after the outrageous "truth commission" and other anti-democratic shenanigans by the KMT.

The final nail was the 2008 Presidential election. Myself and my extended family in Taiwan had dinner that night and it was the most glum get-together we've ever had. We knew Taiwan's hopes and dreams were over at that point.

DeMo! said...

Don't give up. Keep fighting.

We cannot see how the future will ultimately turn out.

Especially, we should use every opportunity to speak in schools, to neighbors, with letters in newspapers, to friends and family.

Changing the mind of one person at a time. Just think if the each person of the 40 percent worked on changing the mind of one other person -- and even half or a third were successful, we would have the majority.

Haitien said...

I've had pretty much the same feeling as I watch what's going on from afar. Sometimes it's so depressing that I've just started to tune everything out related to what's going on in Taiwan, and pretend that I've never lived in Taiwan, don't have family there, never grew up there.

But in the end, I keep coming back. There's just something about Taiwan that just refuses to be just stashed away in the back of my brain. I miss those warm humid summer nights hopping from stall to stall at the Shilin Night Market, running through sugar cane fields and mango orchards down south, and hiking the cliffs along the northeast coast. And I can't even begin to describe the people that I met over the years, from the cities to the country (and abroad!).

I still remember vividly the the excitement of staying up late on election night watching the returns come in, the nervous sense of defiance during air raid drills at my middle school in '96, and the breath of fresh air and the sense that anything was possible as a Taipei-ite living under then then Mayor Chen in the mid to late 90s (which coincidentally, began the process of my transition from the unquestioning KMT drone that I was).

Perhaps I'm being overtly sentimental. Certainly the self proclaimed foreign policy realists would say that I am. But as much as I might try, I can't give up on Taiwan. My attachment to the place far exceeds my anger at the people trying to sell it out.

In the end, this is your blog and you are fully justified in running it however you choose. But I hope you keep up the good work A-gu, yours has been one of the few sane voices on current events amongst all the madness.

Islander said...

I have been feeling the same the past few years but don't give up the good fight! Your blog is one of the few voices of reason out there.

阿牛 said...

Thanks for all the kind words everyone! I, like HaiTien and I'm sure everyone else, find it difficult to just give up the fight :)

Tommy said...

I agree with Stop Ma. The turning point was in 2004.

Regardless, I think we are also wearing blinders as to what the future holds. The situation does look grim, but then again, so does China's.

One thing that has had me shaking my head for a while is the number of people out there who, when faced with a clear situation, are so clueless as to what reality is.

Example: How many times have you heard someone say that China will pull the world out of recession, or that they will take over the world? It is all a confidence game from Beijing. The meager growth they are eeking out now is because of runaway fixed asset investment. A widening gap between rich and poor is temporarily held in check by a population where the majority thinks they are still profiting from growth. Corruption is only tolerated for the same reason. That won't continue forever, if only because the population will start to fall over a cliff in about 10 years. Imagine that in about 25 years, every two Chinese people will be supporting one senior citizen. And we think the US has a large health care bill. The country is one huge pressure cooker of disenchanted masses held in check by money-laden confidence.

Why is this important? Any KMT deal will not lead to total integration right away, and there will be (enfeebled) voices of opposition in Taiwan for some time to come. It is in China's interest to maintain the semblance of democracy in Taiwan as well for some time. And some barriers will exist to Chinese labour and capital for a while too.

The point is that Taiwanese suffered through three decades of martial-law-style forced integration, and have only been kept from emerging by the venal KMT. Taiwanese identity is not getting less important either.

This is why it is necessary to maintain the pressure on the KMT and the CCP. Because when the lustre comes off of the China apple, Taiwan may regain some more of its own shine.

It is also why people like you are needed to comment truthfully on the problems that exist. The moment voices of opposition silence themselves, the war really is lost.

Dixteel said...

I agree the situation is not good...but like many have pointed out, it's not over yet.

Changes are usually made during crisis situation. If everything is all relative OK, like during Chen's term, nothing will change. But now there is a crisis situation...and things might change. The only issue is will it change for the better. Now is still too early to give up hope.

Taiwan cannot become better over fact Taiwan might not even be able to leave "China orbit" in our life time...but if we give up now then there is no way we will achieve those dreams and it will be truely hopeless.

-- said...

I agree that Taiwan isn't headed in the right path, but I suspect that the ROC has a lot longer to live. I am half Japanese and half American, and both world powers have a lot invested in Taiwan.

Robert R. said...

...and both world powers have a lot invested in Taiwan.I'm less aware of the actions of Japan, but both world powers have even more invested in China. And the US has done relatively little in the past couple years to hinder China's suffocation of Taiwan.

CCTang said...

I don't intend to mock whatever your emotional state is... so, as dispassionately as possible, I say to you: "about time".

This ultimately comes down to a moral, psychological, intellectual, and even physical challenge between the people on both sides of the strait who see themselves as Chinese, and the "others" who view the relationship differently.

Ma Yingjiu made a meaningful statement at his inauguration; he stated that he believed that with the wisdom of the Chinese people, we should be able to overcome differences and find a winning compromise.

Well, so far, his term in office is proving him right (as well as the millions of Taiwanese who voted him into office). The process isn't complete yet, and I still see at least a 20-30 year process ahead of us. I expect steps forward and steps backwards. But I too believe that ultimately we, the Chinese people, will prove we're worthy of a united nation.

Haitien said...

And I say to you as dispassionately as possible that you have disproven your own point by invoking Ma's election as proof that Taiwanese want to become part of China.

Look over the press leading up to the 2008 elections. Ma is on the record again and again trying to repaint himself as pro-Taiwan, pro-ROC sovereignty, pro-democracy. Everything from Ma's campaign slogans, to his proposed policies (台灣一定贏) were calculated to convince the electorate that he could deliver massive economic growth through engagement with China without selling out Taiwan's sovereignty. Even now, as Ma and the KMT continue to render Taiwan subservient to China, while reversing democratic reforms, they still feel the need to pay lip service to "loving Taiwan" and "defending democracy". The KMT didn't win based off the appeal of unification, they won through the public's dislike of Chen, and showing a pro-Taiwan face to voters in Taiwan, while anyone outside Taiwan saw the same old Han Chinese nationalist face that the KMT has always had.

The question is, will the people of Taiwan realize that they are being duped? (One could argue that they already have given Ma's current 30% approval rating) And when they do, how far will they go to do something about it?

Carlos said...

I second Haitien's post. We don't want to be enemies with China, and we overwhelmingly want closer relations, but that's not the same as wanting to be annexed. Most of us see it more like a cousin-cousin relationship, and don't really understand the Chinese insistence on unification. Why is it better to have a bitter vassal-state instead of a friendly neighbor?

Some of it is mistrust. The Japanese colonial period and the KMT Martial Law era were disappointingly similar. If you look at the body counts, the number of years it took for social interaction between benshengren and the newcomers to become common, the number of years it took to win representation at the highest levels of government... eerily similar, even though the Chinese insist that one was a foreign occupation and the other was a rescue force. It's no surprise that the Taiwanese worry about a third round! It took Taiwanese self-rule to end linguistic repression and official discrimination based on your family's province of origin, and to establish democracy and freedom of speech and of the press.

But mistrust isn't the big issue. It's more simple than that - we just don't feel Chinese! Zhonghua, maybe, but not Zhongguo. In daily life it doesn't really occur to people that Taiwan isn't officially a country. That's why the KMT's campaigns claim to support Taiwan's sovereignty (and I'm sure many KMT members do feel that way). They have to, otherwise they'd just be out of touch.

Unfortunately (from a pan-green point of view), you only have to tell voters you're protecting Taiwan's sovereignty to win them over... you don't have to actually do it.

CCTang said...

Haitien / Carlos,

I think you both misunderstand my point. I was not suggesting that Ma was voted into power on the back of a wave of Chinese nationalism sweeping Taiwan. I realize that's hardly the case.

If it helps, you can call it an (impending) victory for "zhonghua" pragmatism on the one side of the strait, and "zhonghua" stubbornness on the other side of the strait. I think this pragmatism + stubbornness is exactly the wisdom that Ma spoke of, and that I ultimately believe in.

I can tell Haitien still clings desperately to the theory that the Taiwanese are simply being lied to when it comes to KMT policies towards the mainland. I don't really understand proponents of that theory.

Is there anyone in Taiwan that voted for the KMT, *not* realizing that it would implement policies that would more closely integrate both sides of the strait economically and socially? Is there anyone in Taiwan that hasn't heard the DPP's doomsday predictions? Is there anyone in Taiwan that hasn't heard Ma's repeated use of "zhonghua minzu", that isn't aware the military academies have reversed back to singing old Republican Chinese songs? Is there anyone in Taiwan that didn't realize unilateral, full independence would become *less* likely under Ma?

How low must your opinion be of the Taiwanese to think that they're so utterly clueless of these obvious facts...??? If I gave you the ability to reach into every Taiwanese household tonight, and lecture to them for 15 minutes... what could you possibly tell them that they didn't already know?

As I already said, I don't think the Taiwanese are Chinese nationalists. But I think those who continue to insist the (great majority) of Taiwanese are Taiwanese nationalists are living in a fantasy land. The (great majority of) Taiwanese are pragmatic, and while they might not understand why mainland Chinese are so passionately invested in reunification, and while they might prefer having the *option* of going a different path... they're *not* recoiling in horror at the idea.

Haitien said...
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Haitien said...
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Haitien said...

Of course people realized the KMT would push for increased ties across the strait, you simply seem to have conveniently forgotten that they also promised that such accommodations could be reached while preserving continued de facto independence for a near indefinite period, even going as far as to run ads suggesting that both unification and independence were options for the future. In his inaugural address, Ma talked about the greatness of the Chinese race, while the main entertainment was Wubai singing "台灣製造" - a song about the multi ethnic nature of modern Taiwanese society where the classical Chinese identity is one of many. The Taiwanese need no lecturing from me to realize which side of the argument Ma is currently trying to push.

You seem to be desperately clinging to the antiquated idea that Chinese ethnicity implies Chinese nationalism. Your argument boils down to the belief that the Taiwanese are ultimately sheep subservient to their DNA, and that the desire for continued independence (de facto or de jure) by the Taiwanese is weaker than the nationalist sentiment fanned by post WWII Chinese regimes when politically convenient. Given the current desperation of the KMT to roll back civil rights, bypass legislative oversight, and impose ever stricter controls on public expressions of dissent, it seems that even they don't hold the Taiwanese in the same level of contempt that you do.

skiingkow said...

Yeah, CCPTang. The Taiwanese are really feeling that "pragmatism" now. It's all very "pragmatic" unless you disagree with the KMT, of course. It's all very "pragmatic" unless you fear for your job being lost while Taiwan's economy tanks. It's all very "pragmatic" unless you care about the hard-fought freedoms and liberties that the TAIWANESE (yes, the TAIWANESE) have gained over the past couple of decades, only to see it crumble once again in a mater of months by a party that has no intent on considering the wishes and desires of the majority that elected them.

You know, war criminal George W. Bush was once popular in his country too at one point. He abused his power when cough...cough... "elected" and the mass media helped him every step of the way. Sound familiar?

It 'aint about "pragmatism", CCPTang. It's about selling snake oil. And the Taiwanese bought it hook, line and sinker.

CCTang said...


"Your argument boils down to the belief that the Taiwanese are ultimately sheep subservient to their DNA.."Argument? I'm not making an argument. I'm putting my hand out the window, and telling you that it's raining.

Read the original post that a-gu made, and his perceptions of the path that Taiwan has taken the last two years, and his "pessimistic" (and my optimistic) view of where Taiwan is going the next 10-20 years.

It takes incredible mental gymnastics to insist that the Taiwanese are being "lied to", or that what we're observing is happening without Taiwanese consent.

Lied to in what way, specifically? Ma Yingjiu just said today that he's willing to look at a political agreement with the mainland, if he wins a second term in office. The Taiwanese are getting exactly what they expected from this administration.

Haitien said...

Do I really have to go back the entire 2008 campaign and the many statements Ma has made since then to highlight all the instances where he insisted he was placing Taiwan first, that he was intent of safeguarding de facto ROC/Taiwanese sovereignty, that his agreements with the PRC would all be apolitical and economic in nature only? Seems like the only mental gymnastics here are the ones you're engaging in denying the very contradictory statements the KMT puts out depending on the audience. You might start by taking some of your own advice and perusing some of the past posts on this blog. The contradictory nature of the messages the KMT has been sending is well established.

At issue is the question of what the Taiwanese expected when they elected the KMT. You claim that the KMT was perfectly clear about wanting to seek political unification with China. I have been asserting that the KMT put out, and continues to put out a multitude of messages on the subject, while continuing to pursue the same unificationist policies. Certainly I can't claim to speak for the mindset of everyone who voted for Ma. But given the fact that Ma and the KMT felt and still feel the need to sugarcoat whatever they are doing with "Taiwan-first", "economy and not politics" rhetoric, suggests that a significant chunk of the electorate who voted for them did, and still do consider that to be a matter of importance.

Is that a lie? Well, if (despite my past record) I am elected to office claiming that I will engage China economically, while not giving up on sovereignty and democracy, and claiming that the final choice will ultimately be up to the people of Taiwan; then promptly go back to my old ways afterwards, while claiming a mandate for pursuing policies contradictory to what I ran on. Then I believe that is commonly referred to as a bait and switch. Is that what people fell for? Certainly not everyone, but the idea that one can pursue the economic benefits without changing the status quo of de facto independence certainly seems tempting enough to be believable for many people.

I do not claim to know what the future holds. But contrary to what pan-Chinese nationalists might think, the Taiwanese identity is not some transient thing created by a few malcontents, or something that can be conveniently subsumed into some greater Chinese political identity. I do not know if it will survive, though I still hope for a future where a more enlightened and confident Chinese populace rejects the jingoistic (and relatively recent) notion that an independent Taiwan is somehow offensive to their personal identity as Chinese people. Clearly, you have different ideas. With that, I have said all I intend to say on this matter.