Monthly Archives: March 2005

Who are you calling Chinese?

One issue that regularly comes up in Taiwan is the thorny issue of national identity – do the people here consider themselves Chinese or Taiwanese? Clearly, this question has big implications for people’s views on eventual reunification with China vs. independence.

TVBS (one of the main (pro-KMT) news channels in Taiwan) commissioned a survey this week to ask people their opinions. The results were:

  • 45% Said they were ‘Taiwanese’
  • 44% Said they considered themselves both ‘Chinese’ and ‘Taiwanese’
  • 6% Said they were ‘Chinese’
  • 5% Said they didn’t know

[The original survey is here – it’s in Chinese & PDF]
These results were pretty consistent with 5 other surveys done over the last 13 months (although the year before that say quite a big shift from ‘both’ to ‘just Taiwanese’ – possibly as a result of campaigning for the 2004 presidential elections).

Of course, the word ‘Chinese’ has many different connurtations (ethnic, cultural, historical, political) which aren’t brought out in this survey (note that the term used in the survey ‘zhongguoren’ has more political overtones than other possible words like ‘huaren’), but the basic conclusion is quite clear:
If you call someone from Taiwan ‘Taiwanese’ then you’re pretty safe, but if you call them ‘Chinese’ you’ve got a 50-50 chance of causing offense.

Looked at from this perspective, it’s fairly clear why (a large part of) Taiwan has such a problem with China’s one-China principle.

Organising a piss-up in a brewery

I’ve written before about the problems with the upcoming elections for the new chairman of the KMT. Well, things don’t seem to be getting any better in this competition. Yesterday was supposed to be the opening day of the campaign, when both candidates (Ma Ying-jeou and Wang Jin-pyng) had their first rally or event … however things didn’t really go to plan for either of them.

Ma Ying-jeou had scheduled a rally in one of the main parks in Taipei – however, less than 24 hours before it was held (and after all the announcements had been made in the press) it was cancelled. The reason? Because Ma Ying-jeou (who is the mayor of Taipei) had failed to apply for the correct permit with Taipei’s police to hold a rally. Normally, Ma is one of the most competent and organised politicians in Taiwan – so seeing him fail to organise an event in his own backyard is a bit surprising.

The other candidate, Wang Jin-pyng, was more a victim of bad luck (or more specifically, bad weather). His event, climbing up a mountain on the outskirts of Taipei:

Wang, president of the Legislative Yuan, will climb up to Mount Tatun with a hundred young supporters this morning. At the park near the peak, Wang would explain how he would campaign in the election of the chairman scheduled for July 26.

Unfortunately, yesterday Taipei had the worst rainstorm (complete with thunder and lightening) since the last typhoon that hit the island. Although there was a press release issued which claimed he had gone ahead with his climb, I’d be surprised if he walked more than a hundred paces.

Update: I stand corrected. It seems he did make it up his mountain after all. I’m impressed – it obviously takes more than a bit of wet weather to derail his campaign.

The 3-26 Rally

326 RallyLast Saturdays march in Taipei – which was to protest China’s recent anti-secession law – seems to have succeeded in it’s main goal of attracting a reasonable amount of international attention. Here are a few thoughts from someone who was there …

The Atmosphere

The Taiwanese sure know how to organise a friendly protest. I’ve never considered protests to be family affairs before, but they are in Taiwan; this was a day for babies, children, pets and grandparents. Despite the serious focus of the march, there was a carnival feel to the day; people were happy to be out on the streets, saying what they wanted to say. This seems to be the way the Taiwanese do things: whether it was this march, the Feb 28th protest or March 13th rally last year, the atmosphere has been unfailingly good-natured. Even in the post-election protests last year (which were, on the face of it, massively confrontational) people behaved in a generally decent manner.

The Organisation

A lot of things in Taiwan are chaotic; not the demonstrations though. Organising a protest where people are bussed in from all over the country (with thousands of busses) to march in 10 different groups all converging on 1 place at the same time (and then ensuring everyone gets home again) is not a trivial problem, but one which was carried out without any obvious difficulty. The police marshalled everyone effectively, the people obeyed all the instructions, and when it was all over, everything was cleaned up with a minimum of fuss.

Partisan politics

Partisan politics are a way of life out here. Even on an issue like this (where politicians on all sides have denounced the law), there has been an obvious, and fairly bitter, division of opinion. Although the protest march was officially not linked to any political party, it was clearly organised by pan-Green supporters, and so pan-Blue politicians avoided participating. As a result, there was the predictable political sniping after the event (whether over the total number of participants, or whether it was a waste of money).

Some banner notes

A couple of weeks ago, there was a request for native English speakers to help come up with some slogans for the rally. Always a sucker for a bad pun, I came up with a few suggestions … and was surprised to see a few of them appear in the rally. Beyond the inevitable puns on the Chinese leadership (“Wen will Taiwan be free?”, “Hu cares about Taiwan?”), there was also one which (with apologies to Richard) appealed to my puerile sense of humour:
Duck off!
However, I didn’t see my favourite: “Ein Volk, ein Reich, ein China”

Who gets to choose the next KMT chairman?

Although it’s being overshadowed by talk about China’s anti-secession law recently, the biggest event in Taiwanese politics over the next couple of months will be the selection of the next chairman of the KMT. At face value, this is a fairly simple 2-way race between Taipei mayor Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) and Legislative Speaker Wang Jin-pyng (王金平). However, politics in Taiwan is never that simple.

The first problem has been the behaviour of the current Chairman, Lien Chan; although he has been dropping strong hints for several months now that he won’t stand for another term, he still hasn’t made his official decision. This has meant that although Ma announced his candidacy on the 14th February, Wang delayed until March 17th before throwing his hat into the ring. This has led to an unedifying month of Wang pleading with Lien to stand again (purely to curry favour – he clearly doesn’t want him to), while Ma has been forced to issue denials that he is being ‘disloyal’ to Lien for announcing his candidacy too soon (despite waiting until Lien called for candidates to step forward).

The next problem has been the date of the election. Originally slated for May 28th, the date was suddenly changed to July 16th, ostensibly to avoid a clash with elections for the National Assembly. However, this change happened well after Ma had announced his candidacy, but a day before Wang announced his – and it’s not as if the date of National Assembly elections would have been a surprise to anyone.

However, the biggest argument (which still hasn’t been resolved) has been over who would be allowed to vote for the chairman. In principal, of course, all KMT members can vote – but something like 2/3rds of the KMT’s 1 million members are not up to date on their membership fees – which would mean they’re not eligible to vote. From the China Post:

Wang Jin-pyng, president of the Legislative Yuan, wants that vote to enable all card-carrying members to elect their new leader.

Mayor of Taipei Ma Ying-jeou insists that only those members who have paid their dues in full be allowed to vote on July 16.

The Chinese-born mayor is favored to win the July 16 election, if the party central sides with him. Only 37 percent of the 1.09 million Kuomintang members have a clean dues record. A majority of them are retired veterans and public functionaries, who support Ma.

Islander members, who form the majority of those with dues in arrears, are likely to vote for the native-born speaker of the legislature.

A large proportion of the ‘paid-up’ members of the KMT are actually members who are over 65 – who don’t have to pay a membership fee at all. This means that there is a danger that the vote will be nowhere near representative of the KMT’s actual membership:

“The party needs reform,” Wang urged. “If only 200,000 to 300,000 members go to the polls,” he warned, “a chairman thus elected will head a party of old men.

“It’s tantamount to old men voting in a chairman.

“Can we talk about reform, if we can’t reform the rules to prevent it?

Clearly, Wang is right: a party which can’t even organise an internal vote to choose its new leader is in dire need of reform. However, altering (or interpreting) the rules of the contest to favour one candidate before an election is hardly most people’s idea of reform.

This whole developing fiasco shows that the KMT still has trouble with the whole concept of elections. Previous chairmen have all been decided upon in back-room deals by the party hierarchy, making this the first real open contest.

Ironically, the party which is loudest in touting its democratic credentials, the DPP, had no trouble electing its new chairman back in January: learning from how the KMT used to do it, they ensured there was only 1 candidate standing.

More thoughts on the anti-secession law

Now that the text of the anti-secession law is available, and everyone has had some time to consider the implications, here are a few more thoughts to supplement my previous post:

One China
Everyone has been so focused on the ‘non-peaceful means’ section of the law, that one significant part seems to have been largely ignored:

Article 5: Upholding the principle of one China is the basis of peaceful reunification of the country.

As with the rest of the law, although there is nothing new in China’s insistance on ‘One China’, the fact it has now been codifed as a law is relevant. What this seems to be saying is that any cross-strait talks must by law be based on the One China principle.

This insistence has been the issue which has stopped any talks even starting between the two sides over the last 5+ years; both sides are very keen to talk, but China’s has insisted that Taiwan accept (a version of) ‘One China’ as a precondition, while Taiwan has insisted that it could only be a ‘topic of discussion’ in the actual meeting. In recent months Chen Shui Bian has been gently investigating some sort of compromise: he recently suggested going back to the basis of talks in 1992 (where the ‘One China, different interpretations’ was verbally agreed) – but stopped short of commiting to any type of ‘One China’ declaration. His recent moderate tone has suggested it was not impossible for him to work out some sort of wording which would be accepted by the PRC while still being supported by his pro-independence party members (for example, something along the lines of “The official borders of the ROC cover all of China, including Taiwan. However, the ROC government acknowledges the current sovereignty that the PRC exercises over mainland China.”).

Clearly, this is an area where, if both parties are sincere in wanting talks, a little bit of flexibility would help no end. However, this law has now done two things:

  1. It has hardened the PRC position, so they now must insist on a ‘One China’ statement from Taiwan
  2. It has made it politically extreme difficult for Chen to find a compromise that will satisfy his party. Any wording which implies acceptance of one China will be seized on as a triumph for the anti-secession law – which would then be unacceptable for the mainstream DPP.

From where I’m sitting, this new law seems to have killed dead any chance of serious cross strait talks for the next 3 years. Which leads to an interesting question …

The timing of the law
One big question about this law is: Why now?

Things seem quite stable in China at the moment: the handover of power to Hu/Wen seems to be pretty much complete, there are no burning international issues (North Korea talks aren’t that active, no spyplane/embassy bombing incidents recently, the Olympics aren’t that close), and the economy seems to be stable (albeit the stability of a runaway train).

In Taiwan things were even more stable: 2004 was election year (presidential and legislative), which means that 2005 has no major elections and a reasonably quiet 3 years before the next serious bout of democracy kicks in. More importantly, the relative success of the pan-Blues in the legislative elections means that Taiwan isn’t going to make any serious moves towards independence in the near-term (the radical pro-independence TSU party were arguably the biggest losers of the election). The biggest news in Taiwan politics recently has been the resulting moderation in tone of President Chen, and his efforts to find common ground with his most vehement enemies.

Would all of this have led to improved relations with China? Hard to say, but it’s certainly possible (the recent direct flights over Chinese New Year would be an example of this). However, the anti-secession law has dumped relations back into as frosty a state as they have been since Chen was elected president 5 years ago.

If China really wanted to pass this law, why didn’t they at least hold off for a year to see where relations were heading? From one perspective, the timing of the law seems to have deliberately sabotaged any hope of progress in talks between the two sides.

President Chen responds
Chen Shui Bian seems to have been about the last person on Taiwan to say anything about this law; this is partly because he wanted to see the text of the law before responding, and also (I suspect) so he could guage public opinion before saying anything. He released a 6 point statement on the law yesterday. Along with a promise of a protest in Taipei with 1 million people on the 26th, and a brief sideswipe at Europe for considering raising its arms ban on China, it restates the prime position of Taiwan:

The Republic of China is an independent, sovereign state; Taiwan’s sovereignty belongs to the 23 million people of Taiwan; and only the 23 million people of Taiwan may decide to change the future of Taiwan. This statement expresses the greatest consensus within Taiwan’s society today on the issues of national sovereignty and the future of Taiwan. It is also the largest common denominator among the governing and opposition parties. Recent public opinion polls indicate that over 90 percent of the people of Taiwan explicitly agree with such a statement.

The arms bill passes
The long delayed arms procurement package seems to be finally on its way through the legislature; the original $20 billion weapons budget has been whittled down to just over $15 billion to ensure support from all sides.

Asked whether the budget’s approval at this time is in response to the Chinese government’s passage of its “Anti-Secession” Law, Chou [the cabinet spokesman] said it was just a coincidence.

While it is true that they were already heading towards some agreement before the anti-secession law came out, I don’t really believe it was a total coincidence. After all, it would be a brave politician who voted against an arms package the day after China came out with their law.

China’s anti-secession law

Reaction to China’s proposed anti-secession law has been understandably strong in Taiwan. Although the law has not been officially concluded yet, and the texts of drafts are only just starting to appear, everyone knew well in advance the basic substance. After some waffle about Taiwan being an inseperable part of China, and how everyone wants things to resolved in an amicable manner, the meat of the law is here:

8. If Taiwan splittist forces, under any pretense, using any method, cause the actuality of Taiwan splitting out of China, or if a major incident that will lead to Taiwan splitting out of China happens, or if the conditions for peaceful reunification are completely lost, the country should take non-peaceful methods and other necessary means and protect the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the country.

Of course, what is meant by the ‘actuality of Taiwan splitting out of China’ is open to interpretation: presumably the president of Taiwan saying that Taiwan is an independent sovereign state doesn’t count, but the Taiwanese government passing a law to that effect might. None the less the message is pretty clear.

Ignoring the more hardcore responses, like changing the constitution, or a referendum on independence (which wouldn’t have a chance of passing, even if they were sensible) – it’s worth looking at what the reaction in Taiwan is likely to be.

The most obvious response is a ‘tit-for-tat’ anti anti-secession law which would define Taiwans response to any ‘non-peaceful’ actions by China. Of course, this law would be even more of a symbolic jesture than China’s law: if it ever gets to that state, noone’s going to be worrying about the legality of it all. The subtext would be a restatement of the position that Taiwan is not controlled by the PRC, and so can pass whatever laws it likes too. However, the odds are that the different parties in the legislature will have trouble agreeing the substance and wording of any law, which could scupper that idea.

A more likely response is to reconsider the long-argued-over weapons purchases from the US. The legislature has been stuck for several months over a proposed budget of NT$610 billion (~US$20billion) for a special arms purchase package (with the KMT arguing for a reduced amount – despite the fact that they were the ones who originally brokered the deal); this law by China might just be the stimulus needed to get the package agreed upon.

However, the most likely response is more a question of what Taiwan won’t do. In the last couple of months, President Chen Shui Bian has shown an increased willingness to negotiate with the other side; he hasn’t actually changed his position, but his recent deal with the pro-unification PFP implies a softening of his stance. He has always wanted to restart talks with China, and it looked like he was maneuvering himself into a position which might make that possible. To do it, he would need the cooperation of the PFP, but also the support of his own party – which was already a bit shaky recently. The odds again him getting that support have just increased massively.

The fact that China have decided to pass this law now, when Taiwan have been making more concilliatory noises than at any time in the last ten years (which, granted, is not saying much), implies that China are not really too concerned about the lack of talks between the two sides.

(Thoughts about the anti-secession law can also be found at Naruwan Formosa)

The president’s shooter found … er … sort of

It’s nearly a year since Chen Shui Bian was shot (March 19th 2004, the day before the election), and most people have given up on the case ever being solved. However, there was a press conference today, where a prime suspect was finally announced.

Investigators said Monday they’ve identified the “most likely suspect” who fired a shot that slightly injured Taiwanese President Chen Shui-bian one day before he was narrowly re-elected last March.

But the suspect, Chen Yi-hsiung, drowned shortly after the March 19 shooting and police thought it was a suicide because the man prepared a will just before his death, said Hou You-yi, head of the Criminal Investigation.

There are two possible takes on this:

  • Case closed. They’ve got video evidence that puts him at the scene, links to the gun used, motive, and an admission by his wife. It’ll take a bit of tidying up, but they’ve finally solved it
  • A suspect who is dead? Still not found the gun? A dodgy video of someone who might be him at the scene? Very convenient fall guy.

In a normal country, you’d expect things to clarify as all the evidence gets digested and explained – and for one of these positions to become the norm. However, in Taiwan, where people don’t let evidence cloud their judgement too much you can bet that those who always thought it was a fake will continue to believe that, and vice versa.

I suspect that the bit which will excite the Taiwanese media will be this bit:

Hou said that the suspect’s wife confessed to her that he shot the president. Hou told reporters the woman said her husband was quiet for several days after the shooting. After she saw the TV footage of her husband at the scene, she asked him if he did it, Hou said.

“He said, ‘I did it and I will handle it myself,”‘ Hou said quoting the suspect’s wife.

There’s nothing a Taiwanese reporter likes more than harassing a weeping wife/mother. I think she’s about to be very famous here – whether she likes it or not.

Vincent Siew resigns

Vincent Siew, one of few the good guys in Taiwanese politics, has resigned his post as a vice-chairman of the KMT. Although it is not unexpected (he has taken a lower and lower profile in the last year or so, and threatened or tried to resign before), the timing is interesting. Resigning with immediate effect is a sign that he wants to avoid getting involved in the impending battle between Ma & Wang for control of the KMT.

Siew’s main claim to fame is as the premier of Taiwan from 1997 to 2000 – when he ran (unsucessfully) for Vice President with Lien Chan. His promotion to premier by (then President) Lee Deng Hui was one of the reasons that James Soong split from the KMT to form the PFP.
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