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Sunday, January 28, 2007


Chen, Ma, the Taiwan identity, and 2008

Last week Feiren observed that Chen Shui-bian was once called a moderate and a pragmatist and now is often dismissed as a radical...

One interpretation of course is that Su is simply throwing symbolic red meat to deep green supporters and that he will morph into a pragmatist if he becomes president. Very similar things were once said about Chen Shui-bian, who was once believed to represent a moderate brand of DPP reformism. I suspect Su will turn out to be much the same.

In fact, Chen was aided early in his career by reformist elements in the KMT. The idea that Chen is a 'radical' is strictly nonsense -- his use of the independence appeal is pragmatic, since appeals to identity are now the key to getting out the vote in a nation where two center-right nationalist parties compete for the vote. It is 'radical' only in the context of the 1000 Chinese missiles now pointed at Taiwan, and only in a context where talking about independence is radical but pointing missiles is statesmenlike.

Two contrasting articles presented different sides to this issue today. First, the Taiwan News described Chen's interview on CNN:

President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) said in an interview on CNN aired yesterday that only candidates who insist on Taiwan identity have a chance of winning the 2008 presidential election because by that time, a majority of the people will identify themselves as Taiwanese rather than as Chinese.

In an interview on CNN's "Talk Asia," Chen argued that more than 60 percent of Taiwan's people will identify themselves as "Taiwanese" by the next presidential election, meaning that only the candidate upholding Taiwan identity will be able to garner a majority of the votes.

Chen based his argument on his performance in the 2004 election, when he received 1.5 million more votes than four years earlier as more people thought of themselves as Taiwanese.

As head of state, Chen said it is his main responsibility to continue the pursuit of Taiwan-centric consciousness and noted much remained to be done in this area. He noted that in 2000, 36 percent of people branded themselves Taiwanese and the figure jumped to 60 percent at the end of last year.

"I hope by the time I finish my term of office, this number will increase to 70 percent or even 75 percent," Chen said.

I've blogged many other times on this peculiar structural feature of Taiwan's politics. No one in Taiwan wants to be part of China, so the DPP candidate has an advantage in national level elections for the Presidency. Since the KMT is the wealthier party with longstanding connections at the local level, it has the advantage in local elections. Thus the particular paradox of Taiwan where the pro-China party is highly localized and the pro-Taiwan party has a relatively weaker local presence. President Chen is flinging down the gauntlet to the KMT, which, in the person of KMT Chairman Ma, reiterated its pro-China stance yesterday:

Taiwanese independence is not an option for the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT), Chairman Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) said yesterday, almost a year after running an ad in a local newspaper saying that he recognized independence as an option for the people of Taiwan.

Although Ma has said that the KMT's policy has not changed -- that is, seeking to maintain the status quo -- confusion over Ma's inconsistent stance prompted some KMT grassroots members to ask questions during Ma's visit to Taichung yesterday on the party's policy toward China.

"The KMT will not advocate Taiwan's independence ? it will only bring disturbance and agitation to the country if we declare independence," Ma said in response to the questions, adding that the nation has to take into account US and Japanese concerns involving these issues.

Ma's lack of a clear discourse on cross-strait issues had given rise to confusion among some KMT members over party policy.

During an interview with Newsweek International in December 2005, Ma said that unification with China was the party's ultimate goal. The KMT then ran an advertisement last February in the Liberty Times (the Taipei Times' sister paper) which said that Ma recognized that "independence is an option for the Taiwanese people."

That rhetoric caused widespread criticism from within the party at the time, including former KMT chairman Lien Chan (連戰), who complained that Ma had not consulted him before making the statement.

The fact is that the DPP now has a bevy of politicians who are national figures, including Frank Hsieh, Premier Su, Vice President Lu, and several others. The KMT has no similar stable of widely popular candidates, save for Party Chairman Ma, who has taken quite a few hits lately. Ma has now declared that he is not going to move toward the middle on the most crucial question of all, independence, and thus, that the KMT will probably not defeat the DPP candidate in '08. That is why the current strategy of the KMT is to eviscerate the Presidency by removing as many of its powers as it can, and centralizing authority in the legislature, which the KMT will quite likely continue to control. This strategy implicitly concedes that KMT is not the frontrunner in the coming Presidential election.


At 4:28 PM, Anonymous riko said...

I think ma takes taiwanese ppl to be all fools and unable to see that, all along, all he wants is eventual unification.

How can someone who doesn't know what he is going on about be a "potential" presidential candidate is beyond me... @_@"


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