Showing posts with label 2020_election. Show all posts
Showing posts with label 2020_election. Show all posts

Sunday, January 12, 2020

Taiwan not only rejected China tonight, it rejected populism and demagoguery - and the world should take note

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Yes, historic. It's historic because Tsai not only increased her tally (something previous incumbents have not done), but also netted a record number of total votes for any candidate in the history of Taiwanese elections. And historic because this is the first time the DPP has re-elected a majority in the legislature along with an incumbent presidential candidate.

But there is something else I hope the world will start saying: 



Also, can we please stop calling it "Chinese democracy" or "Confucian/Chinese/whatever values and democracy can mix" (both tweets I've seen tonight) and realize that the results clearly show a desire for the world to see that Taiwan doesn't see itself as Chinese, Taiwanese voters feel an affinity for their unique, Taiwanese culture, and maybe it's time the world listened.

In fact, while China did play a role, can this result please put the world on notice that Taiwan wants to be taken seriously on its own terms, as Taiwan, and media reporting about Taiwan should respect that and stop framing it always, always, always in terms of China? Taiwan is its own thing - its own place with its own culture and history - and that merits respect.

Finally, this election shows that the various causes and pushes for progressive values in Asia - Taiwan independence, marriage equality, Hong Kong self-determination - are all intertwined. You can see that simply by observing the people present outside DPP headquarters tonight. This is why liberals around the world should take note of Taiwan, and support it as they do Hong Kong. It's a different angle of the same fight.

That's really all I wanted to say. I hope the international media picks up on this idea and frames it as "Taiwan shows a better way, Taiwan shows we can defeat populism, divisiveness and disinformation. Taiwan shows that Trump-like figures do not always win."

Who wants to write that story?

Anyway, here are some photos. I'm off to the Maldives tomorrow so that's all you get from me. 







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Friday, January 10, 2020

Some words of calm and comfort on election eve

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On the eve of the election I have no new analysis, no specific insights - really I’m just a massive ball of anxiety. 

As my husband pointed out on Facebook, that’s because we all watched what happened with Trump and Brexit - especially Trump - and although Han is not Trump, he hits some of the same notes and it triggers something in our brain that terrifies us. Terrifying xenophobic populists have shown us around the world that they can get elected, but only Trump was not favored to win before he actually did. It doesn’t matter that this fear is probably unfounded - we’re not allowed to discuss polls at this point but we all know who is likely to be elected tomorrow. It’s something deep inside our lizard brains producing this anxiety...that things could go south, because they have before. 

My Taiwanese friends are also nervous. It’s hard not to be, even when the odds are in our favor.

It probably will be closer than we think. Sure, we all know what the numbers say, but older folks vote in greater numbers and that could skew results in Han’s favor. 

So I want to offer a few words of comfort, or at least try. As much to sooth my self as for you guys, my readers. 

First, let’s remember that if the election that produced Trump had happened under Taiwan’s system, Clinton would have won. The system, in that sense, works in our favor. 

Second, let’s remember that Clinton’s lead over Trump was more tenuous than...well, we’re not allowed to discuss the polls. Trump had a greater chance of winning even under the US’s jacked system than I think Han has in Taiwan. 

Third, it’s astounding to me how Tsai has in fact managed to unite a large swath of the electorate against Han (oh yeah, Han helped to do that to himself as well, and various international events haven’t helped him). I have friends and acquaintances who skew blue or blue-ish, who happily voted for Ma. Some of them even grudgingly voted for Chu, knowing he’d lose. Every last one of them (with one exception) can’t stand Han, and many are switching to Tsai. Some are simply not voting. They may not stay green forever, and this is anecdotal evidence, but it’s a promising thing to observe. She hasn’t united everyone, but I’m amazed at how she’s turned her public relations machine into a mechanism that actually works. What’s more, I’ve met hardly any young people who’ve been turned on by Han, but plenty of older folk who still support Tsai. Han may win the Auntie vote, but he’s not going to get all of them, and he’s going to get far fewer of the youth than he needs. 

I also have to remember that a lot of younger people are talking about how their conservative older relatives will vote. Again this is anecdotal, but the discussion seems to have more urgency and underlying it is a more direct, personal call to action. Watching Thursday’s Han rally solidified it: we’ll probably win but this won’t be an easy victory regardless of the numbers, and if we want to win, we’d better turn out in greater numbers. Han’s people may have thought that inflating the number of attendees for his rally (come on, there is no way 800,000 people showed up - we’re not stupid) would make him look good, but it probably had another effect too. That is, to remind his opponents that, as much as he seems like a joke, he isn’t one. Seeing all those ROC-flag-laden aunties on the MRT surely prodded some people on the fence about voting at all to hustle tomorrow.

In fact, reports indicate that Han has lost, not gained, momentum. It's hard to say given the polling blackout, but I don't think he's showing signs of pulling off an upset. 


It doesn't hurt that Tsai has actual experience and qualifications, and achievements to her name, and Han has none. She has platforms, he has rabble-rousing. That may not necessarily matter to the average Chen, but it doesn't hurt. Plus, while older folks may buy the ROC rah-rah, most Taiwanese simply don't. I hope they realize now and not later that they do not want the Taiwan that Han is promising them; they want the one that Tsai is actively building.

I figure, if the older folks will turn out no matter what, higher turnout overall benefits Tsai, as it means younger voters are casting ballots. And it looks - just from public transport and what people are saying, plus a fine weather forecast - that the turnout will be solid. 

Yes, it worries me that, despite all sorts of scandals doing Han real damage, from his luxury housing to his mistress to the Chinese spy case to the fact that Kaohsiungers just aren’t happy with him, he’s still not a joke. In response, there’s not a lot to throw at Tsai that actually sticks. They can say “the economy is bad” but it’s not. They can say she’s just another DPP chauvinist, but under her tenure the DPP has grown more diverse and inclusive, and shed a lot of the Hoklo chauvinism that characterized their earlier leadership. They can throw sexist attacks at her but I don’t think those will win over people who were already prepared to vote for her (although surely there are sexists who just can’t stand that she has the wrong genitals). 

It also worries me that the KMT seems to be taking a social conservative polarization approach in the countryside, which a lot of liberal-but-blue Taiwan urbanites are unaware of (if they fully understood what was going on, some of them might turn away from the KMT). It’s a clear attempt to win over traditionally DPP voters who do value Taiwan’s sovereignty but can be angered by “scary gay people” and promises of a “better” economy (even though the economy, again, is not bad) into voting against their natural allegiance. 

This is why it’s going to be closer than we think, and Han is no joke. 

On the other end, though, the DPP has managed to put forward some popular candidates, a few of whom are giving headaches to KMT candidates who thought they were safe. The KMT’s own actions recently - not just the party list debacle but the Alex Tsai scandal - have blunted its efforts to pull off an upset. And Taiwan tends to give its presidents - even ones with low approval - 8 years, though the country hasn’t been democratic long enough for that to be assured. (And yes, I am aware that politicians with high approval ratings, such as Chen Shui-bian as Taipei mayor, have gone on to lose). 

Speaking of Alex Tsai, nothing could make me happier than to watch the KMT’s absolutely hilarious amateur hour, as it attempted to tease the release of some last-minute surprise (probably what they believed would be a successful recanting by alleged Chinese spy and Australian asylum seeker Wang Li-qiang) only to have it blow up in their face spectacularly thanks to good reporting in the Australian media. Even KMT diehards I know quite literally spit when they hear Alex Tsai’s name. The diehard Han fans will still turn out for their cabbage man, but this may turn a few people away. 

And speaking of China not helping its own cause, I have to remember that the Beijing establishment tried its damnedest to quash the Hong Kong protest spirit, but pro-China lawmakers were crushed. There is video evidence of them paying elderly protesters to vote. Just because China is trying to interfere doesn’t mean they’ll succeed. 

But at the end of the day, while I am girding my loins in case I get kicked in the teeth again as I did with Trump, I do in fact believe that Tsai will win. 

At least, I need to remind myself of this. I need to keep recanting these points, over and over, to stay calm. 

You see, it’s not just another election where if the guy I don’t like wins, nothing too bad will happen. Considering the turn towards authoritarianism and populism that the world is taking, and China’s increasing threats and attempts to sabotage Taiwan’s democracy, I am not at all sure Taiwan, as the country I consider my home, will survive a Han administration intact. If it makes it through at all, it will be broken and tired, as the US is now. 

I do believe this is sort of a “last chance” for the world. After Trump, Johnson, Bolsonaro, Duterte, Modi and more (there are a few in Europe...in fact, the whole world is reeling), Taiwan has a chance to stand up to a Trump-like populist and say “this needs to end”. We can show the world that these people can be defeated. We must. It’ll get the world’s attention at least, and it’s vital for the country. 

So stay calm. If you can vote, do so. Am I confident? No - the 2016 US election taught me never to be confident of these things again. But I'm at the best place I can be. 

Chillin’ at the Freddy Lim rally

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Tsai, Freddy Lim and Lin Fei-fan - and I think that's Lai Pin-yu


Update: now with photos! 

I really admire people who have the stomach to attend rallies for the bad guys - I just can’t do it. As in, it directly affects my mental health and I stay away for my own well-being. Considering this, while everyone was reporting on the big Han rally last night, I went over to Freddy Lim’s rally outside Longshan Temple. 

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Lin Fei-fan takes the stage


First, I urge people not to compare these two rallies. Han’s big rally - which absolutely didn’t reach 700,000 people as they claim - was for a presidential candidate who organized attendees from all over the country (that’s not necessarily wrong, it’s just that it’s a national audience - though it’s worth noting that it seems to be the same people bussed everywhere). Lim is a legislative candidate, not a presidential one, and this was a local rally with local flavor. 


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A cute sign for Tsai
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The turnout was solid


In fact, if you compare Freddy’s rally a few weeks ago on the same Ketagalan Boulevard site as Han’s, you’ll note that a (mere) legislative candidate was able to fill the entire boulevard. A presidential candidate did that, and filled most (but not all) of the Jingfu Gate circle - if you look at pictures, there was still space to move around. That’s actually impressive...for Freddy. For Han, this turnout is good - at least it’s not embarrassing - but it actually compares poorly against Lim and Han’s own previous rallies.

How do I know it wasn’t 700,000? The Sunflowers claimed 500,000 - I’m not sure about that number, but whatever - and you couldn’t even approach Jingfu Gate. We were stuck way back by the National Concert Hall. 

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And people seemed genuinely excited for Tsai and Lim


In any case, I headed to Freddy’s rally. As I got off the MRT, I grabbed my Freddy flag - you’re not supposed to wave those on the MRT as political campaigning is banned there, but it was in the way of my keys and metro card - and asked a bunch of Han supporters in front of the door to please let me off the train. Two women carrying ROC/Han flags quite deliberately not only did not move (although there was space, or they could have stepped off the train briefly), but actively blocked me. One sort of arm-nudged her friend to be more in my way! 

I found this behavior extremely rude, especially as I made a particular effort to sound especially polite to them in the beginning. In the end I was unable to get around them, and had to push through. I gave them a sharp “RUDE!” in Chinese as I did. If this is what Han supporters are like, I’m happy to be on the other side. 

The rally itself had a lot more local flavor than the Chthonic concert on Ketagalan. This was surely deliberate strategy. That concert was for general support, and for the youth vote. This was for the uncles and aunties in his actual neighborhood. The music was very old-school Taiwanese, the speeches were full of piss and vinegar (though some were more exciting than others) and were conducted almost entirely in Taiwanese, with a little Mandarin peeking through. Smoke machines, disco lights, background music - this rally had it all. It was less polished than the previous one, and that was entirely intentional. 

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It was extremely crowded, a good turnout for a legislative candidate


The turnout was good - all seats were taken, plus a large standing crowd along the entire perimeter. Freddy goods - stickers, towels, keychains, t-shirts - sold at a good clip. Crucially, the turnout wasn’t just young people. In fact, I was in a sea of middle-aged and older folks who were all enthusiastic. That’s good news for Freddy, who needs this ‘older’ vote to keep Wanhua. These are the folks Lin Yu-fang could depend on, so it’s good to see that Freddy is netting at least some of them. Hopefully enough to win. The rally took up the entire length of Guangzhou Road outside the temple and towards the market at the far end, spilling onto the esplanade leading to the underground market entrance. I was hungry and thirsty, but there was absolutely no way to get to the Family Mart opposite. 


Speakers included legislative candidate Lai Ping-yu (known for her cosplay-inspired campaign), Premier Su Cheng-chang and his his signature raspy voice, DPP Deputy Secretary General and “guy in charge of mobilizing the youth” Lin Fei-fan, former Kaohsiung governor (now Vice Premier, yes? His roles seem to keep changing) Chen Chi-mai, Freddy Lim himself, and of course President Tsai. One of the musicians, who was very young, also spoke but I missed most of this as I was chatting with another young attendee. All of the folks who’ve been making the rounds speaking - Tsai, Lim, Lin - sounded a little hoarse. It’s been a long season. 

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Really, I couldn't even get to the Family Mart


The speeches themselves were better than one might expect. Lin Fei-fan is known for being a good speaker, and he broke out his Taiwanese more than he has in the past (it is one of his native languages but you don’t hear it from him that often, he’s more likely to do public speaking in Mandarin). The gist of his speech - the Mandarin parts I could follow - were that Taiwan and Hong Kong are concurrently locked in a battle against China, and we are not going to let Taiwan become the next Hong Kong. “We don’t yield, we don’t kneel, we don’t walk on our knees,” he said, and I thought that was just great. 

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Outside Longshan Temple



Towards the end he addressed some of the criticisms he’s received taking a position in the DPP, seeing as he’s so well-known for criticizing them. He said, “we know we haven’t done enough, we know we haven’t gone far enough, but we will, please give us a chance to do so” (not an exact translation). 

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Freddy's speech


Typically, “we’re not good enough, we know that and we’ll do better” is not a great campaign tactic, but there’s something very old-school Taiwanese politics (that whole humility game, though it’s often performative) about it, and he’s the right person to deliver that message considering the criticism he’s endured. 



To be honest, I couldn’t follow a lot of the other mostly-Taiwanese speeches, though I think Freddy’s focused a bit more on local issues than he typically has. Tsai’s (in Mandarin) was pretty clear: One Country Two Systems will never work, Taiwan can never give up its sovereignty, the China threat is real, etc. etc.  She did better than usual, speaking with more clarity and emotion and less detachedness, wonkishness and repetitive call-and-response. This was a somewhat enjoyable speech, far more so than the one she gave on Ketagalan at the previous Freddy rally.

In fact, people seemed genuinely excited to see her, and genuinely energized by her speech. That's a win. 

I think the size of the Han rally gave the speakers renewed passion, and pushed them to speak with energy and emotion (well, except Chen Chi-mai, who always sounds a little removed and dorky, but honestly, I like him.) I wouldn’t call it nervousness, but everyone’s on edge as voting begins in a matter of hours. It felt like a final push, because it was one. 

Notably, after the rally ended, a group of Hong Kong protesters raised flags and shouted “Freedom for Hong Kong, Revolution of Our Times” in Cantonese, attracting a sizeable crowd. Someone from the Statebuilding Party also waited for the rally to end to take out a microphone as volunteers lifted large posters and gave out tissues and stickers. He delivered an impassioned speech, and while Statebuilding is a little too close to nationalist for my taste, I appreciated their very grassroots, take-to-the-street strategy. In fact, that Hong Kongers and the Statebuilding Party felt this was a good rally to make an appearance made the whole thing feel very democratic. 





After all, all of these issues are connected - Hong Kong, Taiwan, what kind of country we want Taiwan to be - and the official speeches mirrored that. 

Sunday, December 29, 2019

What do we mean when we say “third force”?

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I don't know, this just seems appropriate. 


In the current election season, I’ve noticed a new cluster of third party political figures attempting to refer to themselves as “third force” as a signal to voters that they represent some sort of new political wave. Most of the people actively using this term, or appearing onstage next to people who do, seem to be old guard - say, James Soong and the People First Party (PFP), Terry Gou and his general crappiness, Ko Wen-je and his general crappiness.

Considering that in recent years, the term “third force” has more closely been associated with progressive, pro-independence political parties such as the NPP, I think it’s worth a closer look at what it actually means both historically and in contemporary discourse. Is there room in the meaning of “third force” for non-progressive, generally pro-China parties or is it pure appropriation for political gain? Perhaps the answer is somewhere in between?

The general meaning of the term “third force” in a global sense - that is, beyond Taiwan - simply refers to smaller third parties who are unaffiliated with big-party power blocs, though in practice they often support larger parties or coalitions. What those third parties actually stand for is irrelevant if we take this definition. 

In Taiwan, the term “third force” has been around a lot longer than you’d guess from a quick n’ dirty Google. Results almost exclusively bring up the NPP, and sometimes mention smaller parties at the same end of the political spectrum which either formed or gained social currency - if not actual power - after the 2014 Sunflower movement. 

Dig a little, however, and you’ll find that the idea has been around a lot longer. Around the turn of the millennium, it meant pretty much any third party, with a spike in electoral victories around 2002. The biggest of these was the PFP, which claims to move beyond “green and blue” but is actually just a a satellite pan-blue party. There was also the pro-independence Taiwan Solidarity Union (TSU), which currently holds no seats, the pro-unification and generally horrible New Party which holds a few local seats but none on the legislature, and the Green Party which has held a handful of city council seats in the past but never made it to the legislature. 

All of these could be called “third force”, and all of them were founded in the 1990s or early 2000s. All of them have won at least a few seats in the past, at least locally. And yet they have wildly divergent political views.

But, let’s be perfectly honest, that definition of “third force” - any unaffiliated set of third parties which defy a major-party binary - just isn’t what people mean when they use is to refer to Taiwanese politics. 

New Bloom defines “third force” as a veritable Pleiades of post-Sunflower parties and political luminaries - bright young things, newcomers to politics, and as such generally progressive and pro-Taiwan. These would be the New Power Party (NPP), Trees Party and Social Democratic Party (SDP) folks: these parties formed around 2014-2015. 

In one sense, I think this definition has real currency. As someone who impersonates a linguist, I am very much a descriptivist. Words mean what the general societal consensus believes they mean, and it can be very hard to research and clearly define all of their associated connotations and subtler meanings, especially as such meanings are prone to sometimes-rapid evolution. 

Although the explicit meaning of “third force” does not technically require a party to be post-Sunflower, pro-independence or progressive, the current connotation of this term does include these meanings. Such implicit connotation in use - that is, the full extent of the term’s current pragmatic meaning - can’t just be ignored because it’s hard to categorize, or because it has evolved from earlier meanings.

That said, it’s still problematic to use “third force” in this way without examining it further. Other parties that can be said to be in this constellation include Taiwan Radical Wings (now Taiwan Statebuilding Party), which was formed in 2012, before the Sunflower Movement, though it surely drew some of its energy from the pre-Sunflower rumblings of the Wild Strawberries, anti-media monopoly and anti-land expropriation protests - many of those activists went on to become Sunflowers. The Green Party could even be included, and they were founded in 1996!

On the other hand, conservative/pan-blue or straight-up creepy parties like the Minkuotang (now merged with the Congress Party Alliance) formed in the same post-Sunflower wake. The Minkuotang was founded in 2015). There's even creepier Faith and Hope League, a conservative Christian anti-gay party formed 2015 in the wake of the marriage equality wars. Ko Wen-je’s Taiwan People’s Party (TPP) and Chen Shui-bian’s Taiwan Action Party Alliance (TAPA) have formed more recently.

If the term means “political parties formed after 2014”, we have to include them. 

If it means “parties of generally young progressives”, we don’t, but we do have to include the Statebuilding Party and Green Party, which throws the post-2014 connotation into question. 

It’s also worth considering what we call “progressive” - do we include the Labor Party (formed 1989) in that? They are political leftists, but also unificationists. They are not pro-Taiwan.

If we define “third force” as being pro-Taiwan/pro-independence, we don’t have to include them, but we do have to include TAPA, who are not progressive, and the TSU, whom I have anecdotally found to harbor a streak of Hoklo nationalism that I find unpalatable and anti-progressive. Neither party skews young - quite the opposite. 

We also have to consider whether the term includes the independents - most notably Freddy Lim and Hung Tzu-Yung, both of whom left the NPP earlier this year. And, of course, there’s the question of whether one can be truly considered “third force” if they choose a side in the great green-blue divide. Do Lim and Hung, actively campaigning for Tsai Ing-wen, count? How about the SDP now that Fan Yun has gone over to the DPP (they’re not dead though - they still have Miao Poya, their only elected representative). If we can include them, why can’t we include pan-blue parties?

Does it only include political groups that have power or who might influence the current election cycle? If so, I don’t think we can include Trees Party or Green Party, or the TSU at this point. 

You’re probably asking by now - “who cares?” Well, as a linguist impostor, I care. 

But also, how we define the term has political implications. As a friend pointed out, we can’t just use it to mean what we want it to mean, and we can’t just define it to mean “the people we like”, finding excuses to exclude people we don’t like. 

With that said, allow me to define the term to include only the people I like: pro-Taiwan and progressive, skewing young, but not necessarily formed after 2014 and not necessarily directly opposing the major parties. That gives us Green Party, SDP, NPP, Statebuilding Party, Lim and Hung (and their Frontline alliance - more on that later), and the Trees Party. 

Please don’t take my definition too seriously. I don’t have a better one though - all I can say is, don’t apply the term lazily. Don’t just throw it out to describe people you like without examining further what you mean by it. By all means, leave lots of comments with your own ideas of what the term should mean in 2019. 

So what political implications does this have?

From a discourse perspective, if the societally-understood connotation of a term not only has power but is also in a state of flux, that means it will be seen as ‘up for grabs’ by anyone hoping to appropriate it.

If the term is evolving, it makes sense that people vying for power would want to direct its evolution in a direction that benefits them. That’s what we can see with Gou’s use of the term.

If that’s the case - and I believe it is - there’s a concerted and intentional attempt to move “third force” away from its current association with Sunflower ethos, and back toward its earlier meaning of “any third parties who claim to be unaffiliated with the DPP or KMT (but in fact usually are)”. 

I don’t care for this sort of intentional strategizing, but honestly, he’s free to try. If I get to define it in a way that includes only people, parties and beliefs I like, he is free to do the same. I’m not sure it can be called ‘appropriation’ given the term’s history - it sure feels that way, but I have no well-founded basis on which to challenge it. 

I suppose that’s a good thing insofar as the global meaning of “third force” never required newness or progressive ideology, but problematic in that it confuses the pan-blue/pro-China and pan-green/pro-Taiwan sides. I think it would be better to think of these two groups as separate.

It also makes it harder to identify and discuss the liberal-conservative axis. While the pro-China/pro-Taiwan cleavage is still the most enduring and influential split in Taiwanese politics, I still believe there is a purposeful attempt underway to change that.

Finally, looking at who is attempting to gain traction as “third force” can shed some insight on their electoral strategy. 

For example, Donovan Smith recently made fun of James Soong for leaning heavily on the Orchid Island nuclear waste issue. I agree that this seems like an odd strategy given how few people live on Orchid Island. But the Green Party - a “third force” party that actually has access to the term’s new social progressive connotation - does really well on Orchid Island (and nowhere else). I don’t think, therefore, that Soong’s tactic here is just to get Orchid Island voters. I think it’s to encroach on the Green Party vote on Orchid Island (and maybe grab some votes from the KMT too), and through stealing the Green Party’s votes there, get some of their “third force activist” cred to rub off on the PFP. 

To be fair, I don’t think this will work and in any case it’s a waste of time that wouldn’t help the PFP gain much even if it did.

I do think it's significant that Ko (who paints himself and his party as "apolitical"), Soong (who does the same, while going after other third party bases) and Gou (who directly invokes the term "third force") tend to appear together - a uniting of pan-blue, conservative voices trying to bring cohesion to that end of the third party spectrum, and (re)take the moniker "third force"?

On the other end, we have Frontline (前線), a loose alliance of pan-green/progressive candidates from different backgrounds who seem to be trying to bring more unity and cohesion to their own end of the spectrum, especially after the upsets and factionalization that has characterized the past year. Or maybe they're just trying to build a progressive, unified third force without the destructive Huang Kuo-chang element. It's entirely likely that they too are actively trying to hold onto the mantle of "third force" as they face attacks from the TPP and PFP on the pan-blue side as well as TAPA representing the old guard, conservative greens.

Side note: 前線 isn't a great name. It's easily confused with Christian group as well as with Hong Kong Indigenous (本土民主前線) - though I wonder if the similarity to the Hong Kong group's name is intentional.


It also helps us better understand what’s going on with Ko Wen-je and his party. It may seem odd that he started his political career passing himself off as a friend to pro-Taiwan progressives, won the Taipei mayoral election riding the post-Sunflower wave, and then took a turn towards China before his first term was up. We can argue whether he “changed” or whether we just didn’t see it before, and we can ask what supporters the TPP aims to attract. But within that loose Sunflower/Third Force alliance, there were always people who saw the movement not as opposing getting too close to China, but rather the way it was being done. They could be more broadly considered anti-big party corruption. There was also always a contingent (often church-affiliated) who didn’t actually share what we think of as Sunflower social progressivism. 

Someone like Ko wouldn’t necessarily look as gross to them as he does to ‘us’. It makes sense that he’d then get friendly with Soong, who already claims to represent this type of voter. 

In any case, how we define “third force” impacts how we look at third-party politics, liberalism/progressivism, the Sunflower effect and the China cleavage in Taiwan. Use it if you want, but think first about what exactly you mean by it, and whether that's justified. 

Friday, December 20, 2019

An awkward conversation on Andrew Yang and identity (which is not actually about identity)

Andrew Yang (48571504852).jpg
By Gage Skidmore from Peoria, AZ, United States of America - Andrew Yang, CC BY-SA 2.0, Link



Before I even begin, let me say that I know there are issues surrounding a non-Taiwanese person writing this. Taiwan is my home, but I'm not from here. I look different and am therefore treated differently. My cultural roots are different.


So, before you read this, go read Catherine Chou's excellent piece in Popula about this issue. (The only thing I'd change is that the article does not specifically call the ROC a colonial entity. It is one -  however, I doubt she'd disagree with me on that, or at least not too strongly.)

It's hard to pull a quote as it's all fantastic, but here you go:



As the PRC has risen in might, it has consistently tried to erase the island nation’s unique political and cultural identity, making it clear that any attempt to shed the ROC framework, or otherwise formalize its independence under the name of Taiwan, might be met with invasion. 
This makes the silence around Andrew Yang’s Taiwanese-American heritage that much more striking. In December 2016, then president-elect Donald Trump was lambasted for taking a phone call from Tsai Ing-wen, the moderate, wonkish president of the ROC, by liberal American commentators demonstrating little knowledge of the relevant geopolitics. In September 2018, Peter Beinart penned an article in the Atlantic proposing that the US secure peace in East Asia by allowing the PRC to take over Taiwan, an argument that has aged poorly in the wake of the Hong Kong protests and the continuing revelations of the internment camps in Xinjiang. As part of a coordinated campaign of intimidation, the PRC recently pressured dozens of multinational corporations to describe Taiwan as ‘Taiwan, China’ or ‘Taiwan, Province of China’ on their websites. 
Given the obvious tensions, it’s worth asking why there’s been so little discussion about what it might mean for international relations to nominate a Taiwanese-American as the Democratic presidential candidate.


With this in mind, I don't want to come at the Andrew Yang identity debate from the angle of talking about how he should identify. That's a personal decision. He can identify as he wishes and I am supremely unqualified to critique the choice (or non-choice) he makes.

Yang's choice does seem to be a non-choice: he's identified as both Chinese and Taiwanese, though he only seems to pull out the word "Taiwanese" when not many people are paying attention. Otherwise, he's either Generic Asian, blunting his Taiwanese family history - though to be honest that's about as much as white America can often process - or using "Chinese".

What I want to add is this: the choice itself isn't the only point. It may not even be the most important one.

When someone makes a choice (or non-choice) between Taiwanese and Chinese, that choice is not made in a vacuum. It's not a level playing field. There are consequences to identifying as Taiwanese - for a US presidential candidate, these could include angering China (a country he'd have to engage in dialogue with if elected), alienating Chinese-American voters, and spooking other voters who read media reporting of the issue. China has made sure there are consequences; this is an intentional strategy. There are far fewer consequences to identifying as Chinese - fewer people are angered. Fewer friends lost. One less whiny big baby government throwing a tantrum. For a candidate, fewer voters alienated.

And on this unfair playing field, Taiwan always gets screwed. Because there are (intentional) consequences, it takes real guts to insist on Taiwanese identity on a public stage. Even privately, I've heard stories of Taiwanese and Taiwanese-Americans losing friends for refusing to acquiesce to the idea that Taiwanese are Chinese.

So to choose not to go down that road is not a mere matter of personal identity. These are not two neutral choices that come with equal consequences. 

I'm not judging that on a personal level; we all make choices about how we present ourselves based on how that will be received, and as I don't inhabit a Taiwanese body, I can't truly know on a personal level how it feels to face this specific set of choices and how they might impact me. Yang specifically faces much steeper consequences for making that choice than most of us ever will; it's important to understand that. 

But, as someone who loves Taiwan, would fight to defend it, and considers it her true and only home, Yang's choice also has consequences for me, for people I love, and for Taiwan. Shying away from the choice to be Taiwanese has implications regarding one's foreign policy, how they'll handle China, and whether they will stand up for Taiwan.

Despite Yang having Taiwanese ancestry, I simply do not trust that he will stand up for Taiwan, or that he is the best choice for Taiwan.  Any candidate regardless of background will face some consequences for choosing to stand with Taiwan policy-wise. 

Besides, I am someone who loves Taiwan enough that I've seriously considered whether I'd die to defend it (or more broadly, what it stands for). Again, it is my true and only home. Yet I don't get to choose to be Taiwanese; someone who looks like me, with my cultural roots, simply can't do that, yet. Taiwan is multicultural in a regional sense, but isn't in the same way that many Anglophone countries are; it's accepted that anyone can be American, but not that anyone can be Taiwanese. I accept this.

It's enough to say I'm an ally; I'll leave it at that.

I don't know if that will ever change, but if I were in a position to stand with Taiwan and make a real difference, I would do so.

As Catherine notes, in a perfect world, Taiwanese is a chosen identity. 




It does sort of hurt to see someone who could choose it, in a position to make a real difference to Taiwan, not do so consistently.

I think it's fair to say that in a world where Taiwaneseness can be freely chosen without the consequences deliberately set by China, Yang (and others) would be more likely to choose it. It's disappointing that we don't live in that world and so he hasn't, although he's under no obligation to do so. 


Regardless of identity, does Yang stand with Taiwan?

If he had an informed Taiwan policy that was good for this country, I wouldn't care how he identified or what he said about it. As above, that's personal. In the end I'll support who is best for Taiwan no matter what they say (or choose not to say) about their background.

Sadly, that person is not Yang. His statements on Taiwan are a mélange of unenlightened, status-quo, China-benefiting pap:



Perhaps his lengthiest public comments on Taiwan so far came in October, when he told CBS reporter Nicole Sganga that ‘the Taiwan issue has been with us for decades’ and that a ‘positive continuation of the status quo should be one of our top priorities’, including ‘a relationship that works for both Taiwan and China’.

You have to be really ignorant of how things work in the Taiwan Strait to think that this situation 'works' for Taiwan. It is begrudgingly accepted by Taiwan for lack of a better alternative, thanks to Chinese bullying and fears of war. But 'work'? Not unless you think Taiwan wants this and wants to be the ROC, and believes in 'One China'. Data consistently show that on all counts, it does not.

This situation works for China, and helps the US avoid taking a clear stand in support of Taiwan. Nothing more. Yang should know that. Why doesn't he?


Yang stated incorrectly that the US has a ‘mutual defense treaty with Taiwan’. (The Sino-American Mutual Defense Treaty was abrogated in 1979, the year that the US established formal diplomatic relations with the PRC. In its place, Congress passed the Taiwan Relations Act, which governs arms sales to Taiwan and allows for the maintenance of an unofficial embassy on the island, the American Institute of Taiwan.) Yang also failed to clarify that under the ‘status quo’ Taiwan is already independent from the PRC.


Taiwanese, Chinese, American, hyphenated, whatever: I would have hoped that, given his familial ties to this part of the world, that he'd know better and be a better ally to Taiwan.

And Catherine has already done a fine job of pointing out the erasure of Taiwaneseness, even (especially) among Asian-Americans:


The sociologist Nancy Wang Yuen recently described Andrew Yang on Twitter as the ‘first Chinese American presidential candidate’ and responded to evidence of his (sometime) identification as a Taiwanese-American by arguing that the ‘difference between [Chinese and Taiwanese] is much more nuanced’ than her critics seemed to think and that ‘there are Taiwan-born [and] -raised folks who identify as Chinese, not Taiwanese’. Her statements, however, overlook trends in present-day Taiwan, where 73% of people ages 20 to 29 identify as Taiwanese only. Polls now consistently show that fewer than 5% of people living in Taiwan identify as Chinese only. [Emphasis mine].

At this rate, I'll end up quoting the whole piece here! I try not to do that but no matter, I do believe her voice is more important than mine on this issue so it's great if her words take up real estate on my blog.

Angry people will say "stop playing identity politics", "don't tell people how to identify", "that's just ethno-nationalism" or some variation on that theme, and then use that rationale to go ahead and just lump Taiwanese in with Chinese.

In other words, they insist that nobody can dictate identity, and then go ahead and decide how Taiwanese should identify by erasing their existence and considering them Chinese. They seem completely unaware of how the second half of that equation completely negates the power of the first.

Everyone else gets to be proud of their roots and identify how they wish, but when Taiwanese want to do the same, their desire is called 'nationalist' or 'ethnocentric' or 'divisive'.

Erasing Taiwanese identity this way is the result of an intentional strategy on the part of China to influence such dialogue, but people who engage in it seem ignorant of this.

Those same people then go on to have earnest conversations about what identity - including more specific identity - means to them, without considering how this attitude makes it difficult for Taiwanese to do the same. To stand up and be fully themselves, however they may choose to identify and articulate it.

How is it that we agree nobody can tell anyone else how to identify, but Taiwan isn't supported as a potential identity by the very people who say that? Do they realize they're playing a part in the intentional strategy of making it difficult to choose Taiwaneseness?


If you don't see it, consider this: Hasan Minhaj did a whole segment on the Asian-American vote, listed the various ethnic groups under the hypernym 'Asian', interviewed a candidate whose ancestry is from Taiwan, and still managed to not mention Taiwan at all. 

If that's not a case of an Asian-American erasing the possibility of identity for other Asian-Americans, I don't know what is.

What's interesting here as well is that every time I've heard Yang's non-choice discussed, it's under the assumption that he must waver on whether he is Taiwanese American, Chinese American, neither or both because his parents must be KMT diaspora (that horrible term 外省人 which I hope, along with its twin 本省人 will cease to hold real social meaning as expeditiously as possible, for many reasons.  'KMT diaspora' is the most neutral term I could come up with; it includes those who came here not as oppressors but refugees, though many were oppressors and some refugee attitudes supported that.) 

However, that's not the case:




This is backed up by the thread that follows.

Frankly, I don't care where Yang's family comes from or how long they've been here. It's just really interesting that many people have made this incorrect assumption. 


It's a perfect illustration, in fact, of why it shouldn't matter. A few generations on, plenty of grandchildren of KMT diaspora are strong supporters of Taiwanese identity. Many of my friends are - I don't care where they came from; I care about what they think regarding Taiwan. And plenty of people whose families have been here for far longer hold Han nationalist or anti-Taiwan views. Yang is a good example of a person with old Taiwanese roots who still isn't exactly in Taiwan's corner.

It's sad but not surprising, by the way, that Taiwanese identity is associated with 'ethno-nationalism' but Han supremacism/Han chauvinism isn't, even though it's ethno-nationalism in favor of an ethnic Chinese state. Whereas Taiwaneseness is by its nature anti-ethno-nationalist - if Taiwanese and Chinese are ethnically/culturally similar - whatever that means - but Taiwan doesn't want to be a part of China despite this, Taiwaneseness must be founded on something else, no? Something more values-and-history based?


At the end of all of this, considering Yang's freedom to define his own identity, all I can say is this:

If you think allies of Taiwan who can vote in the US are going to support Yang just because he has Taiwanese roots in some sort of identitarian frenzy, you're sorely mistaken. At least regarding me. I don't want 'the Asian guy' - by going that route, he's Generic Asian-ed himself out of my consideration.

There is something to be said for an Asian-American simply being on that stage; it's an important moment of representation. However, as I'm not Taiwanese, I can't speak to whether having Andrew Yang and his non-choice is specifically an important moment for Taiwanese-American visibility specifically. I'd think not, but it's not for me to say.

To repeat my earlier point: his personal identity choice and what he says about it matter less than whether his stated policy beliefs as a presidential candidate show he's a Taiwan ally. I want the socially liberal candidate who is best for Taiwan.

Identity aside, that person is Elizabeth Warren, not Andrew Yang.