Showing posts with label han_kuoyu. Show all posts
Showing posts with label han_kuoyu. Show all posts

Thursday, December 12, 2019

The KMT desperately wants to be rubber to the DPP's glue, but it's not working

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To be frank, I don't really want to write about the KMT. I'd rather talk about the re-election campaign of President Tsai and what she's doing on that front. Sadly, other than a new song (which isn't bad as Taiwanese campaign songs go and intentionally references the band's 2014 hit inspired by the Sunflower Movement, Island Sunrise), some bomber jackets and holding the line she's taken since 2016, there isn't much to say on that front. She hasn't come out with any exciting policy proposals or new platforms that I've seen. "Hold the line and take no risks" seems to be her entire campaign strategy. Frankly, while I'd like to hear more from her about what she'll do once re-elected, this isn't a bad tactic, even though it doesn't give me much blog fodder.

So, instead let's talk about the way the KMT is trying ever so hard to turn the Su Chii-cherng fake news/suicide case into a big scandal for the DPP, and why it probably won't work. Sigh.

For those who don't know what this is about, here's a rundown of events, mostly from this source. It's long and involved, so feel free to skip anything you already know - I'm putting the whole story here because  it's one of the advantages of blogging that I can go long-form if I want and tell a fuller story. I'll put the whole thing in a different color so you'll clearly see where I pick up with commentary.


* * * 

Last year, posts on PTT insinuated that the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office in Osaka (Taiwan's de facto embassy) wasn't providing sufficient assistance to Taiwanese nationals in Japan affected by Typhoon Jebi, in contrast to the assistance that China was giving its citizens. New Bloom reports that the Chinese consulate 'stepped in' to help Taiwanese nationals; other news sources say that the inadequate response of Taiwan was merely contrasted poorly with that of China. The News Lens reports that some Taiwanese apparently feigned Chinese nationality to gain assistance from the Chinese consulate. I'm not sure which version is more accurate.

It doesn't matter much, the truth is that the Japanese government arranged all evacuation assistance, and rejected China's request to send in buses to aid its citizens (although representatives of one Chinese airline filled at least one bus with only Chinese nationals). The Chinese consulate reported falsely that they had arranged transport and food for their citizens and were willing to include Taiwanese citizens who "identified as Chinese" (according to an interview with a Chinese traveler). Global Times, a WeChat post and other Chinese media spread this story.

It was then picked up by Taiwanese social media, where the Taiwanese consulate was criticized for not doing enough for its own citizens, to the point that some pretended to be Chinese. Criticism at first focused on Taiwanese envoy to Japan and 2008 presidential candidate Frank Hsieh (謝長廷), who tried to explain the situation but whose statement didn't get much traction on social media.

This criticism morphed into defending Hsieh and placing the blame on the head of the Osaka consulate, Su Chii-cherng (蘇啟誠). Remember, of course, that Su hadn't done anything wrong, as the entire story was fake to begin with. Su committed suicide soon after. It's difficult to say if the fake news blizzard precipitated his suicide, but an investigation was formed (despite the KMT insisting that the DPP and Ministry of Foreign Affairs were "not interested in investigating" the event), and online personality Slow Yang (楊蕙如) was indicted for not only public insult and hiring someone to post disinformation, but for those posts leading to Su's death. Su's widow says the criticism and his suicide are related, although his suicide note did not specifically mention the incident.

Despite Su's family and some media reporting that the government was going to reprimand and demote Su, MoFA says it had no plans to do so.

The person Yang was indicted for hiring was Tsai Fu-ming (蔡福明), although it's not quite clear who made what posts, and I'm not sure it matters much. Yang had previously been close to the DPP and Frank Hsieh in particular, having previously worked for his election campaign. There's also a furor over a company she owns being paid by the Taipei City government - money she was awarded thanks to her ties to DPP and specifically Frank Hsieh-tied city councilors. Suffice it to say, the DPP and Yang have had ties in the past.

Yang is well-known in Taiwan, as an online personality, mostly on PTT. Her reputation, however, is not great - I've talked to a few people about this and the general consensus is that she's always been an opportunist and purveyor of questionable content.

KMT politicians pounced on this, insisting that Yang was a paid troll-master of the DPP who was tasked with spreading fake news and that the accounts used to spread fake news can be traced back to her, as well as to a DPP legislator's office. I'm not quite clear on who is alleging what, but it seems that the Taipei District Prosecutor's Office is indicting Yang for her role in creating these posts, whether by her or by the online troll she allegedly hired, with the KMT embellishing the story by insisting that the DPP was ultimately funding the whole thing.

Last week, KMT politicians held a protest outside the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MoFA) shouting "MoFA kills people!" and insisting that Frank Hsieh and Foreign Minister Joseph Wu both "offer an explanation" and resign. A scuffle ensued, with the KMT lawmakers insisting they were injured due to rough treatment by the police. Video later surfaced of legislator Arthur Chen of knocking off an officer's cap before pushing her. Two other politicians, Chen Yu-jen and Lin Yi-hua (Lin happens to be running for Chiang Nai-hsin's old legislative seat in my district and is something of a rising star in the KMT) got their fingers caught in a door or gate, and Chen apparently fainted. Both went to National Taiwan University Hospital (NTUH) emergency room for treatment.

Their seemingly (ok, definitely) exaggerated reactions, and those of KMT figures insisting they'd been seriously injured, garnered much online mockery - with Han Kuo-yu and other KMTers visiting Chen in the hospital, video of Chen walking slowly out of the hospital as though dazed some time later, as well as Lin Yi-hua insisting she'd been badly hurt and required hospitalization (and apparently limping pathetically and lying on a stretcher like a trauma victim long after the fact - when the worst of their injuries was getting their fingers caught in a door). 


NTUH was accused by some of giving priority in the queue to politicians (which they denied), and the politicians themselves were accused of abusing national healthcare resources.

DPP legislator Wang Ting-yu then released a video showing at least one person - seemingly Chen though I can't tell, personally - deliberately sticking their fingers in the door at MoFA. MoFA has since filed a complaint against the KMT legislators


* * *


tl;dr:

The KMT is screaming about DPP paying "online armies" to spread fake news and then being injured by police when protesting at MoFA, despite there being not much evidence that the DPP was behind the posts, and video clearly showing that the KMT politicians at MoFA were acting aggressively and more than likely exaggerating their injuries.

Got all that?

Great. 


* * *

What strikes me about this whole story is how clearly desperate it is on the part of the KMT.

While it makes sense that the Chinese consulate would spread fake news and Chinese media would pick it up - after all, that's what the Chinese government does - it doesn't make a lot of sense that the DPP would pay someone to spread that news in Taiwan, and then make posts defending Frank Hsieh and criticizing Su under the assumption that the fake news was accurate. 


It doesn't even make sense that the DPP or Hsieh would pay online 'armies' to defend them in this fashion from fake news spread by others, when Hsieh had already released a statement clarifying that the entire story was false. Neither the DPP nor Hsieh are perfect, and they do make PR mistakes, but it doesn't take a tactical genius to see that the truth of the matter would have come out soon enough and if anything, it would just make China look bad, which is always good for the DPP. It should be obvious that adding another layer of fake news to existing fake news is a bad idea.

I also have it on reasonably good authority (not firsthand, but a source I trust anyhow - make of that what you will) that if anyone paid Slow Yang for these alleged actions - which someone or some entity probably did - it wasn't the DPP or Frank Hsieh. You don't have to believe me as it's third- or fourth-hand gossip by now, but I want to put it out there anyway.


Then there's the absurdity of being so outraged by so little proof - it seems likely to me that Yang did do what she's been accused of, although that's just an opinion, but there's almost nothing there to definitively link the DPP to her actions. There's a story concocted out of disparate threads that doesn't make a lot of sense when you put it together, a few old relationships between a person of questionable morals and some DPP figures, and assumptions made based on online behavior that all political parties engage in, and it's become a full-blown conspiracy theory. 


And, of course, there's the conflating of Su's suicide ostensibly being due to facing "humiliation" and a demotion at work, and being humiliated by social media posts. Those are not the same thing at all and although the indictment indicates that the prosecutor's office believe the posts played a role, it's not at all clear from KMT accusations that that's the case. 

The KMT is implicated in a much more thoroughly substantiated allegation of fake news and disinformation linked to Chinese interference online and in the media, with the Association of Taiwan Journalists, the National Security Bureau, foreign analysts and more weighing in. Remember, pretty much every Taiwanese media source accused, with proof, of receiving money from the CCP is tied to the KMT. Every time money finds its way from China to Taiwanese political figures, it's the KMT that's implicated. Every time China spreads disinformation, it favors the KMT.

Considering that, it's a bit rich for them to accuse the DPP of doing the same thing, but with far less evidence to back up their claims.

Or rather, it makes perfect sense, if they want to deflect people's attention from their own disinformation, including blatant untruths spoken by their own presidential candidate.

The KMT's authoritarian roots and the DPP's more activist roots also come into play. It's not just DPP tactics that make them look like the party that's friendlier to activists - they actually are. As a result, they tend to be known for passionate rallies and protests. Having never held full power (both the executive and legislative branches) before 2016, they were usually the ones banging on the doors to the halls of power - halls usually occupied, until recently, by denizens of the KMT.

The KMT has repeatedly tried to harness that same social movement and activist energy, and mostly failing, because it's simply not in their party's roots or ethos. From astroturfed "social movements" and faux protests right up to this spectacle, they've never been victims and so they suck at playing the part.

Let's not forget that it was the KMT who routinely brutalized democracy activists (the people who went on to found the DPP) and who caused real injury to social movement activists just in the past few years - those water cannons, the police beating students with clubs? That was on the orders of a KMT administration. People involved in the democratization movement ended up injured, in jail or dead. The perpetrators of the White Terror? The KMT.

So when they want to claim the same 'cred', and try to turn it around and scream that now that the DPP is in power they are engaging in the same tactics, the best they can do is stage a whole long-winded spectacle around a few minor injuries - injuries that the people involved managed to help inflict on themselves, looking at the video. It's just another way that the KMT takes proven or well-founded accusations against themselves and tries to say it's the DPP who are really doing those things, à la the "Green Terror".

But, as the old rejoinder goes, if there's really a Green Terror, where are the bodies? Where are the missing people and where is the extensive network of shadowy military prisons?

The KMT may desperately wish that they were rubber and the DPP glue - and whatever you say bounces off of me and sticks to you - but they're not. They keep chucking things off of rubber and watching them boomerang right back on them. (Also I think Ma Ying-jeou might literally be made of glue - he has the right personality and just looks so melty.)

In other words, if you want to know what the KMT has been up to, looking at what they accuse the DPP of doing is a good place to start. 

Sunday, December 1, 2019

What does Han Kuo-yu's strategic baby tantrum tell us?

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The speech bubble says: "I'm 200 times bigger than a standard jelly baby!"

Recently presidential candidate and Kobitos peach Han Kuo-yu likened looking at poll results to 'getting hemorrhoids' and then said that his supporters should stop participating in them (or lie and say they supported Tsai Ing-wen).

I'm not even going to bother going into how childish this is - basically the equivalent of "I'm taking my ball and GOING HOME!", showing what a big fat man-baby Han is deep down - because I think there's more going on there.


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Frozen Garlic already covered this pretty well, pointing out that other KMT candidates might not be so pleased about it, which indicates it was more of him mouthing off than a KMT-planned strategy, which implies that rifts within the KMT are not only deep, but that the cracks spread rather wide. Perhaps wider than the general public is aware of.

His mouth-off might have been strategic or intentional, or not. There is a childish logic to deciding that you're going to try to remove a thing that's not working out for you, rather than dealing with it.  It almost doesn't matter; when commentators liken him to Donald Trump, this is the sort of thing they mean. "The rules aren't working for me, so I'm not just going to throw out the playbook, I'm going to crap all over it so nobody else can use it either!" is extremely Trumpian. And remember, Trump won. It's not a crazy tactic to try and basically neuter a problem plaguing one's campaign, in this case, poor polling results.

But something else struck me while chatting about it with a friend late the other night. This is a bully's move, not the move of someone hoping to attract more supporters. This is what you do when you think you've got everyone on your side that you are going to get, and all you can do from here is try not to lose any more points, and hope for an upset or technicality that gets you in (you know, like Trump).

Voters who are still on the fence between "obvious hotheaded puppet of Beijing" and "cautious person who has run the country competently for four years" aren't going to think "well, Tsai has stood up to China really well, but you know, I like that Han Kuo-yu just sort of gave his finger to the entire concept of data collection. I think I'll vote for him!" This is the sort of thing that riles up an angry base, but does not necessarily expand it.

What we can deduce, then, is that Han has decided to play a bully's game rather than use poll results to try and hone his message and grab more voters who may not love Tsai and are still open to voting for the KMT. He knows he won't be able to. We can also see how little he actually cares about carefully targeted messaging (though to be honest, I think we already knew that).

Interestingly, though, for a man who claims to speak for the people, he doesn't seem very interested in what the people are actually saying when they respond to those polls! Could it be - that he doesn't actually care and thinks swagger alone could help him win? Call me crazy.

But when those polls are conducted - and they surely will go forward - we'll be able to gauge to some rough degree whether Han's supporters are actually listening to him. By that measure, we might have a stronger idea of how many of them are strong supporters and how many are just voting for him because he's KMT and they'd vote for a paper bag if it had a white sun drawn on it, but won't necessarily voice automatic agreement with everything he says.

His tantrum was reminiscent to me of the time he said he didn't want the votes of Taiwan independence supporters, telling them to "vote for Tsai!" An odd strategy, as most Taiwanese support some form of independence, or at least they don't support unification of any kind, ever. 

It's also odd as, in the past, the KMT has at least pretended to want to court independence supporters (not trying that hard, knowing they'd never get the hardcore folks, but trying to get the so-called 'centrists' who might buy a line like 'no independence, no unification, no war', a saying of Ma Ying-jeou's during his own campaign and administration). However, that doesn't seem to have been just an outburst of Han's, as around the same time the KMT started testing out the idea of promoting a "cross-strait peace agreement" (tantamount to some form of unification), and Ma himself changed his tune to "no independence, no war, don't reject unification".

That doesn't seem to have worked, as his poll numbers have been slipping ever since. Hence his latest screamer.

I suppose I could say more about this, but you know what? It's a beautiful Sunday and I could be not doing that. 

Thursday, November 21, 2019

The KMT are intentionally morphing into "family values" conservatives - has anyone else noticed?

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Why is the Han campaign so obsessed with what goes on below the waist? 


It's a common refrain among foreign political geeks in Taiwan to say that the political cleavages in Taiwan don't map exactly onto those in the US. That the KMT has not always been the more socially conservative party on domestic issues - their main thing is that they are all some flavor of China unificationist (Full-Fat Unification Now or Diet Unification - that is, unification at some point in the future). Or that the DPP has not always been the more liberal party despite having "progressive" in their name.

A quick primer for those who don't know why this is a popular analysis: the KMT passed a spate of laws improving women's rights in the 1980s and 1990s, including legalizing abortion and criminalizing marital rape. Explicitly requiring gender equality in the workplace by law, on the other hand, didn't happen until 2002, when the DPP was in power. The two most prominent women's rights activists of the late 20th century were Annette Lu (yes, that Annette Lu) and Lee Yuan-chen. From what I understand, they were otherwise on two different teams politically: women's rights had no party 'color'. The KMT also used to be the party that was more open to immigration (though this has changed). The DPP, on the other hand, had to push its own people - many of whom are pro-independence social conservatives - to pass same-sex marriage. There are conservative Christians who hold lots of influence in both parties. Neither party favors abolishing the death penalty - although the Chen administration leaned in that direction, they never quite got around to eradicating the practice in Taiwan. Executions have taken place under the Tsai administration, as they did under Ma.

I know socially liberal people who vote for the KMT due to either family identity or some sort of sentiment for ROC symbolism and ideology. I also know socially conservative people who vote for the DPP, many of whom voted only reluctantly for Tsai - not because they disagreed with her, but because she's a woman. At the end of the day their choices were driven by identitarianism, and views on China.


This is still mostly true - I don't intend to challenge orthodox beliefs here. But I do want to argue that that's changing, the change is intentional, and we need to pay attention. 

I think the 2020 campaign has now reached a point where there is clear evidence that, while the DPP doesn't quite want to embrace its (mostly) newfound social progressivism yet, the KMT is trying to paint them as degenerate liberals, while actively attempting to court the socially conservative vote, many of whom have been traditional DPP supporters. 

It became obvious right around the time that Lee Chia-fen - Han Kuo-yu's wife - started up with her Moralizing Mom schtick. First it was "The Megaport festival makes mothers cry" - straight-up patriarchal garbage that could have been spouted by any number of pearl-clutching Republican women. Then it was the fearmongering and easily refuted "children are being taught anal sex and orgasms in schools" (they aren't). She also made vague statements that the new same-sex marriage law was "exploiting" gay Taiwanese and should be "reviewed" if her husband is elected, though she didn't clarify how or why.

To me, such remarks are not only a blatant attempt to scare socially conservative voters into siding with the KMT, but they're also a crude re-enactment of the old gendered conservatism of the authoritarian era. While Chiang Kai-shek symbolized all the militaristic ROC hoo-haa about "defeating the Communists and retaking the Mainland", his wife, Soong Mei-ling, headed up several women's associations and clubs, including the Kuomintang Women's Departmentthe Women's League, the Chinese Women's Anti-Aggression League and the Taipei International Women's Club, all of which were founded with the goals of upholding KMT rule in Taiwan and restricting women's movements to the traditional, domestic spheres.

Since Martial Law, I can't think of any wives of prominent male leaders, or female leaders themselves, who have taken up that mantle of old-school patriarchal conservatism...until Lee Chia-fen.

Both women seek/sought to secure KMT power through the restrictiveness of the patriarchy. Soong Mei-ling did this with the subtle polish and promise of prestige of clubs and organizations that restricted women's political power and segregated them based on social class (some of her clubs and leagues were specifically for educated women - the TIWC required an English fluency test - whereas others taught "basic skills" like sewing and typing and were aimed at working class Taiwanese women).

Lee is doing it much more directly, with pearl-clutching moral panics about Scary Sex Things being learned by The Children (!!!)


You know, just like socially conservative Republicans do. If they can't grab you with visions of being some sort of cosseted upper-class housewife who doesn't get involved in the dirtier aspects of politics, they bash you over the head with a moral panic.

Of course, it didn't start with Lee.

In this campaign cycle, it seems to have begun with the anti-gay, church-backed activists being welcomed by the KMT, including at Han Kuo-yu rallies, all the way back to 500 years ago when the 2018 elections took place. It was clear then that someone in the blue camp was studying the tactics of US Republicans and trying to turn same-sex marriage into a partisan wedge issue in Taiwan, when it hadn't been one before. They had some success: while I don't think the KMT actually cares that much about who can and can't get married, they sure seemed to act like they cared when it came to a vote. And yet Chiang Wan-an, one of their young faces, whom they will probably run for Taipei mayor in the next election, rode up to the marriage equality vote, voted for one provision and left - probably so he can say he did the right thing when marriage equality becomes normalized in Taiwan without going wholly against the party line. There's no way that wasn't a deliberate strategy.

To keep up the anti-gay signaling until that normalization happens, the one KMTer - Jason Hsu - who wholeheartedly supported marriage equality was recently left off the party list for the next election.


And now, with same-sex marriage mostly moving to the past, we have a pincer move with Lee with her scare tactics on one side, and Han offering up big fat slices of money cake with a scoop of Family Values on the other. It's quite clear he's positioning himself as the "family" candidate, with all the soft, cuddly family stuff coming from him and the attacks on the other side - liberal degeneracy, Scary Sex Stuff, Scary Gay Stuff, you know - coming from her so it isn't quite so closely associated with him.

First, Han proposed that pregnant foreign women moving to Taiwan should be immediately covered under National Health Insurance. This is actually a good idea, except it doesn't go far enough. Pregnant women do have special health care needs that others don't, but lots of people have specific health needs. The reasonable thing to do is cover all new immigrants upon arrival, not just pregnant women. Han's policy is a lovely-sounding proposal that will cost almost nothing (I can't imagine it's extremely common for foreign women to move to Taiwan while pregnant).  Of course I believe families should have state-funded resources available to them, but not in a way that idealizes motherhood and leaves child-free couples or singles out.

In addition, Han has proposed to raise the childbirth subsidies that Taiwanese families get. I honestly can't find any clear information on the national subsidies, and what I can find doesn't quite match what the KMT press release stated. What's more, cities and counties also tend to offer subsidy programs to help defray the costs of child-rearing, so how much you can claim in lump sums, annual payments and monthly payments differs based on where you live. None of the amounts are huge, but for lower-income families they do help.

If I'm reading the vaguely-worded press release correctly (and I may not be - they need to fire whoever writes these things) Han is proposing an NT$30,000 lump sum for all firstborn children. Second-borns and onward will get NT$60,000 lump sum payments plus an extra NT$60,000/year until each child reaches the age of six. (And yes, he's calling it the "666" plan, let's not even bother mocking that.)

The idea isn't bad in itself, though it doesn't attack the real problem when it comes to people deciding whether to have kids -  low wages. It struck me, though, how much more money you can get for having additional kids. The goal isn't to support Taiwanese families per se - a program that supported families would pay the same subsidy per child regardless of birth order, and would also take care of non-nuclear and non-traditional families, for example, subsidies to care for one's grandparents, fertility treatment coverage for those who have trouble conceiving - including same-sex couples - or subsidies to pay for raising adopted children. It would include a labor policy aimed at increased wages and lower working hours so parents would have more time to spend with their kids, the latter of which South Korea has managed to make strides in achieving. It would fund developmentally-appropriate after-school and summer programs so that parents wouldn't feel compelled to use cram school as a stand-in for daycare if Grandma isn't available.

I don't see Han proposing any of these - in fact, his plan to 'protect workers' doesn't include any of it, and doesn't address low wages It does increase maternity leave, which I support, while not increasing paternity leave, which is negligible in Taiwan - again, idealizing motherhood specifically, not focusing on families.  


For him it seems to be just 'have more kids, get more money'. For traditional families only. Also, no foreigners (none of these subsidies is ever made available to families with two foreign parents).

His proposal, then, is to encourage women to have more babies (the press release even states this obliquely). It's to idealize motherhood, not help families. It's to position himself as the traditional family man candidate in contrast to that mean, frosty, single, child-free, technocrat professor. I don't think he'll go so far as to dig up old rumors that Tsai is a lesbian, because his strategists must know that that could backfire (it's also stupid, but I don't think that would stop them). But he'll imply it clearly enough, mark my words.


Before you read about Han's proposals and are inclined to think that he actually cares about women's issues and there's nothing sexist about it, consider his most recent remarks about gender


男人的生命是下半,女人的生命是上半 - A man's life is the second half, a woman's life is the first half (translation mine). 

I suppose (?) he is implying that the best part of a woman's life is her youth (i.e. when she is pretty), and the second half is worthless, whereas the first half of a man's life is an immature period of figuring himself out, but he becomes more valuable as an older man - that is, looks don't matter as much for him.  

And this: 


男孩子站衛兵可以一站2個小時,但女孩子站2個小時受不了;但女性在梳妝台上,可以化妝2個小時手不會酸,換作男孩子,手可能會斷掉 - A boy can stand guard for two hours, but a girl can't stand it. Yet a girl can sit and do her makeup for two hours, if a boy does that his arm might fall off (translation mine). 

Do those sound like the words of a man who genuinely cares about women as autonomous human beings, or the words of a man who thinks of us as prettily-decorated egg sacks?


While all this is happening, the crazy Christians are at it again trying to get a referendum on the ballot making abortion in Taiwan effectively illegal. They probably won't succeed, but such a proposal could be dangerous in an election year where the KMT is taking a hard social-conservative turn. 


And whose strategy does all this sound like?

If your answer is Western-style social conservatives, especially American Republicans, ding ding. You win.

I don't know that the strategy has quite come to fruition yet. The biggest cleavage is still Taiwan/China, or ROC vs. "our country is Taiwan". But it's clearly on the back burner and it seems obvious to me that they're going to be doing more with it as the campaign progresses.

The only question is why. If they already have a cleavage to exploit, why not just do that?

Personally, I think it's because they know that the old ROC nationalism is a long-term loser. The youth don't generally think of themselves as Chinese. Many don't explicitly reject the ROC framework so much as they don't care about it. Ask them what their country is, and they'll say "Taiwan". Even older people have been turning this way for awhile. The KMT is basically now a bunch of unificationists, but they must know that "let's sell Taiwan to China" is a losing platform, or at least it will be in the near-to-medium future.

Social conservatism, especially regarding families and "family values" on the other hand? That has a strong pull in Taiwanese culture. They can still get a few votes out of that. You know, like this: "Hey voters, don't worry your pretty little heads about all that China stuff, focus on how we're the party that loves families and Chin--- we mean traditional culture. Unlike those Megaport-going, gay-marriage-doing, anal-sex-teaching people who want to ruin our social fabric, especially that ice-cold single childless woman who runs the show! But Han, he's married and has a kid! You can trust him, he's a real family man!"

And frankly, if you're not noticing the change, perhaps it's time to pay attention. Nothing about it is unintentional. 

Tuesday, November 19, 2019

The KMT's Massive Cracks (and the DPP Firming Up)

One of the two parties has been putting their ears to the ground.
The other needs a hearing aid (perhaps literally). 


Nine months ago, if you'd asked me about Taiwanese electoral politics, I would have told you these things:

1.) The DPP is cracking up at exactly the moment that it needs to come together and show unity. As a result, the DPP are going to continue to be tainted by accusations that they're not good at administering once in power and are, at their core, just populist rabble-rousers (as friend and political analyst Donovan Smith put it) who are prone to infighting. 


2.) The KMT is going to unite behind Big Uncle Dirk, not because they all like each other, but because they see him as their only chance to win in 2020. Terry Gou will be pissed, but that's it. 

3.) Because of this, both parties are going to have trouble shoring up their youth credentials and future leaders, because both are 'older' parties. 

So I guess it's a good thing that nobody asks me about politics, because damn was I wrong. 

Now that the major parties have finalized (finally!) their revised party lists for proportional representation seats and their presidential candidates have chosen running mates, it sure looks to me that the DPP, against all odds, has managed to actually unite. On top of that, tapping her primary challenger, Lai Ching-te, as her running mate was a great way to really bring home that 'unity' message. I'm not a fan of Lai (I think he's a corrupt, self-serving opportunist) but I understand why he was chosen. 

The KMT, on the other hand, are the ones falling apart and come across as terrible, out-of-touch administrators. With Han saying things like "Tsai is fat and white [that is, corrupt and soft] and I'm dark and think [i.e. one of the everyday working people]", the KMT is sounding more and more like "populist rabble-rousers" compared to the DPP's well-considered governance. On top of that, the KMT party list exposes how much they - rather than the DPP as once seemed to be the case - are plagued by factional infighting. It's so bad that Han's own running mate, Simon "Who?" Chang, suggested that people vote for pan-blue third party candidates.

I don't actually want to talk much about the party lists though - plenty of people have already done that. All you really need to know is that the KMT's list, even revised, is such a massive joke, full of ancient 'Mainlanders' (people born in China or who identify as Chinese because they were born in Taiwan to Chinese parents not long after the 1949 diaspora). Revising it didn't really fix that, despite removing the guy who said independence supporters - so, most Taiwanese - should be beheaded, and Wu Dun-yih putting himself lower down on the list (putting himself on the list at all was craven and opportunistic). 


The DPP's list is problematic too, with not that many young candidates who could benefit from the exposure, and an indigenous TV host put at #1 and then revised off the list altogether. But nobody seems to be talking that much about it, because the KMT's absolute insult to the Taiwanese people is sucking up all the attention.

It's also worth noting that other than these blunders, the DPP party list seems designed to send a few clear messages: first, we are unified. Or, less generously, we are making sure all our key 'people' are happy for now. Second, we're tapping (experienced, older) experts. Or, also less generously, we actually aren't trying hard to shore up our youth support (though at least one nominee, Hung Shen-han 洪申翰, is under 40)
. Finally, we are willing to work with the Left (considering the inclusion of someone like Fan Yun). Or, again, less charitably: we are trying to absorb pan-green third parties so they cease to be a threat. 

Regarding that last one, though, I don't think there's a big practical difference between the two interpretations. To absorb those third parties, they pretty much have to accept lefties into their ranks. By recruiting lefties, they undermine those third parties. The difference is...what exactly?


But here's the thing - although the DPP party list doesn't skew particularly young or indigenous, I would argue that the DPP overall has done a solid job of shoring up its overall youth credentials. Hiring Sunflower luminary Lin Fei-fan, when it's well-known that the NPP also wanted him, was a baller move. Importantly, he was the one who chose the DPP over the NPP, for his own reasons - but his choice does send a message. Gaining the support of ex-NPP and now independent legislator Freddy Lim was also a win. In addition to Lin, the DPP has been attracting a fair number of people from the Sunflower generation

It's worth noting that this has been the DPP's plan since the 2014 Sunflower movement - they've always hoped to recruit these younger activists, though they did not immediately run them for office - and what we're seeing now, despite their party list skewing older, is the beginning of the fruition of that policy.

I wouldn't personally know, but I would be shocked if they aren't trying to grab the recent exodus from the NPP, too. I don't know if they'll be successful, but I can't imagine they won't try. With Fan Yun recruited, I'd be shocked if they weren't trying to bring the only Social Democratic Party politician ever elected (as far as I'm aware?), Miao Poya, into the fold. I'm not confident she'll bite, though.

It's also worth noting that, again, there is little practical difference between recruiting the more liberal members of this generation (including poaching or vacuuming up unhappy defectors from other parties) because the DPP is willing to move to the left a bit, and doing so simply to eradicate their pan-green challengers. 


The KMT, on the other hand, seems to have dug in its heels on being the Party of Your Grandparents (and Maybe Your Parents If They're Kind of Awful People.)

I suspect that this is because the DPP's core philosophy was never actually populist rabble-rousing: that sort of political rhetoric may be adopted by any party and is more of a quick-win strategy than a guiding ethos. They've always been the party borne of the Taiwanese democratization movement, which means they're the party more willing to consider a progressive way forward. Although they have their elders and social conservatives and have not always been on the more progressive or liberal side of every issue - and have just as much interest in keeping Taiwan locked into a system dominated by two major parties as the KMT - they've shown the capacity to evolve with the times. Passing immigration reform (unlikely in the Chen era, but one of the first things Tsai did) and same-sex marriage are clear indicators of that.

As a result, they have a core guiding ethos that has the capacity to attract the support of younger generations, even if the party doesn't always live up to its own ideals. Despite setbacks - the delay with passing same-sex marriage being just one - they can shore up their ranks with Millenial and Gen-Z recruits and hang on to youth support. Or at least, the potential is there.

It's not that the KMT doesn't want to attract the youth - I'm sure they'd love to get the votes of some imaginary "sons and daughters of China" (中華兒女). But, despite the occasional socially liberal move (for example, they were once the technocrat party which was actually more open to immigration than the then-Hoklo ethnonationalist DPP), their guiding ethos is one of political conservatism and authoritarianism. That's no surprise given their origin in Taiwan as an occupying force and then a military dictatorship.

What the DPP envisions for the future needs some tweaking, for sure. They really should back off on the useless drug war, and the death penalty has got to go. Same-sex marriage needs to evolve into full marriage equality. But their fundamental principles - a free, sovereign and democratic Taiwan in which everyone enjoys equal rights - is one that can carry to the future. 


The KMT - they want what exactly? From their nominee, you'd think it was allowing Chinese annexation. From their party list, some old-fashioned notion that Taiwanese are primarily Chinese or that the ROC could ever "retake the Mainland". Certainly, according to things Han and his wife have said, they're turning more socially conservative and especially hammering the "family values" and anti-immigrant rhetoric. A shame, as they were not always the more socially conservative party on every issue.

How do those beliefs carry to the future? They don't. The youth won't vote for any of that.

As a result, I can count the 'young' KMT future leaders who are publicly high-profile now on perhaps one hand, one of whom was left off the KMT party list. All of them are older than me (I'm in my late 30s - not exactly young). The DPP, on the other hand, has grown a much bigger stable. They might screw it up - one reason why the NPP fell apart, after all, were the Generation Xers running the show and not giving the Millenials and Gen-Z members enough opportunities or a big enough say. But for now, things are looking fine.

In short, I never thought I'd say that the DPP might actually maintain youth support rather than growing as gray, wrinkled and irrelevant as the KMT, but they're actually doing a pretty okay job of it.

This doesn't necessarily mean the KMT will lose, of course. Young people are not as reliable voters as older ones, and despite it being noxious, populist rhetoric is often effective. They probably will lose, but in this election cycle, their inability to attract the youth probably won't be the reason why. All of the work the DPP is doing to keep itself relevant is going to pay off one generation down the road more than it will now.

What scares me is that if the KMT does pull off an unlikely win, Taiwan is in a precarious enough position vis-a-vis China and the KMT has grown so much more 'red' and unificationist that the vision of Taiwan that the Taiwanese youth (mostly) want will never have time to blossom. Their parents and grandparents will put Taiwan on a road that their children never wanted. Rather than having the ability to build the country they do want once they become the most powerful voting bloc, they'll be forced to fight for their very survival instead. You know, like in Hong Kong.

In other words, I don't think Han will win, but if he does, I'm not sure Taiwan as a sovereign nation will survive it. And it's the youth who don't even like Han or the KMT who will pay the price for that. 

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

Tsai (or Han's) popularity is not a measure of support for unification

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Of course it's silly to say that the events in Hong Kong haven't played any role in Tsai's popularity resurgence. They've obviously had an effect, though I'd still disagree that they are "singlehandedly" responsible for reasons I discussed on Sunday. Tsai's improved marketing, Lai's primary loss, Han acting like more and more of a racist idiot who doesn't do his job, the passage of same-sex marriage and other domestic events have also played a role.

The bigger point is this, however. Election results in Taiwan aren't the best way to measure how open Taiwan is to unification. Polls of Tsai or Han's popularity aren't either. 

Despite this, people looking for some sort of 'in' to say that China is 'hurting its chances' of winning over Taiwan, which implies China had a chance to begin with, tend to look at electoral politics to support their arguments. That's exactly what happened in the Bloomberg piece that annoyed me so much on Sunday.

The way to measure whether China has a chance of 'convincing' Taiwan is to look at more stable long-term data regarding how Taiwanese view themselves and their country.

That is, Taiwanese identity and Taiwanese independence (de facto or status quo, regardless of name). Regardless of who they vote for, if a sense of Taiwanese identity and nationhood is strong, you can be sure that China could hire all the free candy vans in the world, and Taiwan would not budge.


And that's exactly what we've seen. Sure, pro-unification half-burnt department store mannequin former president Ma Ying-jeou won in 2008 and 2012, but Taiwanese identity only grew, and attempts at pushing Taiwan closer to China were met with massive protests that destroyed his legacy. Even when Taiwanese are open to closer economic cooperation, thinking it's not a big threat, they're still not interested in unification.

Similarly, Tsai's popularity could be in the gutter and it wouldn't change the fact that Taiwanese identity recovered quickly from its hiccup, starting in around 2018. Even when that number began to dip, it never came close to being overtaken by "Chinese" (or even "both Taiwanese and Chinese"). 

In fact, Han could win in 2020, and it still wouldn't change that. It makes the landscape more dangerous, as he and his CCP/KMT handlers would probably take that as a mandate to head in that direction. But there's no reason to believe that Taiwanese identity will take a hit any more than it did either time Ma won, which means there's no reason to believe that China's 'chances' of convincing Taiwan to move toward unification will improve either.

It's just deeply simplistic to think of Taiwanese politics as two boxes voters can tick: "the KMT/unification/Chinese identity" on one side, and "the DPP/independence/Taiwanese identity" on the other. There are strong correlations, with China being the biggest cleavage (heheh, cleavage), but to assume that a vote for the DPP is a vote for independence and a vote for the KMT is a vote for unification is such a jejune way of looking at it. 


So why do people believe otherwise? I have no idea, but I suspect they think it just makes for a clickable lede.

Anyway, there are lots of reasons why who wins in 2020 isn't a good measure of support for independence or unification, so please allow me to opinionate in your general direction about them. 

The first is that not every independence supporter sees China as the biggest threat to Taiwan's sovereignty, as Frozen Garlic so insightfully pointed out. I won't summarize his post as it's not that long - go read it. I'd characterize the voters I'm about to describe a little differently, though. While his 'fundamentalists' might feel angry at the DPP for promising nationhood and failing to deliver, there's a subset that is willing to vote for the KMT if they are convinced unification is off the table. During the Ma years, I knew a few of these: generally green, had voted for and grown disappointed with Chen, and then voted for Ma to 'punish' the DPP while at the same time assuming that, as Ma was the US's preferred candidate, that the US would have Taiwan's back.

And yet, these voters clearly don't see the KMT or the ROC military as potent symbols of the old regime, being more like the pragmatists Frozen Garlic describes. A part of why they were willing to vote for Ma was that they saw the KMT as a viable political party that had evolved with democratization. 

I am hopeful, at least, that most of this "I'm green but Ma is acceptable" crowd is not going to vote for Han this time around.

Then there are the true fundamentalists - the "Never Tsai" people who do see the KMT and the ROC colonial structure as the biggest threats to Taiwanese statehood and would never vote for them - these are the folks drawn in by people like Annette Lu (so that's like, four people) or William Lai, who don't like Tsai's lack of nationalist hot air. Their refusal to vote (or voting for some last-minute third party candidate - I think James Soong is running for the 456th time) is also a factor.

But then there's another group, the ones who could potentially swing the election to Han, if it can be swung. Those are the born-and-raised deep blues who still think that Taiwan is not a part of China, or at least not the PRC. The old-school KMTers before the KMT turned red, and those who are smart enough to see Taiwan's reality clearly, but not willing to break from the party identity they inherited from their parents.

Don't laugh. I know one of these guys. The older son of a father born in China, he grew up in a military village in Taiwan. He was raised with an "ROC" identity and a sense that the KMT was an above-board political party, but his observations of life in Taiwan made him realize that Taiwan was truly a different place from China. He calls himself Taiwanese. He thinks "retaking the Mainland" is a pipe dream, and supports independence. Although he's 華獨 (a supporter of independence keeping the Republic of China framework), if a peaceful de jure independence were offered with the condition that Taiwan must be "Taiwan" rather than the "Republic of China", he would consider it "a difficult decision" but indicates a willingness to sincerely consider it as a far lesser evil than unifying with the PRC. He supports marriage equality and somewhat begrudgingly concedes that Tsai is handling China well - in fact, he has plenty of views more at home with the DPP than the KMT. He hated Chen's overt Hoklo nationalism.

And yet he intends to vote for Han. Identity is a powerful thing. 

The point is, people like him may vote as though they're pro-China, but they're not. They're anti-unification and anti-PRC (as opposed to "pro-Taiwan"), with views often constructed during their formative years in which the KMT was emphatically not "the natural ally of Beijing" (as Richard McGregor put it in Bloomberg) the way it is today.

In other words, the sort of people who can swing an election in Taiwan and put a KMT president in power are not necessarily people who will support steps toward unification.

Looking at it that way, there is no meaningful support for unification in Taiwan and there hasn't been in some decades, regardless of who wins elections. If that's the case, then events in Hong Kong have not, in fact, "ruined China's chances" with Taiwan, because those chances never existed in the first place. 


To finish this off, that's why things like this piss me off so hard: 


What if Han wins the general election and calls for “peaceful reunification” of the two Chinas [sic sic sic], based on “one country, two systems”?  Solve for the equilibrium!  I see the following options: 
1. They go ahead with the deal, and voila, one China! 
2. The system as a whole knows in advance if this is going to happen, and if it will another candidate runs in the general election, splitting the KMT-friendly vote, and Han never wins. 
2b. Han just doesn’t win anyway, even though his margin in the primary was considerable and larger than expected. 
3. The current president Tsai Ing-wen learns from Taiwanese intelligence that there are Chinese agents in the KMT and she suspends the general election and calls a kind of lukewarm martial law. 
4. Han calls for reunification [sic] and is deposed by his own military, or a civil war within the government ensues. 
5. Han foresees 2-4 and never calls for reunification [sic] in the first place.

What bugs me about this (other than the absolute howler that is #3, lol) is that none of these options includes the most obvious one. 


It allows for government intervention, party intervention and current administration intervention (again, lol) but not the actual intervention likely to occur.

In fact, here's the most likely outcome of that scenario:

Han wins, calls for unification, and faces protests so massive that they make the Sunflowers look like a school trip to learn about government.

If Han wins and attempts #1, this is almost certainly what will happen, because a vote for Han is not a vote for unification, just as a vote for Ma wasn't one, either. Forget the legislature as the seat of all the action - entire government ministries are occupied. Traffic at a standstill. Marches every weekend. Graffiti everywhere.

And because this hypothetical President Han is Beijing's toy, and would be quite serious in his attempts to allow a "peaceful" annexation, those protests grow so massive and so angry that in order to assert control (and carry out his Chinese masters' orders) Han very well might tacitly permit more police violence than Taiwanese find palatable, which is any police violence. Remember that a whole song - the other one, not the super famous "Island Sunrise" - was inspired by a few water cannons on a single night in 2014. They fight back, as Hong Kongers have done, and bam. That tsunami I warned about in my last post? That's what it is.


I don't have a conclusion. I just want you to sit there and roll that around in your mind for a bit. 

Sunday, November 10, 2019

China will never 'win over' Taiwan: an anatomical discussion of dopey ledes

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Another day, another opinion piece about whether the Chinese government's reaction to the Hong Kong protests will hurt their image in Taiwan, and therefore their chances of convincing Taiwanese that closer ties or even eventual unification. This one comes from Bloomberg, a perpetual font of bad writing about Taiwan. It's become so commonplace, though - the well-founded criticism of China, backed up with some nonsense about how the Chinese government could alienate Taiwan and sour any hopes that Taiwan might willingly "return to the fold" - itself an inaccurate description of the situation.

Or, as Richard McGregor puts it in Bloomberg: 



Without a change in its approach, the Communist Party risks making the already difficult task of winning over the self-governing island next to impossible without force.... 
Amid the Hong Kong protests, the last thing the Communist Party should want is a rebuff from voters in Taiwan. Yet Beijing has shown little interest in modifying its stance. The inevitable result is that Taiwan has become even more alienated from China.... 
A decisive victory for Tsai in January’s election might chasten Beijing and cause it to return to a more consensual strategy. But the example of Hong Kong doesn’t so far give much hope that Xi will change course. If China continues to double down, the eventual denouement for Taiwan may be far more dangerous. 

What these sorts of articles universally overlook (or intentionally ignore) is that the CCP's stance and behavior only play a small-to-moderate role in Taiwan's desire for independence and lack of enthusiasm for unification. In fact, it wouldn't matter much if the CCP adopted a more conciliatory stance on Taiwan: there is no "consensual" strategy available to China because it's quite clear that Taiwan wants independence regardless.

That's not just my opinion - it's reflected in the data as well.

Poll after poll shows that deepening Taiwanese identity, which tends to go hand-in-hand with belief that Taiwan simply is independent and should remain that way. Most strikingly, these beliefs have not only blossomed since democratization in 1996, but only grew during the Ma Ying-jeou era, when the CCP was at its most conciliatory.

According to data published here, in 2008 (when China-friendly Ma took office) 64% of poll respondents said that Taiwan, even as the 'Republic of China', was an independent country, though only 22% of people thought China would use economic tools to force political concessions. According to this more detailed account, the number of people who identified as solely Taiwanese and those who identified as both Taiwanese and Chinese were both in the mid 40% range, with solely "Chinese" identification being quite low, at 3% - about the same percentage as non-respondents. This source says the same thing.

Then what happened? It was an era that some people still label as having "warming" or "closer" relations between Taiwan and China. You'd think that it would result in Taiwanese feeling closer to China as well, right?

Wrong.

Look at that data again. Taiwanese identity only increased from 2008 to 2016 - especially after the 2014 Sunflower Movement. The sense that Taiwan/the ROC was independent increased as well. Fear of China's 'conciliatory' economic gestures being guises for political force spiked, because...duh, they were.

It didn't matter how friendly China was to Taiwan. It didn't matter that Chairman Xi and President Ma got cozy in Singapore. Taiwan wasn't having it. If anything, CCP efforts to be 'nice' only exposed the truth: that none of it was sincere, and none of it came for free. All of it created greater economic dependency that would make eventual extrication under 'colder' ties more difficult, and it didn't even benefit Taiwan that much. Economic growth under Ma was not more impressive - and in some ways it was less so - than during other less 'China-friendly' administrations.

Taiwanese identity blossomed not just in response to this realization about China, but also as a part of a natural upward trajectory. That makes sense. Before democratization, it was difficult to freely form, let alone express, a true sense of identity in Taiwan. Taiwanese history was taught as a part of Chinese history in schools and you could face repercussions for expressing a different view. It's only reasonable that once those restrictions were lifted, Taiwanese people would look back at their own history - which was by and large not as a part of China, even if their ancestors came from there - and form a stronger sense of identity, which would increase over time.

It doesn't make sense that a friendlier stance from China would stem this tide, and indeed it did not.

While some of these 'Taiwan identity' numbers dropped again after Tsai assumed office in 2016, note that none of them dropped very much and all of them are on the rise again. Dipping from around 65% in 2016 back to the mid-50th percentile, and "Taiwanese and Chinese" identity experienced a slight bump from about 32% to about 38%. At the time, people worried that the Sunflower effect might be ephemeral and numbers might dip even further, but that didn't happen. Instead, sometime around 2018-2019 numbers began to rise again. The gap between "Chinese and Taiwanese" and "Taiwanese only" identity that began in 2008 - again, during China's "friendly" years! - only widened over the next eight years never came close to closing.

The reason for the change probably has something to do with Hong Kong and China's response - it would be silly to say it's not a factor. But if these poll results were released in the summer of 2019, the actual poll was probably conducted a fair bit earlier, that is, before the protests really got underway, if not entirely so. That was also around the time that Han Kuo-yu started to gain popularity among some segments of the population, and strongly turned off others - reminding them, perhaps, that games with China cannot be won and are best not played at all.

Considering this, I'd put that 2016-2018 blip down to Taiwan's natural tendency to grow critical of its leaders. Tsai was elected, the Sunflower high wore off, and now that "our person" was in office, and it was time to start nitpicking on her inevitable flaws.

It's also worth noting that during this time, "Chinese only" identity - the one most closely tied to openness to unification - did not experience a bump. In addition, if you read that Washington Post article again, you'll see that Taiwanese youth have a huge role to play. The current generation of young adults overwhelmingly considers itself Taiwanese, and those numbers don't seem to have budged much at all. Anecdotally speaking (because I have no data!), that generation was also the most strongly critical of President Tsai during the labor law and marriage equality wars. But it was also quicker to re-embrace her when the terrifying spectre of President Han began to loom, Hong Kong started getting dicey, and marriage equality finally passed.

And if you grow up simply thinking you are Taiwanese and your country is Taiwan, and there's no reason to question that because why would there be?, the chances that China could ever "win you over" are remote indeed.

So why do people still think China has a chance?

Because they're looking at only recent data, not going back to the 1990s, or even 2008. They've also been convinced by an international media that posits every issue facing Taiwan as being related to China in some way because China gets more clicks (even when they clearly not), when in many cases the reasons behind why Taiwan feels the way it does are mostly, if not entirely, domestic.

When you look at it that way and ignore the history of Taiwanese identity, things like this sound more plausible:

Over the past year, Beijing has single-handedly revived the electoral prospects of its political adversary, incumbent President Tsai Ing-wen of the independence-leaning Democratic Progressive Party. At the turn of the year, Tsai’s approval rating was a miserable 24%. Now polls show her with more than 53% support versus about 31% for Han, whose Kuomintang is the natural ally of Beijing. That Nationalist party retains deep ties to the mainland as the former government of China until it lost a civil war to the Communists and fled to Taiwan in 1949.

When, in fact, almost everything about it - and other opinion pieces that use this data point as evidence - is wrong.

It's true that Beijing has helped Tsai to a degree, but "single-handedly" reviving her electoral prospects? I think not. Domestic issues have played just as much of, if not a greater role.

"...the independence-leaning Democratic Progressive Party"? True, but misleading. It makes it sound as though being pro-independence is a platform of the party and not a common, majority belief in society. That's not the case. The will of Taiwan leans toward independence, and the DPP happens to better match it than the KMT, which often has to hide its closeness to China behind obfuscatory language. Even if Han wins in 2020 and the CCP puts its "the abuser is being charming to win you back" on again, don't expect the general pro-independence sentiment to change much.

Plus, "a miserable 24%"? Rick, do you even follow Taiwanese electoral politics? 24% is pretty normal for Taiwan, and every president who has eventually won re-election (a grand total of two people so far) experienced a huge dip in their first term approval ratings. Taiwanese love to criticize their leaders, so while that wasn't a great number, it also wasn't "miserable" or even out of the ordinary. Besides, that number seems to have come from a KMT poll - unless someone has evidence to the contrary - with another non-KMT-funded poll published around the same time, in May 2019, showing her support at 33.8%. 


Let me finish by simply re-stating the obvious: articles like these are harmful to Western perceptions of Taiwan, and to Western readers' understanding of the Taiwan-China situation in general. I mean that: a good friend emailed me recently positing that China's harshness with Hong Kong might "turn Taiwanese off" to "reunification" after reading the New York Times. (He got a kind talking-to, don't worry.)

People like Richard McGregor and media outlets like Bloomberg, then, actively peddle untruths and misleading notions. The "denouement" for Taiwan was always going to be dangerous, because China might offer some economic enticements or use friendly language, but it's never going to give up on unification/annexation. It's only possible to envision a violence-free denouement if you believe that Taiwan could possibly be persuaded to embrace unification - but that's highly unlikely.


It's clear from decades of research that the Taiwanese sense of identity and national sovereignty has deep, domestically-grown roots - history, cultural evolution, geography, democracy - that anchor it firmly as a place apart. How China approaches Taiwan is just one tiny tendril of a massive banyan that neither China, nor the international media, nor Bloomberg, nor Mr. McGregor here, seem to understand.

In fact, we've seen this play out recently. When China tried to reach out to Taiwan again in hopes of raising the prospects of its flailing puppet candidate Han Kuo-yu with its "26 measures", the reaction was one of near-universal disgust. It's clear to Taiwan that when China 'buys' you, they're not the ones paying the price.

This isn't just about China's treatment of Hong Kong in particular so much as China's vision for all territories it considers to be "Chinese" in general. The only way not to see this is to assume that China's vision is fungible, and that what it offers Taiwan and Hong Kong could ever be anything other than oppression. In events like the Hong Kong revolt, all China is really doing is showing its true face. Taiwanese people aren't dumb; they see that.

So please quit it with the fearmongering that China is "driving away" Taiwan. It's not, really. Taiwan got in the car and drove its own damn self away decades ago, and it's not coming back. 

Monday, October 7, 2019

Lee Chia-fen's comments on Megaport Festival are pure patriarchy and no substance

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I don't even know where to begin when dissecting the deeply problematic comments of Lee Chia-fen, the perpetually frowning wife of presidential candidate Han Kuo-yu, when she attempted to justify the cancellation of the wildly popular Megaport music festival. But there's clearly more to talk about than the obvious take - that it's complete nonsense and fearmongering - and I suppose because I subconsciously enjoy a bit of mild masochism, I'd like to talk about that.

According to the Taipei Times:


The Megaport Festival “has made many mothers weep,” Kaohsiung Mayor Han Kuo-yu’s (韓國瑜) wife, Lee Chia-fen (李佳芬), said yesterday. It was not clear what she was insinuating. 
Lee made the remarks while campaigning for Han, the Chinese Nationalist Party’s (KMT) presidential candidate, and KMT Legislator Ko Chih-en (柯志恩) in New Taipei City, adding that as a mother she knows what many parents are worried about....
As a mother, she would like to see a society that is built on harmony and reciprocity, Lee said. 

Lee went on to say that there should be a focus on the economy and education - "cultivating the next generation" to be more "qualified" - and caring for the disadvantaged (link in Mandarin), and that her husband would concentrate on these areas.

I noticed immediately that Lee's comments sounded exactly like the sort of thing the wife of a conservative politician in the US would say. If you hadn't thought before that the KMT had been studying the tactics of successful Republican campaigns in the US - even though the two parties don't overlap entirely in ideology - it should be clear now. 

It's also not at all clear what on earth these "mothers" would be crying about. Lee didn't actually give any examples of aspects of Megaport over which "mothers" would rend their garments. It seems she just expected us to assume it was the usual sex, drugs and rock & roll (I don't know how much sex and drugs there really are at Megaport, but as far as I'm aware it's never been a big issue before.)

As for "education, the economy, and helping the disadvantaged", let's leave aside the fact that Lee's husband has no concrete platforms or policy proposals through which to accomplish these goals. Instead, I'd like to first point out that "education, the economy and helping the disadvantaged" are completely irrelevant to the Megaport Festival. Even if we could trust Han Kuo-yu to dedicate himself to these goals (and we can't without concrete policy proposals from him), they can be accomplished with Megaport still going strong. These issues are so unrelated that I wonder what sort of dogwhistle she's blowing here.

Oh wait, I know which one.

There's a big helping of anti-Taiwan fearmongering here - Megaport was co-founded by Chthonic singer and pro-independence activist and legislator Freddy Lim. Openly pro-independence band Fire Ex, whose songs are exclusively in Taiwanese rather than Mandarin, often headline. This is a "these people believe in Taiwanese independence and hate the ROC!" dogwhistle, implying that being pro-independence means you don't care about the "important" issues because all you want to do is fight China. Up next in the playlist: the only way to improve Taiwan's economy is to get closer to China, which these awful splittists are afraid of doing because they're ethno-nationalists, not like we superior Han leaders, they'd rather let the Taiwanese economy burnNevermind that the economy is not burning - you need to be convinced that it is in order to advance a pro-China agenda.

Oh yes, and let's not forget the racism. Here is the Mandarin version of part of Lee's remarks (translation mine):

李佳芬說,她跟著學校的師生走遍亞洲各國,發現台灣孩子資質很好,只要給機會和養分,就能成龍成鳳,更說,如果不能為下一代創造好環境,那就是這一代的罪過。
Lee Chia-fen said that she visited teachers and students across various Asian countries, and found that the qualifications of Taiwanese children are quite strong. As long as opportunities and 'nutrients' are given, they can become phoenixes, but if we cannot create a good environment for the next generation, it is the sin of this generation.


This is a clear call-back to her husband's remarks on Taiwanese brain drain, saying that "when the phoenix flies away, the chicken comes to roost" (likening Taiwanese to phoenixes and foreign workers to chickens - in other words, being racist.) Han later "clarified" his remarks in various ways, but there's really no "clarification" for a statement like that. Lee's remark makes it clear that he meant what he said and all of its supremacist implications.

But what bothered me most was the insidious patriarchal internalized misogyny of such comments. I know it might sound odd to say that highlighting the feelings of mothers in society is inherently patriarchal and misogynist, but it is. Hear me out.


I doubt that Lee was drawing on established research into the opinions of Taiwanese mothers on the cultural implications of the Megaport Festival (I'm pretty sure none exists). So she was fabricating an opinion of "mothers" out of thin air, based on her opinion. She not only assumed that enough Taiwanese mothers would agree with it that it must be true, but expected that we would buy into her grand delusion as well, and take for granted that Lee's notions of what "Taiwanese mothers" think must be accurate.

In fact, if there's any truth to it at all, it would only be true for Taiwanese mothers of Lee's generation and older. Data routinely show that Taiwanese, especially younger Taiwanese, are more socially liberal. Sex, drugs and rock & roll don't bother them. Most Taiwanese, and especially younger Taiwanese, identify as Taiwanese rather than Chinese, and with Taiwan as their country, not China (I don't think I've ever even heard a person under age 50 refer to their country as anything other than "Taiwan", ever.) Presumably, many of these younger Taiwanese are women, and plenty of them are mothers. So Lee's comments frame the discussion of "what mothers think" as one in which only mothers of a certain age get to be an authority or decide that consensus.

When you fabricate an opinion for "mothers" and then tout it as fact, even if you yourself are a woman, you are deciding other women's opinions for them to advance your own cause. Not letting women, including mothers, speak for themselves is patriarchy.

Second, her comments hold up "mothers" as some sort of social ideal - angels whose opinions can never be wrong and in fact, the only status in which a woman's opinion matters. That's an old-school conservative tactic - ignoring "whores" (everyone who isn't a mother) by holding up "Madonnas".

But of course, mothers can be wrong. I loved my mother dearly but she had a lot of ideas about how my life should be that were simply not right for me. And sometimes, if your mother is truly wrong, you do just have to let her cry (As far as I know, I never made my mother cry, but I know people who, say, came out to their mothers as gay, lesbian or trans and did cause maternal tears - and that was the mothers' problem, and her issue to come to terms with, not their fault).

It also sets the stage for a "family values"-centric platform in which, well, "the family" is held up as the best possible social ideal, with "the family" being a traditional unit with a mother and a father (so, no same-sex couples, because your mother can't weep if you have two dads) and children (your weeping doesn't count if you're a woman who has decided not to procreate). The implicit ageism of her comments also makes it clear that such a family is one in which children obey their elders no matter how wrong those elders might be.

And there is nothing more patriarchal than holding up the ideal of a weeping mother as a particular cog in a family unit, a complementary 'emotional' component (note all the "weeping") to the idealized quiet, hardworking father. This sets up women as primarily emotional beings, whose emotions only count if they are mothers. And of course, they have to play a certain role as mothers because they are 'emotional' - this 'traditional family' isn't one with a sensitive dad or a breadwinning mom or anything newfangled or liberal like that. Nobody else's emotions count at all, least of all the children who might be perfectly upstanding young adults who might want to attend Megaport just because it's fun.

In short, everything the younger generation doesn't want Taiwan to be, but their parents and grandparents still insist on.

What is more patriarchal than that?