Showing posts with label taiwanese_elections. Show all posts
Showing posts with label taiwanese_elections. Show all posts

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. 

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

How To Choose A Side

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This is about us against them. 



After yesterday’s horrifying events in Hong Kong, I spent a fair amount of time on my couch bawling. The day before, police had terrorized shopping malls, beating people up randomly - some of whom were just shopping. Yesterday, the police ramped up their campaign of brutality by shooting at unarmed protesters (including hitting one in the abdomen with a live round), trying to mow protesters down on a motorbike and thanking protesters for coming out “so they could shoot at them” and laid siege to the CUHK campus for no discernible reason. 



In addition, protesters themselves had set on fire a man who was arguing with them after an extended dispute. From the video, which you absolutely should not watch, they were not defending themselves as it was one man against several of them. The man is in critical condition (as was the teenager who was shot in the chest by police). 



I cried not only for Hong Kong, but because earlier that day I had walked through my neighborhood in the late afternoon. It was balmy and breezy. Young lovers canoodled on an old bench in my courtyard. Retirees and their care workers and dogs loitered at picnic tables under the broad umbrellas. Outside my complex, a woman helped her elderly father walk slowly down the footpath, under the hanging vines from an old tree in a sidewalk planting patch. Two construction workers joked on break. 

A group of pedestrians tapped their smartphones waiting for the light to change, a decorative cement compass showing the four cardinal directions was embedded in the footpath behind them. An MRT train whizzed by on the tracks overhead. 

And all I could think was "these streets could be on fire in just a few months”. 



Listening to BBC World Service that evening, the reporter interviewed both activist leader Joshua Wong as well as an anti-protest legislator. 

Wong, as with everyone I’ve heard comment on this tragic event (with one unfortunate counter-example) emphasized that neither he nor other activists and organizers approved of what was done to the man who argued with demonstrators. They not only refused to condone such actions, they actively condemned them. And they are right to do so - it was a stupid, useless move that will cost them local and international sympathy and make people question how ‘peaceful’ these protesters really are. There is no benefit in it - it was something done out of pure rage. The rage itself is justified, but the actions taken as a result are not. 

Even as Wong decried police actions yesterday and in previous weeks and months, he was very clear about this. That the man was ‘wrong’ doesn’t matter - it shouldn't have to be said that never acceptable to set someone on fire. 



The thing is, I haven’t really heard anyone on the protesters’ side defend what those individuals did. This is one of the very few times that the protesters attacked without needing to, rather than fighting in self-defense or going after the police who are going after them (which at this point I think might be justified given the widespread police brutality). In each case where this has happened - protesters and their allies have engaged in long public discussions of whether such actions were right or wrong, and even apologized publicly in one case. 



Looking at the other side, they don’t extend the same courtesy. Following Joshua Wong, the pro-China legislator - I didn’t catch her name - spent her entire interview time ranting about the violent, radical “rioters” and really hammered home that they’d set a man on fire. Her criticism is justified, but she refused to do the simple, humane thing that Joshua Wong had done and admit that her ‘side’ had committed numerous brutal acts as well - including being implicated in the death of protester Chan Tsz-lok among the crimes named above. To her, all police action was justifiable; none of it consisted of mindless brutalization. 

Wong acknowledged the humanity of the man attacked by protesters and condemned such treatment of the movement’s opponents. The lawmaker would not do the same - they’re all just mindless rioters and they have what’s coming to them so we can “keep the peace”. One imagines she thinks that Beijing’s oppressive peace is not only preferable to today’s Hong Kong, but that it’s desirable in its own right as well. She cannot see that - or why - so many of her fellow Hong Kongers disagree. 



Carrie Lam’s press conference followed a similar rationale: the protesters are violent, their demands have gone beyond a call for democracy (except they haven’t, because democracy has not been promised), they are the “enemy of the people" and will be “stopped”. Stopped for what? I have to ask. Stopped so Hong Kong can lose what really matters - its freedom? They will destroy this city, she said - as though allowing China to swallow it whole isn't another form of destruction. 



And that is the difference between us and them. 

We make mistakes. We have overly-aggressive and radical elements. We’re not even close to perfect. But we step back, we acknowledge our wrongs, we engage in discussion of our motives and actions, we’re willing to criticize and even condemn our own (which, by the way, is why it's also so hard to organize our own. It’s not that we’re wrong; that’s just the nature of the double-edged sword of self-criticism.) We evaluate our means vis-a-vis our ends. The difference isn’t that we’re angels and they’re demons - it’s that we’re all flawed, but at least our flaws are not systematic and planned, and we admit it and try to do better. 



Them? They engage not in one-off mistakes, but systematic brutalization and murder. Their goal is to deny Hong Kong the rights and freedoms they currently have, let alone any hope for democracy. You can’t look at those videos of police actions and see otherwise, so they must be aware of this, but they won’t admit it. They don't discuss it, and they certainly don’t apologize for it. 



And that’s a big part of why they are wrong and we are right. Period. There are not two sides here. There never have been. 



These events hold some important lessons for Taiwan, too. 



This wave is coming for us. Don’t pretend it isn’t - China is hell-bent on annexation, and while they may not succeed, they will attempt it in some form. It may not be full-scale invasion, but then Hong Kong didn't experience that either and look where they are. There is no such thing as peaceful unification, which means there will be protests. Those protests may turn violent, especially if we have elected a government that is more likely to excuse police violence. 

We need to prepare and organize now. 

We need to clarify our means and our ends now, too. It's imperative to make a commitment to peaceful protest, with fighting in self-defense only. Hong Kong balks at the notion of violent protest; non-participatory Taiwanese are likely to react similarly, if not more conservatively because the fight will seem at a greater distance, with China across the water holding no official sovereignty over Taiwan. Culturally, I also suspect Taiwan is in a place in its history that doesn’t look kindly on violent protests, even though it has a history of rebellions, many of which were violent. As the tsunami rolls in, we need to figuratively seek higher ground. 



It's also important to remember that despite our best efforts, such things may occur. We need to be ready to condemn them even as we stand together. We need to be ready for the ‘other side’ to condemn us even as they refuse to admit their own brutality, even if it is more systemic, more widespread, more hateful, and in the service of a totalitarian, anti-liberty goal. 



Finally, as we accept that this is coming for us, we need to make some hard personal calculations. Do we stay or go? If we stay, do we join the fight? A lot of people are going to have to decide to risk their lives to stay and fight if we have any chance of weathering this. A lot of us are going to have to risk our lives only to be maligned by ‘them’ as ‘violent rioters’. 



We're already at us vs. them, though I’m not always sure who will fall on what side. Hong Kong is learning what makes a side the right one, and what the risks really are. It's learning what it means to dig in and fight. 

Taiwan's going to have to learn that too, and soon. 

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?

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

The Third Force we needed and the Third Force we got

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I have no cover image so now is a good a time as any to say that I think my cat looks like Huang Kuo-chang


I said I didn't want to return to party politics for awhile, and I meant it. But then in the span of about 24 hours, Handy Chiu resigned as chair of the New Power Party and legislator Hung Tzu-yung left the party in much the same fashion as Freddy Lim two weeks ago.

There is a lot of speculation floating around about the details of why the NPP seems to be in nuclear meltdown mode, and I'm not able to offer any facts that you can't find elsewhere. What I can offer is bare-faced opinion, so here we go.

In the post-Sunflower era, the nascent Third Force needed two things. The first was to have a more collective structure - lots of people who broadly agree working together with no one 'personality' taking over. The second was to balance idealism with pragmatism. While there are people in the Third Force who would agree with this, unfortunately, they haven't been able to steer the movement in that direction.

The leadership needed to be more pluralistic - at the very least, the stars of the Third Force needed to be people who specifically wanted to cultivate and mentor emerging voices in the movement, so it never got to be too much about a few luminaries but instead continually populated with emerging young talent and new ideas.

There are Third Force public figures who take such a goal seriously, including Lin Fei-fan, the new deputy secretary general of the DPP, who had at one point intentionally stepped out of the spotlight, prioritized connecting with democracy activists across Asia, has shown that the DPP is willing to work with Third Force parties, and has said publicly that one of this goals is to foster and promote new voices so it's not all about certain personalities. (I think that last bit is published somewhere, but regardless he said it publicly at a panel at LSE last summer, which I attended.)

I'd venture that Lim is another such figure - he has sought to work with other legislators in the NPP rather than seeking to control the narrative, has fostered talent within the NPP, and has eschewed power he could have easily grabbed (when Huang Kuo-chang stepped down as party chair, the job was his for the taking. He didn't take it.) He has a slick and well-managed PR machine, but he uses it far differently than Huang. Even Handy Chiu, who wasn't chair of the NPP long enough to make an impression, seemed to seek compromise, discussion and a shared spotlight.

That's the attitude the NPP - and the whole Third Force - needed.

Sadly, that's not what they, or we, got.

Next to these more democratically-minded figures, there's Huang Kuo-chang. I won't sit here blasting the guy, because I don't know him personally (we met once, but only very briefly). But just a quick skim of NPP-related news will make clear that Huang is not only a major personality within the party, but also has a tendency to dominate it. In his lengthy Facebook manifesto, Wu Cheng referenced this explicitly.

I can also say that Huang did (and does) tend to dominate the NPP decision-making process and it did (and does) turn people off. It seems to me - barefaced opinion here - that this is not just that they lack a consensus on better alternatives, but because Huang is a dominant, controlling person. He may have tried to temper this tendency by stepping down as party chair, but it doesn't seem to have worked, and has definitely driven good people away.

So, since the NPP's founding, instead of this lovely utopian vision of collective voices, it feels like there's been a tug-of-war over whether to work towards true consensus, or just let it be the Huang Kuo-chang Show. From whether to push for a host of referendums (too many to link here) that not everyone fully supported to the failed (and pointless) hunger strike to whether or not to cooperate with Ko Wen-je or other Third Force parties, to whether or not to support Tsai's re-election bid, it's been years of Huang wanting to run the show. From what people have told me, there's arrogance aplenty as well.

As you might expect, this has caused people to become disenchanted and walk away. (Lin Fei-fan has said that Huang was not the reason why he didn't join the NPP, and relations between them are strong. I can't say if that's true or just something you say on camera, but I'd argue it doesn't matter - the overall trend is there.) 


That leads us to the second thing the NPP needed to be, but ultimately wasn't: a vanguard for the Third Force that wisely mixed idealism with pragmatism.

I've already said that the central issue with the NPP is a divide not between who supports whom outside of the party, whether that's Mayor Ko Wen-je or President Tsai Ing-wen, or whether or not to push for more referendums or hold a hunger strike or whatever the current 'issue' is, but rather all of these disagreements fall along a fault line of often-foolish idealism (led by Huang Kuo-chang and supported by Hsu Yung-ming) vs. guarded idealistic pragmatism (led by Freddy Lim and supported by Hung Tzu-yung). I could give a hundred examples, but let's just talk about one.

Despite strong arguments for supporting Tsai, Ing-wen for re-election, the NPP was unable to reach a consensus, I gather in great part because Huang was just not having it (he did threaten to leave if the NPP became a 'little green' after all.)

But here's the thing - and I've said this before:

The true progressives need to...realize firstly that not that many Taiwanese are as progressive as they are and their ideas are not shared by a majority of the population. That means more needs to be done to win over society. It means teaming up with the center, even if the center is slow to act. Doing so doesn't mean you have to support the center indefinitely. 
Or, as a very smart friend of mine once said, activists have to realize that change won't happen just because they march, protest, strike, write and occupy. Change happens because they do those things, bring their ideas to the rest of society and show the establishment that their causes enjoy some popularity and can be winning issues. Activism needs friends in the establishment to get things done, and the more progressive members of the Establishment need the activists to get society to care about those issues. In Taiwan, the activists need Tsai, and Tsai needs the activists. 


We're at a critical juncture now, where it's not hyperbole to say "this is do or die for Taiwan". I'll write more about this later, but electing a pro-Taiwan president now, as China is ramping up its disinformation, election interference and aggression campaigns as well as activating its latent networks to bully Taiwan into the fold, is of urgent importance. The top priority now is simple: Han Kuo-yu must be stopped. Lim, Lin and others understand this, and are willing to set aside differences with the less liberal DPP, but Huang and Hsu don't seem to get it. They're clinging to this idealist notion that in 2020, it is possible to undermine Tsai but not have Han win. And that's just not the case. It's fine to keep criticizing Tsai and the DPP, but damn it guys, do that after she wins. 


We needed a Third Force, and an NPP especially, that understood this and took the right side when the chips were down. We needed them to see that Tsai may not be perfect and it's necessary to continue to hold her and her party accountable, but that it would hurt Taiwan far worse to enable Han to win, however indirectly. We needed them to understand that their energy is best spent trying to win people to progressive causes while supporting the best possible viable candidate and establishment ally, rather than assuming they can do what they want because their ideals are obviously the correct ones. (They are, but if most voters don't see it that way, it doesn't matter much, does it?)

Sadly, that's not the NPP we got, and it's unclear that such a consensus will arise from elsewhere. The idealists "won", if by "won" we mean "blew up the party so now it's just Huang And Friends". I don't see a party built that much around one not-terribly-likable personality, which keeps taking hard turns into unrealistic idealism, lasting particularly long. Personality-parties rarely outlast their key figurehead, and overly idealistic ones are likely to perish even sooner.

What have we got, then? A hobbled, bleeding NPP, a few scattered parties that occasionally work together, and a couple of popular legislators who are now independent.

I've said before that the question of whether the NPP would lose relevance if it takes an overly-pragmatic route of becoming a 'little green' by supporting Tsai and the DPP is a moot one: moving away from supporting the DPP at key junctures, turning instead towards more radical platforms, would render it a fringe party, and that's just another kind of irrelevance.

It looks, then, like they're gunning for irrelevance. 

Thursday, August 1, 2019

Freddy quits NPP, my crush on him intensifies

I was going to write a nice blog post about hiking in the tea fields in the mountains behind Meishan today, but then black metal star and Sexy Legislator Freddy Lim announced to everyone's surprise (or at least mine - but friends in the know hadn't quite expected it either) that he was leaving the NPP to run for re-election in 2020 as an independent, and supporting Tsai Ing-wen for re-election in 2020.

He also pointed out that the internal inconsistency or chaos within the NPP on whether or not the party should support Tsai Ing-wen for re-election in 2020 has made it impossible for him to do what he thinks is right - that each candidate needs to stand clearly against the KMT, especially given the threats posed by the upcoming election. In questions after his announcement, he said he did not intend to join the DPP, nor did he intend to join Ko Wen-je's newly-formed party, but that he had been in touch with the DPP. 


While the news was surprising, I couldn't really say I was shocked. The past few days have been a constant stream of news about the NPP's internal disagreements, so I suppose it shouldn't be such a shock. There have been rumors of the NPP supporting Ko Wen-je (unlikely for reasons I'll outline below, and I think chairperson Handy Chiu, who really needs to change his English name, also said today that they do not, but I was unable to watch the statement he gave shortly after Lim's announcement). 



This @watchoutTW timeline says it all! pic.twitter.com/AjldkYTo72
— Pierre-Yves Baubry (@pybaubry) August 1, 2019



There has been discussion of whether supporting Tsai for re-election in 2020 would make the NPP a "little green" - basically a follower party of the DPP rather than its own entity with its own platform. NPP spokesperson (at least I think he still has that job?) Wu Cheng, who ran for city council in 2018 and lost, published an extremely long essay on Facebook outlining this internal disagreement, and I now regret that I never finished reading it. A few key points I did glean were that it's true the NPP has no consensus whatsoever on whether or not to support Tsai, that ideas like "little green" don't mean much when the question is whether the party is passively or actively building its platform and ideological grounding, and that while it may seem to some that Huang Kuo-chang (NPP legislator and former chairperson) was dominating the party with his views, that from Wu's perspective, the issue was the NPP's lack of a clear set of platforms independent of - rather than in opposition to - Huang's own ideas.

If you're wondering who's on team Little Green and who isn't - Huang has been clear that he'll leave if the party becomes too "green" (though I don't think supporting the current president simply because she's green should count as "too green", Huang gonna Huang), Hung Tzu-yung says she'll quit the party if they don't settle the issue and has expressed support for Tsai, and Hsu Yung-ming is pushing for the NPP to field a presidential candidate, which is a terrible idea so we'll just call him Terrible Idea Man.

So, again, is it any shock that such internal disarray would push out a no-bullshit kinda guy like Freddy? While he's got smooth PR and great showmanship, the beliefs beneath the veneer are indeed sincere. If he's got a clear idea of what needs to be done to stand for what is right, then he's not playing around or trying to get attention. He would only do something like this if he truly believed the NPP's internal "chaos" - my translation of his phrasing - was actively detrimental to doing the right thing.

Remember, not that long ago the loudest people in the NPP (and their assorted allies) were decrying Freddy's defense of Ko Wen-je. That defense was not well-articulated, but the purpose was clear: Freddy believed that as a legislator representing an urban district in Taipei, where Ko is the mayor, would be wise to get along well with that mayor, even if you don't think he should go on to become president.

He didn't leave the NPP then despite that criticism, so to leave now means that he must mean business. The problem is real, the internal dispute is actively harmful, things fall apart and the center cannot hold. 


What's interesting to me is that leaving the NPP - essentially creating a new fracture - is Freddy's way of aiming for greater solidarity. He further said that all smaller parties should compete in all districts in order to resist the KMT.

It doesn't make sense on the surface: wouldn't you stick with your people even if they can't form an internal consensus, if you thought uniting against the KMT was important? Wouldn't you want those parties to work together to figure out who can win in a given district rather than split the progressive vote in contentious districts?

But it makes a certain kind of sense, or has a certain abstract logic to it. The NPP, in navigating that internal disagreement, was creating room for more division among progressives who are for or against Tsai (mostly because they think she's not progressive enough, despite enacting transitional justice, raising the minimum wage, making strides in renewable energy and spending political capital to make same-sex marriage a reality - but apparently that's not good enough). By leaving, Freddy is sending a clear message: quit it. We all need to stand together against the KMT, so if you're going to argue that we should not stand with Tsai, that's not a useful way to look at the bigger picture right now and I'm not going to give it my tacit approval. 


That view can stand alongside the belief that elections beyond the 2020 presidential campaign should draw participation from a number of parties. It's not necessarily logically inconsistent. It's another way of saying "we need to unite behind Tsai for president, but that doesn't mean we have to be 'little greens'."

In effect, he's calling out the notion hinted at by people like Huang and Hsu that supporting Tsai is (or may be) a move towards becoming, or remaining, 'little greens' rather than growing their own platform and base and acting as a party that holds the DPP accountable, as they'd always intended.

After all, becoming a party that's simply a small, more progressive flank of greens may be one way to slide into irrelevancy. But then breaking from the DPP too harshly is also a fine way to turn into a fringe/radical party, which is just another kind of irrelevance. 


Some might be asking if this is the end of non-DPP progressivism in Taiwan - if we're back to the same old two-party shenanigans with various splinter parties who support one side or the other.

I don't know. For now, perhaps. But honestly, the true progressives need to do what Freddy has done here (and what I think Lin Fei-fan did by going to the DPP rather than the NPP). They need to 
realize firstly that not that many Taiwanese are as progressive as they are and their ideas are not shared by a majority of the population. That means more needs to be done to win over society. It means teaming up with the center, even if the center is slow to act. Doing so doesn't mean you have to support the center indefinitely.

Or, as a very smart friend of mine once said, activists have to realize that change won't happen just because they march, protest, strike, write and occupy. Change happens because they do those things, bring their ideas to the rest of society and show the establishment that their causes enjoy some popularity and can be winning issues. Activism needs friends in the establishment to get things done, and the more progressive members of the Establishment need the activists to get society to care about those issues. In Taiwan, the activists need Tsai, and Tsai needs the activists. 

Secondly, they - Taiwanese progressives - need to realize that while their issues do matter, that the China issue is particularly critical right now. Han Kuo-yu - an obvious unificationist - is the KMT nominee and seems to be good at lobotomizing people in a very Trumpian way. The KMT has gone from "well we support the 92 Consensus but not unification!" and Ma Ying-jeou's "no independence, no unification..." to "we support a peace treaty with China" (!!!) China can't be put on the back burner as something that's not a direct and immediate threat, because it it has very much become one.

I have more to say and links to add but I've also got work to do and just want to get this published. Other questions include - will Hung Tzu-yung jump ship too? (Probably not). Does Huang Kuo-chang want to be Taipei mayor and eventually president? (Everyone knows he does). Will he work with Ko Wen-je to that end? (I think it's unlikely). Will anyone else jump ship from the NPP? (Maybe not immediately, not sure. Does Ko's new party matter? (I don't even want to think about that right now.)  Will the left be able to unite to get through 2020? (No idea, but Freddy is right in saying that it must happen.)

Enjoy the rush job, come back for linked sources later if you're feelin' it. 


Wednesday, May 1, 2019

Don't Trust Terry Gou

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This man is not your maker.
(image from Wikimedia, with my embellishment)

I mean, that should go without saying, but I feel I have to state it obliquely - you simply should not trust Foxconn CEO and businessjerk Terry Gou (郭台銘).

When he says things like "Taiwan shouldn't buy defensive weapons from the US" because:

- "no parent wants to see their child die on the battlefield"
- "why should Chinese fight other Chinese?"
- "if you have no knives or guns, who will want to fight you?"
- the arms that Taiwan buys from the US are "secondhand" (which is apparently not entirely true)

...this is all you need to know about why he should not be the next president of Taiwan.





Let's look first at his "why should Chinese fight other Chinese?" line.

What struck me is how closely it echoes something Xi Jinping himself said not that long ago: "中國人不打中國人" or "Chinese don't attack other Chinese".

Why would Terry Gou echo Xi's own words? That's a rhetorical question: this is no intricate strategy or game of 4D chess in which he's looking to outfox Emperor Xi. His echo is not so much a dogwhistle as a clarion call, saying "Hey China, I'm your guy". When Gou says it, he doesn't mean it any differently from the way Xi intended it just a few months ago.

That's not even getting into how such a phrase assumes both sides are "Chinese", so it isn't a justification for a certain policy of 'peace' in defending Taiwan so much as just saying outright that Taiwan is a part of China anyway, so why fight? Second, the historical illiteracy such a comment assumes is downright offensive. Forget ancient dynastic wars in China (which were almost always between groups of Chinese) - the 1940s is ample-enough proof that Chinese do, in fact, fight Chinese before we even involve Taiwan in the discussion. He didn't even use the term for being culturally/ethnically Chinese (華人). He used the term that implies that Taiwanese are one part of a country called China (中國人). There's nothing to misinterpret here.

Don't believe for a second that his "we should invest in high-tech weapons instead" is sincere, either. It doesn't square with anything else he's said on the subject (if you have high-tech weapons, by definition you are not fostering a dialogue of diplomacy and peace by "not having guns or knives" - instead, you have the fanciest guns and knives money can buy). High-tech weapons on Taiwan's side aren't going to determine how many Taiwanese die fighting in the event of war with China: that'll be determined in part by what China throws at us. And, of course, why would you need R&D into high-tech weaponry if "Chinese shouldn't fight other Chinese"? Taken on its own, his "high-tech defense" comment is reasonable-ish (ish), but in the full context of everything he's said, it's nonsense. Smoke and mirrors. Best set aside as insincere at best, actively deceptive at worst.

Don't fall into the trap that some have and try to claim that he's somehow playing a long game with Taiwan's enemies and will ultimately not obey them. This is a joke. His comments about defense are exactly what Beijing wants to hear - he is positioning himself as their man, floating these turds to the Taiwanese public to see if any of them are mistaken for policy insight. In order to be someone who could talk to China without selling out Taiwan, he'd have to fundamentally care about the sovereignty and democratic norms of Taiwan. He's already proven he doesn't with his comments that "you can't eat democracy" and his implicit, Beijing-echoing language choices (above) that Taiwanese are "Chinese".

Besides, even if he did care about Taiwan's sovereignty (which he doesn't), what bargaining chips would he have against China as a politician? When it comes to Taiwan...Taiwan is the bargaining chip. Either you sell it out or you don't. In any case, China is not a partner with which one can make a good-faith deal with Taiwan. To imply it is possible is to essentially say "I'm fine with selling this country's future to an unscrupulous negotiating partner."

This mythos of a candidate being more than they seem - smarter, cannier, more insightful, with more intricate strategic aims that mere mortals cannot comprehend - has been tried on before. I've seen people apply it to Taipei's Mayor Ko Wen-je (turns out Ko is just a sexist jackass who can't even keep his own comments straight, whose words have also echoed Xi's, to undetermined but probably not good ends). Of course it's been applied to Donald Trump as well. Do I even need to go there?

Don't believe he's somehow above the fray because he has a business to run: every time someone points out problems with the words he uses, he accuses them of "quoting him out of context" and then, at least in the case of President Tsai, attacks them with the same level of maturity as a 14-year-old online troll.

Of course, she didn't take his comment out of context. "民主不能當飯吃" is quite clear and can't be misinterpreted "out of context"- it does not mean "democratic momentum must be converted into economic gains" as he now claims. That's a made-up interpretation, and it is just plain not what he said. He knows that, he meant it then and he means it now. He's just a jackass.

Terry Gou is not a master dealmaker who has a well-thought-out plan for continued peace in Taiwan: he is a petulantsexist man-child. There's no more there there. It's the plain truth of who he is.

Don't believe him when he says his other comments were misinterpreted, either. When he said "if you have no guns and no knives, who will attack you?", that is what he meant, and not some other thing. He did not mean "the defense budget should be spent on the 'sharp edge of the knife,' such as developing indigenous high-tech weaponry" as he now claims.

He's not making brilliant, nuanced points that others are consistently failing to understand. He's floating turds and then yelling at people who call a turd what it is, insisting that his turds are in fact golden nuggets and we plebes just didn't understand the first time around. They're not, and we didn't. Don't be fooled.

Don't fall into the same morass as the media, either, taking what is quite clear - that he thinks Taiwan doesn't need defensive weapons - and turning into a massive bubbling crapfest of truthiness that utterly fails to get to the heart of the matter.

Don't pull a Bloomberg and fail to report that Gou's strongest claim was that Taiwan should not buy defensive weapons, instead spinning it into an article about how he wants to strengthen defense. Don't take that garbage one step further and cast doubt on whether the Taiwan Strait is international waters through dubious language (if you're not clear, the Taiwan Strait indeed counts as international waters. There was no need to imply that Tsai was somehow wrong about this. Shame on you, Bloomberg.)

Don't take Gou's re-jiggered comments as the truth of what he initially said, as Asia Times did, either. Gou did not say "we should spend wisely". He said "if you don't have guns or knives, who will attack you?" and "why should Chinese fight other Chinese?"

Don't. Just don't. Don't buy it. Don't make him into another Trump. Don't defend his floating turds. For goodness sake, don't swallow them.

Do the smart thing and take what he says at face value. 

Then flush it right down the toilet where it belongs.

Or do what President Tsai and NPP legislator Hsu Yung-ming did, and tell him that when it comes to lowering defenses and promoting peace, to "tell it to China."

I hope this is the last I ever say about him, because I find him about as interesting as Han Kuo-yu, which is to say, not very. All I can hope is that these two get locked in an internecine struggle that tears the KMT apart by 2020. It's the best possible outcome for either of them. 

Monday, December 24, 2018

"Naturally independent" doesn't mean what it should

Screen Shot 2018-12-24 at 6.58.14 AM


So, I'm meant to be on vacation after a long slog to finish a huge paper - that's why Lao Ren Cha has been quiet for most of November and December - but I really just feel like writing this.

Much of this idea has been bouncing around in my head for awhile, although it really came together through a conversation over mediocre stir-fry and all you can drink beer with Frozen Garlic. So I'm not sure where my thoughts end and his begin, but then, that's also the beauty of political discussion.

When I heard the occasional cry of "the Sunflower Movement is dead!" after the election last month, at first I felt annoyed. Was it really? Perhaps the massive groundswell of broad support that progressive causes seemed to suddenly be capable of garnering was ephemeral, but the movement itself, to me, lived on. Although the Sunflowers embodied a strong anti-KMT sentiment, one can't really judge the staying power of the Sunflower ethos by whether or not DPP wins elections. The Sunflower Movement may have been an anti-KMT movement, but it wasn't a pro-DPP one.

In any case, a lot of other progressive causes whose mainstream debate blossomed post-2014 have also been pushed forward, though perhaps not as far as we'd hoped. In fact, I noted a number of "Fuck The Government" and other Sunflower-inspired sartorial choices among the marriage equality crowds, creating a tangible visual connection between the two movements.


But...I'm beginning to see the ways it might be true that the 2014 light is dimming, and the shadows of Taiwan's pre-2014 problems growing longer once again, and I know there is some sentiment in activist circles that their efforts have not borne fruit as they'd wished.

Probably one of the key shifts in 2014 was an uptick in the prominence of a "naturally independent" mindset (which the Sunflowers themselves certainly embodied, but it runs deeper than them). That is, the generation of Taiwanese youth, some now well into adulthood, who grew up in the post-authoritarian era and who perceive Taiwanese independence to be so obvious that it is not even a matter of debate.

That hasn't changed; "naturally independent" sentiments remain strong in 2018. But it seemed clear in 2014 that such a mindset included the understanding that if Taiwan was going to be independent, that it would have to reckon not with the relationship it wished it had with China, but with the one it actually had. ECFA and CSSTA were both predicated on the assumption of a safe, fair, unthreatening relationship with a large neighbor state that bore no ill will, and could therefore be negotiated with. It took the Sunflowers to wake the rest of the country up to how untrue these assumptions were, and how threatening China really was. They taught us that the only way to win a game with China is not to play (whether it be word games or economic agreements).

I - and many others, including the friend I had this conversation with - had hoped that people would continue to consider all possible dealings with China through this lens, and wisely choose not to play their game. As I've written, for a brief glimmer of a moment, society at large seemed to understand this.

Sadly, that time seems to have passed. Instead, "naturally independent" seems to once again mean that, because Taiwan is obviously independent, that it can have a relationship with China on its terms. That as it is a normal sovereign state, it can negotiate with China as one.

To take that further, this mindset that China's designs on Taiwan don't matter often translates into a belief that political parties also don't matter because "they're both pretty bad" so "we may as well choose the one who says they can kickstart the economy".

Nevermind that the latter party advocates playing China's game, and sees Taiwan's ultimate fate as being Chinese. That's not important apparently, because "that will never happen, of course Taiwan is independent, we just need to do something about the economy"...I guess? It is so clear to this group of "naturally independent" people that either sliding into an economically dependent death spiral (which is China's real plan) or violent forcible annexation (that'd be China's back-up plan if the death spiral thing doesn't pan out) are unthinkable and therefore...there is no need to think about them. Sadly, they are wrong.


When you slide back into that sort of complacency, electing mayors who openly support (and believe in the existence of) the so-called 1992 Consensus, who are eager to set up cross-strait inter-city ties in defiance of the national government's more restrained China policy, who claim they will "do deals even with North Korea!" like Big Uncle Dirk Han Kuo-yu, to basically think that the KMT's pro-China policy isn't worth considering because it doesn't matter...that's an easy slide further into playing China's game again. That we will never win this game seems to be viewed as irrelevant.

On the other end of the spectrum, there are also the "naturally independent" folks who are so pro-Taiwan that they are also abandoning the DPP, because they see any party that doesn't make a beeline for immediate de jure independence and promise to quickly dismantle the ROC on Taiwan in favor of a new Republic of Taiwan as a party that is "just as bad" as the KMT. While I'm sympathetic to this line of thinking - the ROC sucks! Mere de facto independence sucks too! Immediate Glorious Revolution would feel so good! - I don't think it's the best way to actually meet our goals in the long run, so I find this line of thinking dangerous. Like, "this is how you get President Trump" dangerous.
No matter what, these delusions about China spell trouble. A smart "naturally independent" mindset would acknowledge that Taiwan is very clearly a sovereign state, but also wisely understand that China is big and mean and nasty, and that it doesn't see Taiwan that way. That it's designs on Taiwan are evil, and its traps sticky. And that we have to negotiate with China as things are, not as we wish they were. Such a mindset would understand that there is no moral equivalence between the two parties: that just because one won't immediately flip the table on history, it doesn't mean they are no better than the other, which seeks eventual unification (with the former president even saying so).

Unfortunately, I worry that we're going to need another bloom of social activism in the vein of the White Lilies, the Wild Strawberries or the Sunflowers to get people to understand this again. Maybe the Sweet Osmanthus Movement, the Tung Blossom Movement, or the Betel Flower Movement or whatever floral movement comes next will finally push us to a lasting realization of what it means for Taiwan to truly pursue independence.

Friday, December 7, 2018

Getting over electoral heartbreak

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This post is coming late, because I took a short blogging break following my two post-election posts. The reason, dear readers, is that I was just so utterly heartbroken: every time I tried to sit down and write about 11/24, I'd get that sinking feeling in my chest and have to fight back tears. I just couldn't do it, so I gave myself permission to disengage for a bit.

It didn't help that immediately after my paper (for grad school) was due, which was immediately before the election, I got sick. I spent most of the week post 11/24 hopped up on decongestants and mucolytics. It wasn't pretty. Not even Sudafed could cut through the snot.

I can't say I'm entirely back. My heart still weeps, and I'm about to return to the US for the holidays (which I am genuinely excited about). So, the next few posts will probably be lighter "lifestyle" posts. Merry effin' Christmas.

Anyway. Before we get into hairstyles, British curry house curry and trips to the mountains, I do have some thoughts on marriage equality and political parties in Taiwan. Will populate with links later when I have more time. Taiwan Sentinel, Frozen Garlic, Taiwan Insight, The News Lens and New Bloom all deserve some linkbacks, and they will get them.

Looking at analysis of the election results, obviously I agree with the experts that Taiwanese voters rejected wonky 'policy' candidates (who were unexciting, establishment types that were heavy on experience and competence, but light on vision) in favor of "it's the economy, stupid!" talking-points-focused ones. I had hoped that this wave of electing sweet-talking, visionary-sounding, "let's try something new" populist candidates with authoritarian tendencies would be a global trend that Taiwan would have been wise to reject. Sadly, I was proven wrong. It's cold comfort to be reminded that Taiwanese voters are just like voters anywhere: no dumber, but also no smarter. They fell for it too. Damn. Time to stop pretending Taiwan is this wonderful, magical place where democracy works better. It's not.

But what this shows me is not that Taiwanese voters are "more conservative" than was previously thought (although they are not that liberal by global standards, they are still quite liberal by Asian standards), but that at least as of 2018, they're more willing to put their trust in a candidate that presents a powerful and cohesive vision, no matter how heavy that vision is on insane promises, or how light it is on actual policy details. It makes sense: when things are looking good and people feel secure, they'll vote for the wonky nerd candidate. When things are scary, they look for more of a leader. If that leader seems like "one of us", all the better. Who do you think most people want to lead them through the apocalypse: Professor McNerdington, or straight-talkin' Big Uncle Dirk?

(I want Professor McNerdington, personally - hell, I married Professor McNerdington - but I have to admit that most people seem to want Big Uncle Dirk. Nevermind that Big Uncle Dirk is a dumbass proto-fascist who can't even answer questions properly.)

This isn't to say that Taiwanese voters are dumb or ignorant for electing Big Uncle Dirk. They're anxious. It's not the same thing. They're no dumber or smarter than any other voters, and frankly although I don't agree with their choices this time, I kind of get it. 


The key, however, is that when it comes to voting for these types of candidates, it isn't necessary to agree completely with their platform. Do you think that most Kaohsiung voters agreed with their city government recognizing the 1992 Consensus despite national policy? Hell no! When your lizard brain is scared and wants to vote for the person with the most visionary talking points, it's fairly easy to justify the things you don't like with "well, I don't agree with everything he says, but we need to rejuvenate the economy and Big Uncle Dirk will do that! Professor McNerdington doesn't care about average folks like me!"

This matters! It means that embracing marriage equality was not - not not not not not - the reason why the DPP lost. Had they run better, more visionary campaigns that played to their and their candidates' achievements and strengths, conservative DPP voters would have shrugged their shoulders and thought "well, maybe I don't like it when dudes kiss, but this person is the better candidate". They don't have to agree with everything you say, they just have to buy into your overall vision. Super deep greens, no matter how conservative, are not going to vote for the KMT. And playing to conservatives who aren't committed to the DPP - some of whom would never vote DPP, including all those members of deep-blue anti-gay churches - was never a winning strategy. What they needed was a vision strong enough to allow voters predisposed to choose them to shrug their shoulders at marriage equality (which most Taiwanese seem to do, with the majority not expressing a strong opinion for or against) but vote for the overall idea of Taiwan's (or Kaohsiung's, or Taichung's) future.

Even better, if they'd enshrined marriage equality in the civil code back when the Council of Grand Justices issued their ruling, it would have been normalized by now, and they wouldn't have felt the need to present the conflicting message of a new, internationalized, outward-looking Taiwan, but...oh no, we're not sure what to do about the gays, um, uh...maybe we could...uh...duh...vote for us!

Then the deep-green conservatives and DPP Christians would have shrugged, figured the civil code change was a done deal, and voted for them anyway. They could have even spun it as "look at all the international publicity Taiwan is getting for this! Look at how we've differentiated ourselves from China! Taiwan stands for human rights, and that means equal rights for all!" The progressives would have had more faith in the DPP in that case, and turned out for them, too. That this was allowed to become the issue it did shows not how badly the DPP misunderstood conservative voters, but how badly the DPP got played. It became a problem because they let it become one.

And I do believe that marriage equality having been a done deal, or a part of a stronger overall vision, would have allowed the progressive column of DPP supporters to make up for whatever conservative votes they lost. But I doubt they would have lost as many as some believe, for two reasons: first, the NPP came pretty close to achieving its electoral goals (the News Lens calls their gains "modest", but many didn't even think they'd win what they did. I call it a victory). That shows that voters both want fresh faces and will vote for a cohesive platform, whether it's a liberal or conservative one. Dark blue Da'an voted for two openly gay Third Force city councilors. I realize that Da'an, heart of wealthy 天龍 Taipei, can't speak for all of Taiwan, but it does tell me that the marriage equality "issue" did not have to be the issue it was. Second, aside from the fact that the only reason the anti-gay referendums passed was because the benchmark for passing is far too low (and therefore it is not actually a particularly strong indicator of sustained public consensus), the only way the anti-gay groups were able to get their referendums passed was to change their language from "homsexuality is evil and brings disease!" to "let's have a separate law to protect 'their rights and interests'!"

That the left managed to push the issue that far shows not only that Asia is not a monolithically conservative place, but also that (and I'm quoting a friend here), the values being discussed are not "Asian values". That implies they are static and somehow inextricably tied to being "Asian" - that to change them means to change what it means to be "Asian". This is not true: these values are traditional. Values do change, in all societies. If you don't believe me, consider that 100 years ago in Taiwan, marriages were arranged and often involved actual sales ("I'll sell you my daughter as a maid and when she's 15 she can marry your son!") or multiple wives/concubines. That doesn't happen anymore. Cultures change. 100 years ago, many Western societies were not that different from Asian ones. My great aunt had an arranged marriage...in the United States. My great-grandfather asked to marry my great-grandmother when she was, like, 10 (in a stunning show of liberalism for the time and place - around 1900 in southern Turkey - my great-great grandfather told him that she'd have to agree to the match, which she eventually did.)

We can and are changing the script on marriage equality in Taiwan and the DPP needed to take control of that narrative, and maybe wrap up the pill in some bacon so the conservatives would swallow it. They didn't. They backed away from it in trying to please conservatives and thereby let the other side control the narrative. That freaked out both conservatives and liberals. None of it was necessary.

Further to that point, for once I agree with Shelley Rigger (I've disagreed with her in the past): this election wasn't a referendum on the DPP's cross-strait policies, which I think most Taiwanese actually support. What the voters want is to stand our ground on China without instigating anything, but also to rejuvenate what is seen as a stagnant economy (I don't know how stagnant it actually is, but wages sure aren't doing well.) That's a difficult story to spin, as in many cases voters want conflicting things. We can't have warmer relations with China and stand our ground. China makes that impossible.

On that note, the fact that voters want conflicting things - nuclear-free with reduced pollution, for example - is a key reason why referendums are a bad idea. 
But the KMT somehow convinced voters in this election cycle that they could do it, so the DPP could have, as well.

And frankly, that's just it. The DPP - to quote a friend - needed to step up and take control of the story. To render marriage equality a non-issue. To advertise their achievements better (to put a better spin on pension reform, remind the working class of the gains in minimum wage, remind their core supporters of the ill-gotten assets committee and their no-confrontation-no-backing-down stance on China, their inroads into renewable energy vis-a-vis the KMT's complacency in that area) and have strong talking points on the economy, and to campaign on their candidates' strengths. To do less talking about their policy positions and more talking to the people: Tsai recently said she was going to talk to the youth about their disappointment with the DPP (will post the link once I find it). I have to ask: why didn't she do that before the election? People are saying rural Kaohsiungers are sick of feeling as though the DPP ignores them. Why didn't the party address that earlier?

Instead, they let the KMT and their anti-gay buddies control the narrative. They let Kaohsiungers be convinced that Kaohsiung - which is a much better city to live in than it was before the DPP ran it for so long - is horrible. It's not. Or that marriage equality is some sort of horrible assault on Taiwanese values (or that traditional values shouldn't change). It isn't, and they should. Or that pollution in Taichung is entirely the DPP's fault. It's not. Or that the need to shore up denuclearization with fossil fuels is the DPP's fault. Again, it's not. Or that it is acceptable to recognize the 1992 Consensus if it "rejuvenates the economy". It isn't.

Now we live in a Taiwan that is being called "post-Sunflower". In some cases yes - I am sure some activists think that everything they've tried to do has come to nothing - but this assumes that "voting for the DPP" is the same as "supporting the ideals of the Sunflowers". This is not the case, and never was. The Sunflowers were not a DPP-affiliated movement - the DPP has always been quite a bit more conservative - and while the DPP was able to coast in on their vision for awhile, I doubt they would have been able to maintain it even in the mildest of adversity. In fact, the increasing power of independent/unaffiliated voters and candidates is very much a legacy of the Sunflowers. The electoral success of the NPP is, too. The KMT was able to co-opt the Sunflower 'we need a change' image much to the actual Sunflowers' chagrin, but I doubt they'll be able to sustain it, either. 


I know it's hard to have that kind of vision - to control that story - when you are in power and therefore all problems can be pointed to as your fault by the opposition (nevermind that the opposition, in this case, created many of those problems). I know it's difficult to market achievements when voters seem to want instant results and are more likely to vote for Big Uncle Dirk if he promises them the world, even if he's light on substance.

But it is possible, and progressive forces in Taiwan (not just the DPP) have to do it, because we've already just taken one big step backward. We can't afford to take another: China is ramping up its threat, at least rhetorically. LGBT Taiwanese are committing suicide as a result of their perceived rejection by society. This is urgent. We can fight to counteract the surge in so-called 'conservatism', but will we?