Showing posts with label third_force. Show all posts
Showing posts with label third_force. Show all posts

Monday, December 2, 2019

It's not independence that is "hopeless", it's unification: like many, Terry Gou is answering the wrong question

Screenshot from NowNews video with subtitles added

Let me start this by saying I don't care about Terry Gou. He's just some rich guy, he'll never be president. While he's obviously got business acumen, he's foolish to think that running a country is similar to running a business. I've never forgiven him for saying "you can't eat democracy" as a way of saying he thought money was more important than freedom (and therefore unification would be potentially acceptable), and I have a whole host of new reasons to renew my dislike.

However, please allow me, after saying "I don't care about Terry Gou", to write a lot about my opinion on Terry Gou. Or rather, his views on Taiwanese independence.

The other day, at a rally for some other guy, Gou appeared alongside that candidate, James Soong and Ko Wen-je for a whole lineup of people I don't care about. Around the 19-minute mark of this video, Gou said:

Translation: "All Taiwan independence supporters are garbage...Taiwan independence is hopeless, trash and unconstitutional!" 

Notably, he tried to make it sound as though he was just repeating and agreeing with something he insists Ko Wen-je said. Ko denied this, saying that he said some independence supporters are scammers and liars, but not all of them, and he respects people who sincerely believe in it.

I'm not sure what that's supposed to mean, because people who actively but insincerely support Taiwanese independence are not a thing. I suppose he is trying to create a distinction between people who care about Taiwan independence, and those who only say so to get votes but again - not a thing. It's the other side of that which is true: people who have said they oppose unification, but actually don't, or quietly support it (see: Ma Ying-jeou).

The pan-blue/red and the pan-green media have all covered this, mostly from the "Ko said that wasn't what he meant" angle, which really isn't the story here. It doesn't matter who said it first. That it was said at all is the problem. UDN (pan-blue) notably focused on "Taiwan independence is hopeless, garbage and unconstitutional" - the sort of thing their readers might agree with even if they'd blanche at calling people they disagree with "garbage". Pan-green media focused on "Taiwan independence supporters are all garbage", because that's more of an offensive slur against actual people than merely a stupid opinion on an issue. Rest assured, dear readers, he said both. And both are awful. 

That's not all Gou said, but I'll get to his other stand-out remark later.

First, I'd like to tell you why I'm writing about Gou when I do not care about him. It's because his dumb remarks give me a good 'in' to make a point that's been clonking around in my head for months now.

And that is this: when we talk about whether Taiwanese (or Hong Kong) independence is possible or hopeless, most people are asking the wrong question.

They ask (and answer) "how could Taiwan (or Hong Kong) possibly gain independence? China would never allow it for Hong Kong, and never allow recognition of it for Taiwan! It's impossible! China's too big, too strong!

But what they really should ask themselves first is this:

"How could Taiwan and Hong Kong possibly become a part of China?"

Especially as it exists now, what would it take for such an annexation/integration to be successful?

It would require Taiwanese and Hong Kongers to willingly give up their rights and freedoms and submit to authoritarian Chinese rule. It would require this even though people from both places have seen the way that China treats its own citizens - that is, not well at all.

It would therefore entail people from these places not only agreeing that it's acceptable to be 'a part of China', but to actually think of themselves as Chinese. Hong Kongers no longer believe the former, in large part, and are slowly moving away from the latter (considering how common it is now to refer to themselves as "Hong Kongers" rather than as "Chinese"). Taiwanese haven't believed either for quite some time.

How would Taiwanese (and Hong Kongers) ever come to believe and willingly submit to these things? What would it take to accomplish that?

The answer is that there is no way to accomplish that. There is no way to peacefully and straightforwardly convince Taiwan (or Hong Kong) to unify. The only option is violent annexation following underhanded attacks on democratic norms.

Taiwanese are already soured - probably permanently - on the notion of being a part of China. The youth are soured on considering themselves Chinese in any sense. Hong Kong is quickly moving in that direction, which I would argue was an inevitable development given what China is like.

By starting with the wrong question, unificationists like Gou - and yes, he is a unificationist - delude themselves into believing that unification could possibly be peaceful, that a general pro-China consensus will ensure that it's not necessary for the PLA to come in and start shooting at Taiwanese, and therefore that this outcome is better than the threat of war under continued independence.

That's not what will happen, though, because there won't be a general pro-China consensus. Ever. Unification will not make the differences in culture, belief systems and society between Taiwan and China go away. The only option left is prolonged Hong Kong-like guerilla warfare - and that won't drive Taiwanese to change their minds, either. If anything, it'll only harden them against China even more.

And that way - the only way one can conceive of working - simply is not going to happen. Rather than "accept unification or it's war", it's time we accepted the real truth: "the only choices are independence, or war".

So when Terry Gou says "Taiwan independence is hopeless", what is that supposed to mean? What does he expect to happen instead? It's unification that is hopeless. How would it even work? Why do people - Gou included - allow the assumption that unification is possible to pass unquestioned, but not the assumption that independence is possible?

Most likely, if asked, he would point to the "status quo" - the ROC not claiming independence but resisting unification - as others have done. That's surely what he meant when he called independence "unconstitutional" (which is true, I suppose, but absent a threat from China, the constitution can be changed.) He doesn't seem to realize that the status quo is independence, as much as he'd like to pretend that's not the case.

Gou and others might want us to believe that 'Taiwan independence' is a terrifying unknown thing, whereas the status quo is safe, secure and known. But a version of Taiwan independence already exists - the mirage of danger is created and maintained by Chinese threats, not any lived reality. And the status quo, insofar as it is different from independence (which it isn't in any practical way) is not particularly safe.

Of course, the status quo is not tenable. China has made it clear that they do not intend to allow it to continue forever, and it's time we paid attention. It's just not smart to assume they are bluffing because that's the easier truth to swallow - when someone tells you who they are, believe them.

The longer it is prolonged, the longer China has the time to build up its military, poach diplomatic relations, throw out debt traps and economic dependencies to make the rest of the world beholden to its agenda. And the longer it is prolonged, the more Taiwanese (and Hong Kongers) will resist the idea, as they have done and will do.

Of course, I won't even entertain the notion that a unified China under the ROC is possible. Why not? Because hahaahhahahahahahaha.

So stop asking whether independence is, as Gou said, "hopeless" and "trash". Ask instead whether unification is hopeless. You'll find that it is.

UDN also pointed out that Gou said this:

The Third Force doesn't tolerate Taiwan independence, it opposes Taiwan independence.

That's interesting, I guess. I mean, the Third Force has, since the term came into being, referred to the left-of-the-DPP folks who considered themselves "colorless" (but, in truth, were always broadly pan-green). Other than their generally socially liberal political views and activist roots, one of the things that binds them together is a support for Taiwan independence.

Now, it seems that people like Gou, Ko Wen-je and his new ego-machine and the PFP/James Soong people are trying to appropriate the term for themselves. That's a joke - the term already refers to a group of people and they can't be silenced. These guys aren't colorless, either. They are broadly pan-blue and always have been. Let's not forget that in the past year or so, Ko has consistently attacked the DPP and been supportive-ish of the KMT. James Soong was the guy behind a lot of censorship and colonial-mentality policies from the authoritarian era, when he ran the Government Information Office. Gou very recently tried to win the KMT nomination and is sucking sour grapes because he lost spectacularly. 

In other words, these guys absolutely have a color. The real Third Force has engaged in a very long internal debate on whether they are "little greens" or exist independently of the pan-green camp, instead holding the DPP accountable. It seems clear that most of them have decided that they are little greens for the purposes of the presidential election, for now, because Han and the KMT are a greater threat to Taiwan than the DPP having no meaningful opposition from the left. This is right, as it puts the country first. If Huang Kuo-chang wants to sulk in the corner about it, that shows how self-serving he's always been. 

Ko, Soong, Gou and their various party affiliations and hangers-on - are not even trying to engage in that debate. They are acting blue while calling themselves "colorless" and "the Third Force". It's just another iteration of the pan-blue camp calling DPP and pan-green ideas "ideological" and their lawmakers as "doing ideology", while pretending their side is neutral and ideology-free (of course, it isn't. No side is.)

It's also vaguely interesting to me, watching the NowNews video linked above, that whenever they need to drum up sentimental support, these guys pivot from "independence is trash" and "the ROC" to "Taiwan", with Ko Wen-je saying "give Taiwan a chance!" and the resulting chant focusing on Taiwan, not 'the ROC'. It's almost as if - and stop me if I sound insane here - that they know that voters have a stronger attachment to the concept of 'Taiwan' (their island) than 'the ROC' (a foreign government which claims sovereignty). It's like they're aware that when people conceptualize their country, in their minds that country is Taiwan.
So despite being anti-Taiwan/pro-China in platforms and rhetoric, they're quite willing to hypocritically call on that sentiment when it suits them.

Never fear, the actual Third Force, like most Taiwanese, prefer independence or the closest thing to it. These folks are an entirely different ideological force, and are likely to remain a sidelined one.

Why? Because they're asking and answering the wrong questions. And who will vote for you when you can't even ask the right question, let alone answer it?

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

The Third Force we needed and the Third Force we got

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. 

Monday, April 30, 2018

One Nation Under Smog: or, how I became disillusioned with the Taiwanese left

Today was disgusting. So was yesterday. I don't mean I had a bad day. I mean the air was literally disgusting - it made my throat scratchy, my nose inflamed, my eyes sting and my stomach a little upset.

I felt annoyed, ill - literally sick, disgusted and nauseated - but something else too. I felt a deep-seated, wide-ranging anger. 

Years ago, I was hanging out with my (adult) students and nuclear power came up. I said that while I agreed nuclear power was a bad idea in Taiwan for a number of reasons, I didn't actually support phasing it out immediately, while Taiwan's energy policies in other areas were so short-sighted. Of course I was aware of the problems with nuclear power: nowhere to store spent fuel rods, "dirty plants" where safety standards were alleged to not be met, especially around cooling/recirculation tanks (despite assurances that they conformed to a high standard of safety), and of course the fears that Taiwan's vulnerability to natural disasters. These include earthquakes, typhoons and tsunamis - could result in a Fukushima-style disaster in Taiwan, where such an event would be even more disastrous given the country's size.

But, what was the alternative? Fossil fuels? That would not only be bad for the environment as a whole, but for Taiwan's air quality in particular. Alternative energy would be best, and we probably have the technology to make that a reality for most of our energy needs, but nobody seemed interested in actually developing it. There has been some investment into wind power, but not enough. Besides, even though I don't think wind is the answer, the same activists who campaigned to shut down the nuclear plants also campaigned against wind farms (sometimes for good reasons, I should add.)

Solar comes with its own set of government cock-ups that are only now being rectified: the government is only now tackling harmful and outdated regulations regarding energy generated through home solar panels (in the past, you had to sell the power you generated to Taipower first at a crummy rate, and have it sold back to you. Hence, nobody bothered to explore solar power for their homes.)

The push to explore solar and geothermal generally was limited and insufficient (given how geothermically active Taiwan is, geothermal is probably our best bet - but not a lot of money being poured into it). Taiwan's buildings would need to be restructured in a huge way, or at least, any new buildings would have to take the country's climate into account, building in cross-breezes, overhangs and using the right materials to reduce how much air conditioning was necessary in the summer. No more stifling concrete boxes.

And I just could not support gunking up Taiwan's air by going back to fossil fuels.

Even when trying to clean up fossil fuel-powered plants, it's a hash. As my friend and Central Taiwan news guru Donovan Smith noted:

In fact, Taipower recently announced they are adding two new gas-fired units to the Taichung Power Plant, bringing the total units up to 12. Many or most people had thought they were going to use those two to replace two of the coal-fired units, but nope. A general rule of thumb is gas-fired units are about half as polluting as coal. That means cumulatively that is effectively adding one more coal-fired unit.

Fast-forward to today. And yesterday. And so many days before.

The left won: the nuclear plants are shutting down. The chances that the fourth plant at Gongliao will be finished and activated are essentially zero - and frankly, bringing it online is a bad idea anyway.

And now the air is filthy. In much of Taiwan it has been for awhile - Taipei folks just didn't notice it because it rarely impacted us. All of those power plants and other industrial waste-producing hellscapes were far enough from us that our air was still relatively clean. Now we're getting a taste of what the rest of the country has been saying for awhile.

The Taiwanese left was unforgivably myopic: they yelled and screamed to shut down nuclear power, but didn't present any sort of push for consistent renewable energy policy. "I guess pushing for renewables isn't as sexy as pushing against nuclear," people who understood my point said. "They're just not going to win the zeitgeist talking about that."

Okay, but if you don't, and you only shout about what is "sexy" enough to get attention, then your push to change society can have unintended consequences. You're nothing but gadflies, not serious policymakers searching for real solutions.

If all you do is push to shut one thing down without thinking ahead to how things will be handled in the future, frankly, that's no more visionary than the KMT building a bunch of crap-ass buildings in the 20th century that are all now falling apart and are so energy-inefficient it's a joke because they couldn't be bothered to spend real money creating sustainable architecture for a subtropical climate, and building most cities in Taiwan without viable public transit which creates vehicular pollution. All you're doing is creating another problem.

Real change means tackling the unsexy things. It means actually writing and pushing policy proposals that solve issues and take future consequences into account. It means thinking through your own freakin' beliefs to see what the outcomes might be, and addressing them. I don't see that that has been done by anti-nuclear activists or the people they've put in power.

Yet, even now, I see few from the anti-nuclear activist camp going to bat over renewable energy. Some of them are protesting air pollution: great - but ultimately ineffective. I'm sick of protests that don't offer solutions.

So what we will have is a ghost island: not just in terms of talent leaving, but also the ghostly pallor of the grey air. The ghosts of good intentions, the ghost of what Taiwan could have been if the right people just thought through what really needs to change and pushed for it in the right ways.

So we have the activists/Third Force/Taiwanese left putting on a great show of wanting to change Taiwan - and I do believe they are sincere. But they're just not thinking their ideas through and it's infuriating.

Then there is the KMT. In the words of New Bloom:

In truth, if there is any one to blame for issues regarding nuclear energy or air pollution in Taiwan, it is the KMT, which ruled over Taiwan’s developmentalist state unchallenged for decades during the authoritarian period and built up both the coal-fired power plants that contribute to Taiwanese air pollution and the nuclear power plants which many see as dangerous to Taiwan in the event of environmental catastrophes. There is no political party in Taiwan more beholden to the nuclear lobby than the KMT. Yet the KMT leverages on these issues anyway against the DPP, illustrating not only hypocrisy, but how the KMT truly stands for little else besides rote opposition to the DPP at this point.

However, I disagree with the overly-tidy (and easy) conclusion that we can brush our hands, blame the KMT and move on. As the party who has historically held power, they do deserve most of the blame. However, the left's lack of initiative in finding real energy solutions to make their anti-nuclear rhetoric sustainable also deserves criticism.

Then there's the DPP, who are mostly concerned with staying in power and don't seem to be interested in addressing any of the real issues. Caving to the anti-nuclear activists, leaning more heavily on fossil fuels, and just not doing what needs to be done to make renewable energy a reality.

Amidst this circus, the electorate acknowledges it's a problem but only ever blame the party in charge, or the party they don't like. I'm sure many do look more deeply at the bigger problem of nobody in charge having the faintest idea what they are doing or when they do,  using it for their own gain, but I don't see it. I have to hope their are better people working behind the scenes, but I don't see that, either.

I don't know what else to say. I'm mad and disappointed, and I can't breathe. Those in power don't seem interested or able to really fix the problem. The opposition is, if anything, worse. The Third Force activists don't think through what they fight for nearly as often as they should. Taiwan has smarter people than this. We can do better.

Don't get me wrong, I'm still a leftie liberal bleeding heart bastard. But, I support doing the difficult, unsexy work that I feel the Taiwanese left is not doing - the stuff that's not always so wonderfully idealistic. I'm still pro-independence and pro-Taiwan. I still think this country is worth fighting for. I just can't support half-baked activism anymore. We can't trust the KMT or DPP to get us out of this mess, which means we have to look to the left, but the left needs to be smarter. It needs to start tackling unsexy issues.