World View: Taiwan’s Pro-Independence Party Wins Historic Presidential Election

The Associated Press
The Associated Press

This morning’s key headlines from

  • Taiwan’s pro-independence party wins historic presidential election
  • Pop star’s Taiwan flag incident illustrates how tense relations are

Taiwan’s pro-independence party wins historic presidential election

Tsai Ing-wen, Taiwan's new president (Reuters)
Tsai Ing-wen, Taiwan’s new president (Reuters)

Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) presidential candidate Tsai Ing-wen won an overwhelming victory in elections on Saturday. Although the DPP has won elections before, previous victories have never been as large and decisive as this one.

The last time the DPP was in power, relations with mainland China were extremely tumultuous. In 2005, China passed an “Anti-Secession Law” that stated that China will take military action in response to anything that even hints at independence:

Article 8: In the event that the “Taiwan independence” secessionist forces should act under any name or by any means to cause the fact of Taiwan’s secession from China, or that major incidents entailing Taiwan’s secession from China should occur, or that possibilities for a peaceful re-unification should be completely exhausted, the state shall employ non-peaceful means and other necessary measures to protect China’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.

Passage of this law in China in 2005 provoked massive riots and and anti-China demonstrations in Taiwan.

For the last few years, Taiwan has been governed by the pro-China Kuomintang (KMT) party, which favors the “one China” principle and unification with mainland China, and which has fully supported all of China’s claims in the South China Sea.

The KMT and DPP parties represent major generational differences. Originally, the KMT members were refugees from China’s civil war (1934-49), Mao’s Communist Revolution. Today, the civil war survivors have almost all died off, but the members of the KMT party are typically from older generations, children of survivors. The DPP came to power after the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre in Beijing was viewed in horror by college students in Taiwan, who decided that they didn’t want to be any part of China.

So now that the DPP is back in power, Taiwan-China relations are sure to become extremely rocky again.

In her victory speech on Saturday, Tsai said the following:

The results today tell me the people want to see a government that is willing to listen to the people, that is more transparent and accountable and a government that is more capable of leading us past our current challenges and taking care of those in need.

This seems like the kind of innocuous thing that any politician would say, but in the phrase “is willing to listen to the people” is a huge red flag for the Communist government in Beijing, which sees listening to the people to be a major evil, whether in Tiananmen Square, in Hong Kong, or in Taiwan.

It is a particular problem in Taiwan because, as the years go by, “the people” are becoming increasingly in favor of independence. When people are asked whether they consider themselves to be “Chinese or Taiwanese,” the KMT members mostly say “Chinese.” But the younger generations that form the DPP, and who are extremely distant in time from the days of Mao’s revolution, are much more willing to call themselves “Taiwanese.”

When the DPP were last in power, the pro-independence line was aggressively pursued. But Tsai has promised a more balanced approach, by maintaining the “status quo.” Indeed, 70% of Taiwan’s population support the status quo, according to a poll.

The “status quo” means that Taiwan rules itself without official independence, and with no intention of becoming part of China. China has indicated that this will be OK for the time being, but not forever.

China had once hoped that improving commercial ties and relations would make the Taiwanese people want to be part of China peacefully. This is exactly what China tried with the outgoing KMT government, but it’s obviously failed. How long China will keep trying before striking militarily remains to be seen. Focus Taiwan and BBC (14-Mar-2005) and CS Monitor and BBC

Pop star’s Taiwan flag incident illustrates how tense relations are

Chou Tzu-yu, 16, in publicity photo (L) and apologizing on Friday (R)
Chou Tzu-yu, 16, in publicity photo (L) and apologizing on Friday (R)

Sixteen-year-old Taiwanese pop singer Chou Tzu-yu is part of the Korean pop (K-pop) band Twice. In a November broadcast, she held up a Taiwan flag. The incident might never have surfaced, except for another singer: Huang An, who is Taiwanese but who has lived in China for many years. Huang apparently is on a crusade to “out” any Taiwanese performer who favors independence from China.

Once Chou was “outed,” retribution was swift. Chou’s endorsement deal with China’s Huawei Technologies Co. was canceled, and Chou had to cancel all appearances in China to allow for a period of “reflection.”

On Friday, the evening before Saturday’s election, a YouTube video appeared with a 90 second apology from Chou Tzu-yu. Reading from a prepared text with her voice shaking, she said:

There is only one China… I have always felt proud of being a Chinese.

As a Chinese person my improper words and behavior during my activities abroad hurt my company and the feelings of netizens across the strait. […]

I have decided to stop my activities in China for now to seriously reflect on myself.

When the apology appeared, Huang An, who outed Chou, gloated:

We have won back a good child who identifies with the motherland. It is yet another major achievement in the people of the motherland’s fight against Taiwan independence.

Almost without exception, commentators in Taiwan believe that Chou was forced by her management company to make the apology. The video instantly went viral, and infuriated Taiwanese people. It is believed that the video increased turnout in Saturday’s election, and is part of the reason for DDP’s overwhelming victory.

Taiwan’s Mainland Affairs Council (MAC) issued a statement on Saturday:

It is absolutely fair and justified for a Taiwanese person to hold a national flag to show his or her love for the country, and we support such a patriotic act.

Focus Taiwan and AFP

KEYS: Generational Dynamics, China, Taiwan, Tsai Ing-wen, KMT, Kuomintang, DPP, Democratic Progressive Party, Anti-Secession Law, Chou Tzu-yu, Huang An, Mainland Affairs Council, MAC
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