Taiwan Poll: Who's the 'real'
Taiwanese? By Wei Yun
Indigenous politics, "native" politics and minutely
local politics are all the rage on Taiwan on the eve of
Saturday's presidential election and referendum.
Candidates are trying to outdo each other to demonstrate
who's more passionately Taiwanese, more authentic, less
tied to mainland China and hence presumably more worthy
to represent the people. A popular slogan of the
governing party: Taiwan Comes First.
President Annette Lu, wounded on Friday along with
President Chen Shui-bian, has emphasized her Taiwanese
roots, as has Chen. She often has called the close
election campaign a "pro-island vs pro-mainland" contest
and makes a point that her entire campaign team is made
up entirely of native Taiwanese, not connected to China.
She and Chen may well win a sympathy vote, especially
from those who agree with Chen's and Lu's emphasis on a
separate Taiwanese identity - considered by some to be a
prelude to independence.
The election will be a
showdown, and a close one, between the governing
Democratic People's Party (DPP) and its allies - the
so-called pan-greens (from the color of their emblem)
and the opposition Kuomintang (KMT) and People First
Party (PFP), the so-called pan-blues (from the color of
the KMT emblem). Not only will the election decide
Taiwan's political direction over the next four years,
but it also will affect the island's international
image, ties with the Chinese mainland and the future of
those so-called "natives" vying for the presidency.
Recent campaigning has focused largely on
"localization", a devotion to Taiwanese identity,
passion for the island and sensitive to issues such as
language - Mandarin, Min-nan and Hakka are all
recognized as the official languages of Taiwan, however,
many candidates refrain from speaking Mandarin, because
it is considered foreign and tied to the mainland.
Localization also means that many candidates distance
themselves from anything related to the mainland, seen
as by many native Taiwanese as a hostile and irrelevant
neighbor, by some as a menacing Big Brother.
Both Chen and Lu emphasize what they call their
100 percent Taiwanese origins - a somewhat murky term
these days - and emphasize that their rivals,
presidential nominee Lien Chan of the KMT and
vice-presidential nominee James Soong of the PFP have
deep mainland roots and tend to be more conciliatory
Indigenous politics shifts
focus from poor performance Some say Chen is
emphasizing indigenous politics in order to deflect
attention from what critics call his record of poor
governance. The opposition pan blues don't have such a
great record, either, and because they tend to favor a
softer policy toward China and closer economic links
with Beijing - sentiments that call their devotion to
Taiwan into question - they too have begun pushing
indigenous politics, to minimize their vulnerability and
curry favor among a larger portion of Taiwanese.
Thus, to many islanders, the campaign has become
nothing more than a competition over who is more
"indigenous", authentic, trustworthy and therefore -
whether true or not - better able to represent the
genuine interests of ordinary Taiwanese. As voters head
for the polls, the criteria by which politicians must
prove their indigenous credentials and sympathies has
become more extreme.
The governing DPP and
pan-greens have adopted the slogan "Taiwan Comes First",
It has become increasingly clear that those who don't
appear to honor this slogan are labeled "non-native" and
devoted to the interests of China and those Taiwanese
whose relatives fled or immigrated from the mainland, as
opposed to Taiwan's own interests.
presidential candidate Lien Chan and his running mate
James Soong who have the most to overcome in this
regard, as they are perceived as being more amenable to
promoting the mainland's interests.
candidates refuse to speak Mandarin Protecting
the interests of the native Taiwanese has in itself,
raised debates, such as whether to teach in the native
Taiwanese mother tongue, Min-nan and Hakka, as opposed
to Chinese Mandarin; some candidates in appealing to the
"native" Taiwan vote go out of their way not to speak
Other election issues include regional
autonomy for the island's indigenous people, split
between the Hakka and the Hokkien; parliamentary reform;
and the "defensive" referendum in which voters will also
be asked whether China should redirect nearly 500
missiles targeted at Taiwan and, if Beijing refuses,
whether Taiwan should seek advanced military defense
In the referendum, Taiwan-mainland
ties also are influenced by indigenous politics.
President Chen, whose Democratic Progressive Party is
closely associated with the Taiwan identity and
independence movements, has put forward the notion of
"one country on each side of the Taiwan Strait",
Pan-blues must prove
they're 'native' too Despite its indigenous
packaging, the "Taiwan Comes First" slogan is a standard
political attempt by the pan-greens to win votes by
highlighting that they are the ones who are truly
devoted to the island's interests.
opposition pan-blues, comprising the KMT, which ruled
Taiwan for more than 50 years, and its PFP splinter
group, support a "one China" policy, the alliance is
easily viewed as non-indigenous and willing to sell out
Taiwan, further reducing its public support and allowing
the governing party to brand the opposition as the
mainland's "accomplice". As a result, presidential
candidate Lien Chan and his running mate James Soong
went around kissing the ground, the Taiwanese earth,
vowing they would never put China's interests ahead of
This campaign effort to discredit the
pan-blues' loyalty to Taiwan has been somewhat
effective, though with a 10-day pre-election blackout on
polling data, it's hard to know what's really going on
in voters' minds.
Further, by emphasizing the
importance of an inclusive Chinese nationalist identity,
the pan-blue coalition has become more vulnerable in the
eyes of some voters, while others see the pan-blue camp
as more pragmatic and protective of Taiwan's substantial
business interests on the mainland.
pan-blues not only emphasize "indigenization", but also
localization, emphasizing local interests, especially
those that distinguish Taiwanese culture from mainland
culture. Many candidates use the common vernacular in
their campaigns. Min-nan, widely used in southern
China's Fujian province, is the most widely spoken
dialect in Taiwan, followed by Hakka. Many supporters,
however, don't understand the dialects and there is
little they can do beyond waving flags and regurgitating
Three main groups on
Taiwan Taiwan people, most of whom came from the
mainland or descended from those immigrants, can be
classified in three groups:
Aborigines who have inhabited the island for
thousands of years and are descended from small tribes
related to groups in Indonesia and the Philippines;
Immigrants from China who arrived between 400 and
500 years ago, especially from what is now China's
Fujian Province opposite Taiwan;
"Mainlanders" - those who fled to Taiwan with Chiang
Kai-shek and the defeated KMT in or after 1949, when the
communists won the civil war and took over the mainland.
This influx of mainlanders added to tensions resulting
from an island uprising in 1947 that highlighted the gap
between the Taiwanese who had lived on the island for
generations and those who had just arrived.
result, xenophobia, a by-product of the conflicts
between the so-called "newcomers" and the former two
groups, has been a staple in Taiwan's political and
electioneering culture. Former president Lee Teng-hui,
the architect of the localization movement, even
referred to the KMT government, which he formerly
headed, as a "foreign regime".
And though the
pan-greens and pan-blues will continue to duke it out
over who is more indigenous, the mainstream opinion
seems to be that the the island should no longer
differentiate between mainlanders and native Taiwanese.
After all, most mainlanders have been living on the
island for more than 50 years and their ties to Taiwan
go back several generations.
presidential contenders and their backers will continue
to shout "Taiwan Comes First", selling their devotion as
they may, voters here might not be buying.
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