March 26th 2016

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ROYAL COMMISSION INTO SEXUAL ABUSE: J'accuse...! A travesty of justice

CANBERRA OBSERVED Turnbull's grand plan coming apart it seems

EDITORIAL Defence White Paper: rhetoric outpaces action


DOMESTIC AND FAMILY VIOLENCE Is not family breakdown the real issue?

ECONOMICS Oil offers resistance to free market's operation

HISTORY OF TAIWAN Kaohsiung Incident opens road to democracy

LAW AND SOCIETY Section 18C may render all speech "inoffensive"

VICTORIAN PARLIAMENT Risk to democracy, rights in health complaints bill

RESEARCH Transgenderism: treat it as a mental illness

MUSIC In deliberate pursuit of accidental sounds: Arve Henriksen

CINEMA AND SOCIETY Hollywood writes in "hero" part for Trumbo

CINEMA Hailing the Golden Era: Hail Caesar!

BOOK REVIEW Diminished expectations

BOOK REVIEW 12 million refugees

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Kaohsiung Incident opens road to democracy

by Jeffry Babb

News Weekly, March 26, 2016

When the Kaohsiung Incident occurred in 1979, Taiwan had been on edge since the People’s Republic of China (PRC) was awarded the China seat in the United Nations in 1971.

Chen Shui-bian was

Taiwan’s first non-Kuomintang

president in 70 years.


Despite the best efforts of Ambassador James Shen, a talented and capable diplomat with a first-rate command of English, the Republic of China (ROC) forfeited the UN seat. In a fit of pique from which it has yet to recover, the ROC refused to have anything to do with the UN unless it was recognised as the sole legitimate representative of China.

To this day, Taiwan has no meaningful participation in the United Nations. The steady trickle of emigrants from Taiwan to the world’s safest refuge, the United States, has grown in volume. Getting a green card, which grants residence in the United States, was a nigh-on universal ambition in Taiwan. Meanwhile, the PRC had not renounced its determination to recover Taiwan, by force if necessary.

Taiwan was in effect a one-party state, ruled by the Chiang family. The opposition, known as the Dangwei, or “outside party movement”, was repressed. The Kuomintang (KMT) monopolised power. The “White Terror” was in full flower, with “disappearances” and extra-judicial killings reported by reliable sources. Signs were there, however, that the Dangwei were making progress. They expected to win seats in the 1978 elections.

The Kaohsiung Incident

The Kaohsiung Incident, also known as the Formosa Magazine Incident, is at first inspection an unlikely beginning to Taiwan’s democratisation process.

U.S. president Jimmy Carter announced in December 1978 that the United States would break relations with Taipei and recognise Beijing as the sole government of all China. Carter had left negotiations in the hands of Leonard Woodcock, a former president of the United Auto Workers Union. The decision to break relations with Taipei came as an enormous shock to the ROC’s leadership. Chiang Ching-kuo cancelled the elections and a new round of repression began. The Dangwei decided to hold a demonstration on Human Rights Day, December 10, 1979, in Kaohsiung.

Whether the demonstration was intended to be violent is lost in the mists of time, but it is by no means certain that it was intended to be peaceful. Shih Ming-the and other organisers were arrested. They feared for their lives.

Linda Gail Arrigo, whose father was a member of the U.S. Military Assistance Advisory Group, had graduated from Taipei American School (TAS) as valedictorian. She said she soon “went native”. Arrigo was married to Shih, in what she later said was a marriage of convenience: Shih wanted to stay out of jail and Arrigo wanted to stay in Taiwan. Arrigo was deported, but later returned to Taiwan and remains active in public life. Annette Lu, one of the “Kaohsiung Eight” charged with fomenting rebellion, became vice-president in Chen Shui-bian’s DPP administration, the first non-KMT administration since 1928. Chen Shui-bian was a defence lawyer.

Viewing Taiwan’s democratisation process as inevitable would be an error. Many sinister incidents were connected to the Kaohsiung Incident and the repression of the Dangwei movement. The Kaohsiung Incident was the starting point for Taiwan’s democratisation, a process which culminated in the election not only of President Tsai Ing-wen, but also of the Democratic Progressive Party as the majority party in the Legislative Yuan, the first time the KMT had lost its hold on power since 1928. The Legislative Yuan is Taiwan’s single-chamber parliament. Many KMT members still think democracy is a mistake and authoritarian rule by the KMT preferable.

At that time, the election of the president of the ROC was undertaken by the National Assembly. The National Assembly continued to represent the whole of China. However, as Mainland China was occupied by “rebels” – that is, the communists – there could be no new elections. Therefore, the KMT had a guaranteed majority of the delegates. Many of the elderly members of the National Assembly by then lived overseas, mainly in the United States, so each “election” they returned to Taiwan, where they were feted with a gratifying round of dinners and grand banquets.

The Chiang dynasty

Chiang Ching-kuo was ruler of Taiwan, whatever his official title, and had been since the death of his father, Chiang Kai-shek. The younger Chiang enforced the “White Terror” as head of Taiwan’s secret police. He was president of the ROC from 1978 to 1988. His regime fostered policies that led to Taiwan’s economic take-off. His record as the enforcer of the White Terror would not lead one to expect that he would roll up the White Terror in 1987 and endorse a Taiwanese economist, Lee Teng-hui, as his successor. But he did. Lee Teng-hui is frequently described as the “father of Taiwanese democracy”.

Lee Teng-hui was born in January 1923 near Tanshui in northern Taiwan. His father was a mid-level police aide. Taiwan was firmly entrenched in the Japanese Empire at that time. Tanshui was then half a day’s travel from Taipei. Now it is about 30 minutes by the metropolitan rail service. Teng can speak fluent Taiwanese (Hoklo) and Japanese but has never completely mastered Mandarin Chinese, the national language of the ROC. He is, or was, a communist. His brother died fighting for the Japanese in World War II. Teng has paid reverence to his brother at the Yasakuni Shrine, Japan’s war memorial. Teng recently described Japan as “the motherland”.

Teng’s administration was in many ways not a good time for Taiwan. The government was ruled by black-gold politics; in other words, political corruption. In Taiwan, this is always associated with gang influence.

Abandoned by all its allies bar one

The disruption to the established order unsettled many older people who had become accustomed to certainty in government. Taiwan was being squeezed on the world stage by the seemingly implacable advance of the PRC. The so-called “allies”, Taiwan’s formal diplomatic partners, mainly small impoverished nations in Central America, the Pacific and Africa, were being whittled away by PRC pressure.

It is no secret that the “allies” were encouraged to retain ties to the ROC through generous applications of aid money, not all of which ended up at its intended destination. The exception was the Holy See, whose priorities lay in the sustenance of China’s believers, not aid. The Holy See remains the ROC’s only formal diplomatic partner in Europe.

The election of Chen Shui-bian as president in 2000 marked the end of over 70 years of uninterrupted KMT executive rule. Chen’s Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) had clawed its way into power from the unpromising beginning of the Kaohsiung Incident, after which Chen had been a defence lawyer for the participants. Chen was regarded as something of a clown. Although the DPP stood for Taiwan independence, Chen was careful not to antagonise the PRC. The PRC, for its part, indulged in some sabre rattling but an invasion was never likely.

Chen, for all his antics, had a keen grasp of what was possible and what was not. His administration was said to be riddled with corruption. Perhaps it was just that Chen was a poor Taiwanese peasant who had to pay back his extended family and village for their support. After his term ended, Chen was imprisoned for corruption and abuse of power. Most DPP supporters felt ashamed that their party, when it had gained power, had turned out to be little different from the detested KMT.

Lee Teng-hui wielded considerable influence. His support of Ma Ying-jeou as mayor of Taipei was probably crucial in having him elected. Ma is a mainlander, the son of an influential KMT official. He is a graduate of Harvard Law School.

Ma was a good mayor. His English is excellent; his Taiwanese less so. Ma was elected president of the ROC in 2008 by a huge margin. His landslide first victory was followed up by a convincing vote in his second term, but his popularity went downhill fast after that. He just didn’t seem to connect with the lao bai shing – “old hundred names” – the common people. Many people thought Ma was too academic and didn’t understand their problems.

A brand new thing

The election of Tsai Ing-wen in January signaled a generational break with the past. Young people are fed up with the way the economy benefits mainly the elderly. Taiwan is said to be the single greatest benefactor from globalisation. It avidly pursues free trade agreements. But that makes for a very difficult environment in which to make a living.

The government created dozens of so-called “universities” when it upgraded the status of vocational high schools. It is as if every TAFE college in Australia suddenly became a university. Thousands of graduates are now wondering why they can’t get jobs commensurate with their qualifications. Many graduates are working for $4 an hour. Taiwan is an intensely competitive society. The idea that there is any such thing as a minimum wage is laughable. Wages, in real terms, have not risen in 15 years.

The Taiwan economy works on brainpower. Natural resources are minimal. Companies like TSMC – Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Corporation – are world leaders in high tech. They make billions of dollars a year in profits and invest billions of dollars a year. Apple products are made in mainland China, but the manufacturers are companies headquartered in Taiwan.

The so-called “strawberry generation” (those Taiwanese born since 1981 and are said to bruise easily) have grasped the fact that while they work for a few dollars an hour, the wealth of the high-tech billionaires grows ever greater.

Tsai Ing-wen is pursuing more free trade agreements. Taiwan is a very small island that lives on its brains. Tsai knows instability is bad for business and will not overturn the cross-strait agreements with China, even if she rejects the “1992 consensus” over reunification, which holds that one China can be interpreted differently. Taiwan remains a tight little island alive in a bitter sea. Tsai Ing-wen’s mousy exterior conceals an iron will and she may yet produce some surprises.

All you need to know about
the wider impact of transgenderism on society.
TRANSGENDER: one shade of grey, 353pp, $39.99

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