August 13th 2016

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Articles from this issue:

COVER STORY Rating the ratings agencies: FFF and "Watch out"

CANBERRA OBSERVED Despite bumbling, youth detention inquiry is needed

FOREIGN AFFAIRS Erdogan's political coup will transform Turkey

SEXUAL POLITICS Transgender Olympians: what about the AFL?

EDITORIAL Marriage plebiscite: why not a referendum?

SEXUAL POLITICS Gay lobby grasps at normal and natural

MILITARY HISTORY The Western Front, 1916: our costliest theatre of war

MILITARY HISTORY Delville Wood, 1916: South Africa's Gallipoli

EUTHANASIA Disability hate crime: then the rest is silence

BRITISH POLITICS Tories push trans agenda hard in schools, prisons

TAIWANESE HISTORY AND POLITICS Fractious party puts Tsai in a pickle

MUSIC Davis biopic sadly miles off the mark

CINEMA Bourne again, but still lost: Jason Bourne

BOOK REVIEW An empire built on suffering

BOOK REVIEW Freedom of speech


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Fractious party puts Tsai in a pickle

by Jeffry Babb

News Weekly, August 13, 2016

Just months since she took power, President of Taiwan Tsai Ing-wen’s position looks unsteady. One cannot grasp Taiwan’s current politics without a firm understanding of Tsai’s Democratic Progressive Party and how it came into existence as a counter to the Kuomintang. In this issue, Jeffry Babb outlines the political background and next time will look at Tsai’s performance so far.

President Tsai Ing-wen recently

apologised to the island’s Aborigines for oppression.

The Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) may now be the ruling party in Taiwan, but that doesn’t mean it always gets its way. After years of preceding every mention of the Kuomintang (KMT) in the press with the prefix “ruling”, this is no longer necessary, as both the Presidency and Legislature are in the hands of the DPP. 

The DPP is known as a centre-left party. The opposition KMT is centre-right. However, this labeling gives a slightly inaccurate definition of the differences between the two major parties. The true point of difference is that, although both are nationalist parties, in each case it is nationalism of a different nature.

Flavours of nationalism

The DPP is a Taiwanese nationalist party. The DPP’s ultimate aim is for Taiwan to sever relations with mainland China – in other words, the long-term goal is independence. The extent to which this dominates policy formulation depends on the factional balance in the DPP. The DPP has a commitment to workers’ rights and to human rights more broadly. The DPP appeals to the Taiwanese, also called ben-sheng-ren, meaning “this province people”. That is, the people who were in Taiwan before 1945, before Taiwan’s retrocession to the Republic of China.

The Taiwanese on the whole look fondly on the period from 1895 to 1945, when Taiwan was a colony of Japan. The 2 million mainlanders who arrived with Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek after Mao’s communists took power are known as wei-sheng-ren or “external province people”. The DPP’s base is among working class Taiwanese, leading to the not entirely accurate classification of the DPP as a centre-left party. Independent labour unions scarcely exist in Taiwan and organised labour disputes are rare. Nationalism is the motive force of Taiwan’s politics. In addition, one must remember that 50 years ago, the people of Taiwan were very poor. Public servants were issued a ration of rice. Now the Asian Tiger, having offered its young people so much, can’t deliver.

The KMT, or Chinese Nationalist Party, is also a nationalist party, but they are Chinese nationalists, committed to strengthening cross-strait links with the People’s Republic of China (PRC) with the aim of eventual unification with China. President Ma Ying-jeou, the most recent KMT president, improved links with Beijing considerably. Beijing does not trust President Tsai or the DPP. The DPP favours strong defence spending. National service is still compulsory in Taiwan.

The primary point of difference in Taiwan is between those elements that seek independence from China for Taiwan and those forces whose aim is eventual unification with mainland China. The pro-independence factions, known as the “pan green” parties, are led by the DPP. Those elements seeking eventual unification with China are known as “pan blue” parties, led by the KMT. The fact that the PRC has not renounced the use of force to unify Taiwan and the mainland is intended to intimidate the DPP policymakers.

The cross-strait policies of both the DPP and the KMT are constantly evolving and are a great deal more nuanced than a simple “in or out” objective. The relaxation of tensions across the Taiwan Strait over the last decade has been remarkable. The return to the bad old days of Beijing sabre rattling, as in two terms of the first DPP head of state, President Chen Shui-bian, would be viewed with apprehension. Tsai Ing-wen and her government are “on probation” in the view of the PRC leadership.

The Taiwanese say that they are different from the mainland Chinese, but the Taiwanese undeniably originate in Fujian Province in south China. They are a subgroup within the larger Han Chinese ethnic group. They are around 70 per cent of the population. Another Han subgroup, the Hakka, originated in Guangdong Province. The hard-working Hakka comprise some 15 per cent of the population of Taiwan.

The indigenous people of Taiwan are the Aborigines, who arrived in Taiwan 8,000 years ago. There is a history of animosity between the Aborigines and the Taiwanese. The Aborigines, who constitute 2.2 per cent of the population, mostly support the KMT. Mainlanders are 14 per cent of the population.

The DPP is a relatively new party, founded in 1986. The KMT goes back to 1894, when Dr Sun Yat-sen founded the Revive China Society in Hawaii. The KMT was formally founded in 1912, following the successful overthrow of the Ching Dynasty in the Xinhai Revolution in 1911. Taiwan, which is properly called the Republic of China (ROC), is the direct descendent of the republican government founded in 1912. The People’s Republic of China was founded in 1949, when Mao Zedong famously said in Tiananmen Square that “China has stood up”. The Chinese Communist Party was founded in 1921 in Shanghai.

The DPP is a direct descendent of the dangwai movement. Dangwai literally means “outside party”. With the exception of what were known as “tail parties”, which were subservient to the KMT, other political parties were forbidden in Taiwan. The Legislative Yuan (the ROC’s unicameral parliament) was dominated by elderly men whose electorates were on the mainland. Thus, they could not be voted out, as their electorates were under the control of “bandits”: that is, communists. The opposition had therefore to work “outside the Party”; that is to say, outside the KMT. Although officially classed as independents, many of the dangwai were elected and took their seats in opposition to the KMT, “outside the party”.

Kuomintang’s single objective

The KMT’s political bread and butter was to “retake the mainland”. Banners on busy roads proclaimed “President Chiang, live ten thousand years!” Proposing independence from mainland China for Taiwan was both treasonous and dangerous to one’s health. The mandatory penalty for sedition was death. The dangwai, however, were not pro communist – far from it. The dangwai did not want rule by the Chinese Communist Party any more than rule by the KMT.

The differences between the “dangwai” movement and the KMT were to a large extent based on ethnic identity. The Taiwanese spoke Hoklo, also known as Minnan hua, closely related to Hokkien. The mainlanders, who came from all over China, spoke Mandarin, the lingua franca of the Chinese world. KMT rule and the leading role of the Chiang family were unquestioned.

The arrival of the KMT administration in Taiwan did not have happy omens. The “2-28” incident, on February 28, 1947, was a rebellion against KMT rule, sparked when a widow selling cigarettes was pistol-whipped by agents of the Taiwan wine and tobacco monopoly bureau. Hundreds, possibly thousands, of Taiwanese died in the resulting crackdown.

However, the game changer in Taiwan was the “Kaohsiung Incident”.

In December 1978, U.S. President Jimmy Carter announced that the United State would sever official ties with the ROC on January 1, 1979. This was Taiwan’s most traumatic diplomatic event since the ROC lost the China seat in the United Nations to the PRC in 1971. President Chiang Ching-kuo, who had succeeded his father, the Generalissimo, immediately cancelled the upcoming elections, at which the dangwai had expected to improve their position.

Initially, protests against the government’s action were low key and largely ignored by the authorities. The “Kaohsiung Incident” on December 10, 1979, was intended to celebrate Human Rights Day. The demonstration flared into a full-scale riot. Exactly what happened is disputed, but the government cracked down hard on the demonstrators, including incarcerating almost the entire dangwai leadership.

Shih Ming-der, a prominent figure, was sentenced to life in prison and his wife, Gail Arrigo, an American citizen, was deported. Gail Arrigo later said it was a marriage of convenience – Shih hoped it would help keep him out of jail, while she said she hoped it would help keep her in Taiwan. In the event, neither option proved to be effective.

Although the trial of the Kaohsiung Eight in March 1979 was a court-martial (Taiwan was under martial law) it was open, and the evidence given helped sway public opinion towards the dangwai. Among the Kaohsiung Eight was future vice-president Annette Lu, who was sentenced to 12 years in prison. Future President Chen Shui-bian was an advocate for the defence.

The movement that was born in the Kaohsiung Incident led directly to the establishment of the Democratic Progressive Party. The DPP did not call for independence, but self-determination.

A decade of struggle followed. The people of Taiwan were becoming more politically aware as the educated middle class demanded freedoms, championed by the DPP, such as freedom of the press, freedom of association, freedom of speech and freedom of assembly.

The DPP, which was formally founded in 1986, sought to benefit from its promotion of a separate Taiwanese identity and a commitment to “clean up the island”. Taiwan’s ascent to the ranks of the “Asian tiger” economies had taken place only at the cost of horrendous environmental damage.

The DPP’s major breakthrough came with the election of Chen Shui-bian as president in the year 2000. Chen came from a very poor family, and as Mayor of Taipei had gained a reputation as something of a clown. His administration was beset with scandals and Chen was eventually incarcerated on corruption charges.

However, at that time the DPP did not gain control of the legislature, which remained in “pan blue” hands. The DPP countered by “storming the podium”, a form of filibuster, to counter legislation it would not accept.

Since the elections of January 2016, the DPP has controlled both the executive and legislative branches of government for the first time. The DPP aims to create space for an independent defence and foreign policy. Conflict will always exist between those who want a radical policy on Taiwan independence and those who want a “softly, softly” approach.

The DPP is not a social democratic party in the sense that Australians understand the term, but it is committed to improving the lot of workers. Just how effective that may be, in the face of unified opposition from employer groups, may soon be tested. Some policies, such as shutting down all nuclear power plants and simultaneously cutting working hours and raising wages, are not feasible.

President Tsai and her Democratic Progressive Party have a rocky road ahead of them. As they say: “The difficult can be done immediately; the impossible takes a little longer.”

This is the first of a two part series. Read the second part here.

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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