Mon, Oct 20, 2003 - Page 8 News List

Lee still has influence on politics in Taiwan

By Wang Kun-yi 王崑義

The Economist magazine recently ran an article analyzing the campaign pushing for a change to Taiwan's official name, saying that "if ex-President Lee [Teng-hui (李登輝)] has his way, it is the KMT [Chinese Nationalist Party] that will spend the campaign defending the indefensible." Around the same time, Lee claimed in an interview with the Japanese media that, next year, he would mobilize 500,000 people to take to the streets in support of President Chen Shui-bian's (陳水扁) [re-election bid].

These two articles reported in the foreign media show that although Lee has stepped down as president, he is still very influential in Taiwan's political arena.

So where does Lee gain his power? How can he single-handedly make "Chinese people" on the two sides of the Taiwan Strait terror-stricken?

Traditionally, the relations between "nation" and "nationality" can be divided into two levels: A nation's existence is related to "sovereignty," while a nationality's existence involves "identity." Although both sovereignty and identity are imaginary, they are catalytic elements for the construction of a country. In other words, if these two elements conform to legal conditions and value standards, they can muster forces in the civic society and transform into a powerful, security entity to oppose foreign enemies.

Faced with Taiwan's struggle for independence, China has been using the "one China" principle to assert its sovereignty claim over Taiwan and contain Taiwan's claim over its own sovereignty.

This is why Lee and Chen have to strongly counter China in their discourse on Taiwan's sovereignty when they control the state machine. Otherwise, the loss of sovereignty will endanger Taiwan's survival. Both the "special state-to-state relations" and "one country on either side [of the Taiwan Strait]" platforms are actually a protective entity built in the face of Beijing's "one China" ideology.

Furthermore, to legitimize this protective entity, Lee came up with a "bandit theory" following the Qiandao Lake robbery and mass murder case in 1994, and Chen accused China of exercising "war terrorism" by deploying 400 missiles aimed at Taiwan. They have transformed the imaginary sovereignty discourse into a logical relationship between security and language.

Of course, the imaginary structure of the sovereignty-security discourse proposed by Lee and Chen would unavoidably collide with the real sovereignty-missiles structure discourse claimed by China. China has not obtained an absolute advantage from the collision over the past decades. Instead, Taiwan is winning increasing support at home and abroad for its sovereignty claim.

Internationally, with the US' strong support, Taiwan has nothing to fear when it comes to security. Domestically, more and more Taiwanese people choose to accept the discourse presented by Lee and Chen, making it difficult for the pan-blue camp to win over popular support for their sovereignty platform. No wonder the pan-blue camp is terrified by the force generated by the Lee-Chen alliance.

On the other hand, through the campaign pushing for a change to Taiwan's official name, Lee has transformed the nationality-identity idea into a new image in Taiwan's pursuit of survival. This image will marginalize the original entity in Taiwan (the pan-blue camp and the Republic of China).

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