Mon, Nov 19, 2007 - Page 8 News List

Independence not an ethnic issue

By Lin Cho-shui 林濁水

In the past, every time the pan-blue camp or mainstream discourse came upon the question of independence, the typical response was to insist that it was unethical for separatists to manipulate issues of ethnicity. The assumption behind the ethnicity argument is that Mainlanders are pro-unification whereas ethnic Taiwanese are separatists. This perspective has become a static preconception in Taiwanese society.

There have been Mainlanders in the past such as Lei Chen (雷震) and Ying Hai-kuang (殷海光), who were forerunners of the independence movement. But they constituted only a small part of the Mainlander population. Most Mainlanders fought the Chinese Communist Party in China, and many perceived reclaiming China to be an all important mission. In addition, government propaganda said: "If the Taiwanese become masters in their own house, the Mainlanders will be lost." Due to these factors, very few Mainlanders supported Taiwanese independence.

Therefore, in the past, being pro-independence could almost always be equated with being ethnic Taiwanese. But with democratization, the liberating of society from political propaganda and growing attachment to the land from living in Taiwan, the situation no longer follows the stereotype.

Recently, a poll conducted by the Shanshui Public Opinion Research Co found that 76.1 percent of respondents believe that Taiwanese sovereignty belongs to the 23 million people of Taiwan to the exclusion of the 1.4 billion people of China; 15 percent believed the the 1.4 billion people of China also have a say.

The 15 percent who believe that Taiwanese sovereignty is shared with China, according to stereotypical conception, should be Mainlanders. As Mainlanders make up around 12 percent of Taiwan's population, the figures seem to match up.

But according to the polling company's cross analysis, this preconception is far from correct.

In fact, 70.5 percent of Mainlanders believe that Taiwanese sovereignty belongs to Taiwan's 23 million, while only barely one quarter, 24.7 percent, of Mainlanders believe that Taiwanese sovereignty belongs to China's 1.4 billion.

If these figures are used to calculate population, the results show that 570,000 Mainlanders believe that sovereignty belongs to China's 1.4 billion. Based on the figures then, after excluding other ethnic groups, the survey shows there are 2,650,000 ethnic Taiwanese who support the same view. The stunning result is that the pro-unification group is made up of more ethnic Taiwanese than Mainlanders.

To see 76.1 percent in support of sovereignty belonging to Taiwan's 23 million and to see that the majority of Mainlanders have arrived at the same conviction is a complete reversal of stereotypical expectations. We are of course happy to see independence become mainstream, but we are happier to see the independence issue disassociated from ethnicity.

The disassociation of separatism from ethnic status demonstrates that the pan-blue camp's previous stand that discussing independence or unification would intensify ethnic conflict is now wholly inapplicable. Moreover, whether ethnic Taiwanese or Mainlander, the fact that the percentage of Taiwanese supporting independence has grown from 10 percent as was the case in the 1990s to 76.1 percent now is surely the result of persistent public dialogue.

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