For anyone wanting to understand Taiwan’s postwar history, politics and social development, the green card controversy — which has been going on for more than six months — provides an excellent introduction. However, for those legislators and officials involved in the storm, the green card issue is an unbearable burden. No matter how they respond, they’re unable to justify themselves and only incite more questioning on their allegiance and competence. Why are their responses so weak?
Is possession of a green card really directly related to the question of loyalty or other ethical concerns?
Many Taiwanese who have resided in the US long-term — both pan-blues and pan-greens — have permanent US residency or even US citizenship, but they frequently return to Taiwan to participate in demonstrations and election campaigns to show their support both in person and financially. Nobody doubts their allegiance to the country. On the other hand, not having permanent residency in a foreign country does not necessarily imply loyalty to Taiwan or guarantee that a person would not do anything to let the country down. Some people don’t even have a clue about what a green card is. So why are the officials involved trying to keep a low profile?
The key lies in the social qualifications for obtaining — or attempting to obtain — a green card. It is the difference in opportunity structure — between who has the opportunity or connections to acquire a green card and who doesn’t. To be more explicit, the green card phenomenon itself demonstrates the differences in social stratification, and such differences must be understood through the history and political situation of postwar Taiwan.
In that era of unrest, people with connections would try to find a “lifebelt” to escape if they needed to, and applying for permanent residency in the US or Canada were among the most common choices.
In the past, we had the slogan, “Study at National Taiwan University and then go to the US.” Nowadays, many people, including doctors, lawyers, news anchors and professors, choose to give birth to their children overseas and political figures tend to travel abroad to relax. Government officials “naturally” arrange for their retirement and hold family reunions overseas. This once again proves that the green card phenomenon is a manifestation of social class differences and a sign of social class migration following the Chinese Civil War.
It is hard for legislators and officials involved in the controversy to make the public understand the atmosphere of postwar unrest, but it is even more difficult for them to admit the advantages of their social status and why they meet the requirements for a green card. The political elite always like to say that they will share pleasure and pain with the nation and they love to act personable toward the public to improve their moral image. Still, when faced with the green card controversy, how can they justify themselves and admit that they have used their social standing to prepare a way out? How can they ask the public to believe such an elite class could also be humble? This is why the green card issue is such an unbearable burden for them and why most of them choose to keep a low profile when the issue comes up.
But the more low-key they are, the more intense the barrage of questions from the opposition. The green card issue has not only become a focus point in talk shows, it also continues to accumulate more and more political potential. Especially following the recent hikes in fuel, electricity and commodity prices, the hardest-hit groups belong to the lower middle class — like taxi drivers and farmers — and are the most unlikely to acquire a green card. Thus they can identify with the opposition’s criticism and questions. In other words, the attack on green cards seems to be about questioning the loyalty of individual legislators and officials, but in reality it is a political battle about class identification.
It’s not my intention to denounce those legislators and officials who apply for green cards for themselves and their family. Despite their class advantages, they make the same decisions that many people would if they had the opportunity. It’s human nature to prepare an escape route to be able to get out in time of disaster. But if people with such an escape route insist on telling those who don’t have one that they will be with them to the very end, the question becomes one of ethics and credibility. What the unbearable burden of the green card shows is a very peculiar phenomenon created by the collision of Taiwan’s postwar history and class differences.
But some introspection into the green card phenomenon can provide a turning point for Taiwan to step out of its historical fatalism and walk toward shared peace and prosperity. We can choose to continue to ridicule the ethical flaws and questionable loyalty of legislators and government officials, or we could use the issue to focus on how to make Taiwan safer, and how to make sure that Taiwanese feel secure without having to apply for a green card.
If the pan-blue political elite can admit their class advantages and human needs during these insecure times while showing loyalty to Taiwan with specific political achievements, time itself will prove everything, and the public will forgive them for their green cards. The opposition’s questions are certainly sensible, but if the Democratic Progressive Party hopes to have another opportunity to rule the country in four years, it has to look at the green card phenomenon from a more comprehensive historical perspective. If the party wants to avoid traveling down a road of politics based on hate and jealousy, it should spend more time considering the human side in its fight to support different social classes and ethnic groups.
Li Kuang-chun is an assistant professor in the Graduate Institute of Law and Government at National Central University.
TRANSLATED BY TED YANG AND ANNA STIGGELBOUT
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