A few days ago, Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) Chairperson Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) wrote in the Chinese-language China Times that Taiwan must reinterpret “localization” as a concept of tolerance to allow all people, both older and newer immigrants, to enjoy Taiwan regardless of ethnicity, and that this is the only way to create social cohesion.
The DPP has had a progressive discourse on ethnic issues, though this changes at election time. After the assassination attempt on former president Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) and vice president Annette Lu (呂秀蓮) in 2004, tensions reached boiling point and on Sept. 27 that year, the DPP passed a resolution on ethnicity and national unity at a party meeting. The Cabinet held a meeting to transfer the spirit of the resolution to its policies.
The resolution stressed forward-looking concepts such as reconciliation, forgiveness, tolerance and diversity. The cross-ministerial implementation was evidence of their efforts, but it was eventually undermined by power struggles within the DPP.
Unfortunately, the resolution’s main proponents later resorted to exclusionary “localization” language to obtain political support from key figures, and they manipulated the DPP’s party election mechanism. The result was that party members viewed as conciliatory were driven out of the party, and this became a main factor in the DPP’s dismal loss in subsequent elections.
Tsai, with her gentle and sincere image, faces a real challenge in changing the way her party handles ethnicity. As someone who stood above incendiary language and the ethnic quagmire, Tsai’s sincerity should earn her the trust and hope of many, but the question is if she really has the ability and the resolve to extricate the DPP from the issue.
The incident surrounding Toronto-based diplomat Kuo Kuan-ying (郭冠英) suggests some pan-green camp members would extend this isolated case by making sweeping claims to gain votes in today’s Da-an District (大安) by-election in Taipei City. Perhaps Tsai’s comments will be an opportunity for the DPP to start over again. I hope a more tolerant view of localization will help the DPP develop new policies and nominate suitable candidates.
However, eliminating the ethnic issue is not just about politics and policy. The Kuo incident caused such a strong reaction because it touched on discrimination and loyalty. Under Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) rule, Mainlanders were concentrated in specific professional positions and some systems were to a certain extent designed to oppress particular groups. Relations between groups are quite harmonious for now, but any electoral conflict or large identity dispute still causes standoffs and distrust; we even see defamation and attacks based on stereotypes.
The road to reconciliation involves more than resolution of political divisions. I hope acceptance and dialogue will offer a chance to rediscover experiences and sentiments that help form an identity. We should try to see things as ordinary citizens and incorporate incidents and memories suppressed by ethnic policies. We should try to show feelings toward and recognition of fellow citizens and avoid cultivating suspicions or making judgments based on preconceptions. Individuals and groups must stop using the media and ethnically defined politics to oppress others.