Tainan Mayor William Lai (賴清德) — known for his pro-Taiwan independence stance — caused a ruckus last week when he said that he feels “affinity toward China as much as he loves Taiwan (親中愛台).”
The Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) wasted no time mocking Lai, saying that “when the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) speaks of affinity with China, that means it loves Taiwan; when [former president] Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) speaks of affinity with China it is criticized as selling out Taiwan.”
Ma’s close aide Lo Chih-chiang (羅智強) was also full of sarcasm.
“What a rare talent Lai is. It would be a great loss for the country if he does not become president,” he said.
Lai said there is a difference between feeling “affinity toward China and loving Taiwan” and “leaning toward China and selling out Taiwan (傾中賣台).”
The former is aimed at “maintaining Taiwanese interests at heart while extending friendly overtures toward China,” he said.
“We hope that through exchanges [with China], mutual understanding can be achieved, which would then lead to mutual tolerance before eventually bringing about reconciliation — and finally — peaceful development,” he said.
It is understandable that Lai’s talk of feeling “affinity toward China and loving Taiwan” surprises some, as there seems to be a false perception among members of the public that being in favor of Taiwanese independence necessarily entails hatred of China.
The truth is, there is no conflict between loving Taiwan and being friendly to China.
Following Lai’s remarks, senior DPP member and Kaohsiung Mayor Chen Chu (陳菊) described herself as “at peace with China (和中),” while Taoyuan Mayor Cheng Wen-tsan (鄭文燦) of the DPP described himself as being “China-friendly (友中).”
These statements debunk the myth that all Taiwanese independence advocates are critical of China.
As a nation that shares a common language and cultural similarities, China could rejoice with Taiwan in a spirit of fellowship.
The remarks from Lai, Chen, Cheng and others suggest there is goodwill from many in the pan-green camp toward China.
However, such positivity has to be reciprocal for it to gain momentum.
Regrettably, China has chosen not to live in harmony with Taiwan; it rejects the nation’s goodwill and harbors the malicious intent of annexing Taiwan.
In other words, Bejing’s own actions — such as its incessant oppression of Taiwan’s international space, refusing to denounce the use of force against Taiwan and trampling of human rights — as in the case of detaining Taiwanese human rights advocate Lee Ming-che (李明哲) — are what is pushing Taiwan away, prompting Taiwanese to view it as a hostile enemy and fostering “anti-China” sentiment in the pan-green camp.
As Lai clearly noted, there is a significant difference between feeling “affinity toward China and loving Taiwan” and “leaning toward China and selling out Taiwan.”
The former hinges on prioritizing Taiwan’s national interests and upholding Taiwan’s core values, while the latter degrades Taiwan’s national dignity; the former places Taiwan and China on equal footing, while the latter regards Taiwan as a subordinate political unit under Beijing by kowtowing to Beijing’s “one China” principle.
In short, being China-friendly ought never to be an issue, so long as Taiwan upholds its democracy and independent sovereignty; it is the actions of some KMT politicians who have carried the affinity overboard to the point of fawning on China that are making it repulsive in the eyes of the majority of Taiwanese, who — as shown in various surveys — want Taiwan to be an independent nation and not part of China.
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