Sun, Dec 30, 2018 - Page 6 News List

A new setting for independence

By Chris Huang 黃居正

The failure of the referendum for Taiwan to apply to participate at the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games under the name “Taiwan” stunned its supporters into silence, while some media talk about the demise of radical independence forces.

It might be true that losers should refrain from talking too loudly, but the referendum result implies an unprecedented generational shift among independence advocates, and they are still trying to absorb the impact of the shock.

Those who initiated the referendum say that it was not a push for independence, while those who opposed it say they were afraid that possible International Olympic Committee (IOC) sanctions would negatively affect the rights and interests of athletes. Both sides are blowing hot air.

The IOC charter stipulates that a national Olympic committee must represent a country. Without independence, how would it be possible to change from “Chinese Taipei” to “Taiwan”? The Lausanne Agreement stipulates no penalties and IOC practice shows that even the most extreme political interference would not see a whole delegation banned, so in what way would athletes’ rights and interests have been hurt?

Both sides have ulterior motives, and the referendum was the first open battle between pro and anti-independence forces.

Why the first public battle? Because past engagements between pro-unification and pro-independence camps have at most been fought over telephone opinion polls. How representative can a sample of just over 1,000 respondents really be? In anonymous surveys, everyone would happily answer “yes” when asked if they would fight for independence, but what has happened in presidential elections when representatives of the pan-green and pan-blue camps have faced off? Regardless of whether Taiwanese have voted green or blue, all they have gotten is a leader of “Chinese Taipei,” while independence is gone with the wind.

However, the Olympics referendum was different. To get 430,000 people to sign a referendum proposal, independence advocates for the first time set out on an eight-month nationwide campaign. Each signature represented at least seven minutes of debate in the street to explain the highly challenging issue of correcting the nation’s name. Five weeks of televised referendum debates for the first time gave independence advocates 150 minutes to promote their views on public television. When the smoke settled, 10 million people had participated in the final battle.

This public battle also had a huge effect on traditional independence advocates. A referendum measures voter support, not decibels, so gaining voter support means hitting the streets, schools and TV stations to promote the issue.

Independence must move on from theory to implementation. Past theories that leaders of factions debated until they were red in the face included the idea that Taiwan’s status was undetermined; the issue of government succession and the status of the governments on the two sides of the Taiwan Strait; the view that Taiwan is occupied; evolving independence; and self-determination and nation building. Today, young referendum volunteers have pragmatically transformed these issues into everyday language that they use to share their ideas. The requirements of a new age have fused these ideas into tangible values. Because independence awareness was focused on the Olympics issue, it has become secularized and real. Concomitant with this change, independence advocates have become younger and their image more diverse.

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