Last week, the Greater Tainan City Government traveled en masse to Kinmen to visit the Tainan soldiers stationed there. In the command headquarter auditorium, I noticed a sign with the text “Why is the national army fighting? It is fighting to protect the nation’s continued existence and development. Who are the national army fighting for? It is fighting for the people and their security and well-being.”
When I remembered what a retired general said in 2011, that “the national army and the People’s Liberation Army are both Chinese armies,” those two questions and answers made an even deeper impression on me.
Kinmen in June is scorching hot and humid, and the faces of the Tainan soldiers were covered in sweat. It is a source of pride to see them protect the nation’s territory despite living in such an environment. This is also why I was moved to say to these soldiers that we “may not be able to choose our ancestors, but the people have a right to decide the nation’s future and the future of their grandchildren. I hope that the national army will abide by the spirit of the Constitution and remain loyal to the people and protect our right to choose our future.”
A few days ago, the civil affairs department director in a certain city government told draftees reporting for duty that “unification across the Taiwan Strait is unavoidable” because “in this world, a long period of unity must end in separation, and a long period of separation must end in unity.” This is absurd. If it is determined that the two sides of the Taiwan Strait will unify, why do we even need an army? Why do our young have to waste their youth in this way?
We are living in the democratic era, and although countries continue to unite and separate — such as the separation following the collapse of the Soviet Union and the unification between the two Germanys — these separations and unifications result in more governments adhering to democratic values and more people enjoying freedom. There is no doubt that the further spread and consolidation of democracy and human rights is the trend of the times. The big demonstration in Hong Kong on July 1 offered further strong evidence of this trend.
However, authoritarianism is looking to make a comeback, and it is even disguising itself as a guardian of democracy in order to promote unification. Yet the true guardians of democracy are the soldiers who, at this very moment, are protecting 23 million Taiwanese. It is they who make up the strongest defense line for Taiwanese democracy, human rights and 23 million people.
It is like I said in a conversation with Chinese dissident Chen Guangcheng (陳光誠): “Democracy is a Taiwanese value and an advantage. We must use our democracy to direct change in China because a democratic China will make Taiwan more secure.”
That is why Taiwan should not sacrifice its democracy on the altar of excessive economic reliance on China.
We must stand up to defend democracy and the right of future generations to choose their own future.
Democracy is making Taiwan strong; to protect democracy is to protect the nation.
In the end, those who are using spurious arguments to blur people’s national identity will be proven to be contemptible clowns.
William Lai is mayor of Greater Tainan.
Translated by Perry Svensson