Wed, Oct 26, 2011 - Page 3 News List

FEATURE: Warming ties with China stoke Taiwan’s identity crisis

By Ben Blanchard  /  Reuters, Greater Kaohsiung

Though friendly to China, Ma has resisted any efforts at opening political dialogue with Beijing or committing himself to making a decision on Taiwan’s future status.

He has been successful at identifying himself with Taiwan, learning to speak Hoklo (also known as Taiwanese) and portraying himself as a “new Taiwanese,” despite not being born in Taiwan, a source of suspicion for some.

In Kaohsiung though, most Ma supporters keep a low profile.

One exception is Yang Yu-mei (楊玉梅), who runs a shop selling clothing decorated with Republic of China flags and displaying several pictures of her meeting Ma. Brushes with DPP supporters, whom she says sometimes kick the flags outside her store, have not dampened her ardor.

She is so keen on the KMT that her mobile phone ringtone is former president Chiang Ching-kuo (蔣經國), who fostered Taiwan’s transition to democracy in the 1980s, leading a crowd shouting: “Long live the Republic of China.”

Still, even she is lukewarm on getting any closer to China.

“The current ‘status quo’ is best. We don’t want war with China,” Yang said.

“I am a citizen of the Republic of China who lives on Taiwan,” she said. “We can say and do what we want here without the fear of anyone looking over our shoulder and that is very important.”

China has hoped that with closer economic links and with the series of trade agreements signed by Ma, Taiwan will start to feel more positive about Beijing.

While Taiwan’s airlines, some hotels and major corporations have benefited, many ordinary people say they have felt little impact.

The media has lapped up stories of Chinese tourists being too noisy, cutting lines and generally behaving badly. It is something that plays well in the pro-independence south.

“I’ve seen no benefit from them being here,” said Huang Hsiao-yan, a cook at one of Kaohsiung’s heaving night markets. “The Chinese tourists buy only fruit or trinkets. They don’t eat here. I don’t like them at all.”

The once heavily industrialized Kaohsiung has lost many of its companies and factories to China, drawn away by a massive population and low manufacturing costs.

The effect can be seen on the city’s sleek new subway network, where it is easy to find a seat even at rush hour. Many would-be commuters have long since decamped to China to work.

“Business has not been good in Kaohsiung for many years now. Everyone has gone to China,” bar owner Landy Hsu said.

“The only Chinese tourists we see around here are men asking us if we have any women, if you know what I mean,” Hsu’s friend and colleague, Melody Chin, said.

When it comes to China, the crucial aspect for many Taiwanese is they want the right to decide their own future.

“You can’t choose your relatives, but you can choose whether to spend time with them,” said Kaohsiung gallery curator Jemmy Chu, overseeing an exhibition on 100 years since the fall of China’s last emperor and establishment of the Republic of China.

One day, perhaps, China could have a democratic revolution too, he said.

“At the moment China is like a bad grandmother who you would not want to have anything to do with. That could change. People complain about China, but the Taiwanese have short memories. We were once exactly like them and we were able to change,” Chu said.

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