At a seminar on the democratization of Taiwan yesterday, academics warned the government against its spontaneous response to civic groups and a plan to “co-opt” their strengths, which they said was what former president Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) tried to do.
At the event, several academics deliberated over the interactive relationship between civic power and national identity and made suggestions to President Tsai Ing-wen’s (蔡英文) administration on how to deal with the demands of civic groups.
National Chengchi University sociology professor Ku Chung-hwa (顧忠華) said that while younger people are now described as “naturally independence-leaning” with their active participation in social movements or activities, “we have to ask whether ‘local’ identity naturally leads to national identity.”
Ku said that Taiwanese are inclined to “suspend” talk of national status, which could leave the nation in an unstable state.
“However, what is more curious and crucial is that despite the suspension, civic consciousness has been growing vigorously,” Ku said.
He called for a commitment to local movements and studies which would connect the public to the nation and, with the central and local governments’ joint efforts, could turn local studies into Taiwan studies that could give rise to a spirit exemplifying a national collective will.
Regarding the recent pressure from civic groups on the government to make concessions, Ku said that while the government has been attentive, it should have a better understanding of different groups’ stances and the relationships between the parties involved.
“Do not agree to whatever the groups are asking for after only one meeting, as there are issues involving regulations, interest distribution and other involved parties. The administration is sensitive to social calls, but has not come up with systematic measures, the consequence of which is that it not only fails to obtain social support, but becomes further embroiled in battles on various fronts,” Ku said.
Academia Sinica Institute of Sociology research fellow Michael Hsiao (蕭新煌) agreed, saying that Tsai’s administration should learn from Chen’s 2000 to 2008 tenure, when he tried to co-opt civic society.
“The government could incorporate civic groups into decisionmaking processes, during which they should not simply voice opposition, but provide a clear list of things to be done,” Hsiao said.
The co-opting of civic powers in those years diminished civic society’s power and failed to foster a healthy relationship between the state and society, according to Academia Sinica research fellow Wu Jieh-min (吳介民).
“During the years that the Democratic Progressive Party administration was a minority government, civic groups were worried that their opposition might be turned by the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) against the weak government. Now there are no more excuses,” he said, proposing a “frenemy” relationship between the government and civic society.
Wu said that while the Sunflower movement in 2014 — an eruption of years of dissatisfaction among civic society with the KMT government’s under-the-table dealings with the Chinese Communist Party — consolidated Taiwan’s democracy, “it has also, unintentionally, supplemented and strengthened Taiwan's 'stateness'.”
“A demise of the KMT as a party is highly possible in the future, but what should be noted is that in the post-KMT era, Beijing's Taiwan policies would continue to evolve and the nation’s civic resistance movement should always stay alert,” he said.