Taiwan should focus on decolonization: academic

PAST TENSE::Bruce Jacobs said that fewer than 2% of respondents in a recent poll had supported unification, making any serious debate on the issue ‘meaningless’

By Chris Wang  /  Staff reporter

Mon, Apr 23, 2012 - Page 3

Taiwan should focus on its colonial history and the issue of de-colonization, rather than the argument over independence and unification, an Australian academic told a symposium yesterday.

Bruce Jacobs, a professor at Monash University in Australia, discussed the democratization of Taiwan at a symposium held at the legislature and organized by Democratic Progressive Party (DPP Legislator Mark Chen (陳唐山), the Institute of National Defense and Strategy Research and the Association of Taiwan University Professors.

Taiwan is already an independent country and it should focus more on the study of decolonization and transitional justice, because the debate on independence and unification was pointless, Jacobs said.

Citing a poll conducted at regular intervals by National Chengchi University’s Election Study Center, Jacobs said that more than 90 percent of Taiwanese supported either immediate independence or maintaining the “status quo” before moving toward future independence, while less than 2 percent favored immediate unification.

“The percentage who self--identify as Taiwanese exceeded 50 percent, not during the DPP administration, but after President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) came into office [in 2008]. To me that’s symbolic,” he said, adding that it implied the unification-independence debate was meaningless.

Jacobs, who was the first foreign academic to research vote-buying in Taiwan for his doctoral thesis in the 1970s, said Taiwanese should instead pay attention to its colonial past.

Observing the democratization process in Taiwan, Jacobs said there had been less violence in Taiwan than in other countries, and the 15 percent to 20 percent of swing voters, who make regime change possible, had made a great contribution to democracy.

Jacobs also said that while former president Chiang Ching-kuo (蔣經國) had “liberalized” Taiwanese politics, he “neither freed nor democratized” Taiwan.

“In my opinion, no Taiwanese president had democratized Taiwan until former president Lee Teng-hui (李登輝),” he added.

Like many countries, Taiwan needed to go through a period of decolonization and transitional justice before finding its true identity, he said.

A declaration of independence could result in war and was not necessarily in the best interest of Taiwanese, he said, adding that official diplomatic relations with other countries are not required to develop meaningful bilateral ties.

Speaking to a group of mainly independence supporters, Jacobs said: “I might offend some of you, but I have to say that the declaration of the establishment of the Republic of Taiwan might not put your in a better situation.”

“There are only four consolidated democracies in Asia — Japan, India, South Korea and Taiwan. Regardless of whether you like the current administration or not, democracy is a precious asset,” he said.

Leaders in Asian authoritarian regimes, such as China and Singapore, love to stress so-called “Asian values” and says that Western democracy is not suitable for Asians, but “we all know that is not true,” former National Security Council deputy secretary-general Parris Chang (張旭成) said.

Democracy and the fight for democracy are the best weapons Taiwanese had against the then-Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) regime as well as Beijing today, because “both of them are afraid of democracy,” Chang said.