The visit of Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Strait (ARATS) Chairman Chen Yunlin (陳雲林) and the events surrounding it have brought a fundamental change in Taiwan’s political scene.
It goes beyond the advance in cross-strait peace claimed by the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) government and its pan-blue allies, and beyond the pan-green opposition’s accusations that the government is leaning too close to China. What we are seeing now is a new line of thinking on freedom — or the lack of it.
Over the past decade, political parties have focused on the issue of national identity — on whether Taiwan should be independent or united with China. But the pro-unification pan-blue camp and the pro-independence pan-green camp have been unable to convince one another of the merits of their positions.
Although Taiwan has had several democratic elections, politicians still mobilize and motivate supporters through manipulation and the demonizing of opponents. This has created an almost unbridgeable rift. Agitation and negative campaigning has led to the public losing confidence in politics and politicians in general. With the blue and green camps mired in mutual accusations of selling out Taiwan and corruption, there is no room for the neutral voter or new elector.
The ARATS visit brought this situation to the fore once again. With the blue and green camps attacking each other’s positions, clashes broke out between agitated crowds and security forces. Politicians of both camps sought the limelight by putting on performances, while biased media outlets distorted their reporting to fit political standpoints.
Chen sought to gain whatever benefits he could from Taiwan’s political rift. However, just as his visit was drawing to a close, and with bloody clashes around the Grand Hotel reaching a climax, a new social force was quietly taking shape.
A group of students and academics linked up via the Internet to launch a silent vigil, one quite different in form and purpose from the noisy mobilizations of the blue and green parties.
Their goals are very simple: Criticize police for acting outside their authority and infringing on freedom of speech in the name of security; demand that the government admit to and apologize for its errors; and call for amendments to the Assembly and Parade Law (集會遊行法) where the law conflicts with freedom of expression.
The students are straightforward, sincere and deserve to be taken seriously. These are people who originally gave politics the cold shoulder and who are sick and tired of the endless war of words between pro-unification and pro-independence forces. During the overextension of police authority during Chen’s visit, the students saw the ugly face of the abuse of government power. They saw how the police were selective in approving applications for assembly, how they banned the display of the Republic of China flag in specified areas, how they gratuitously marched into a record shop and ordered the management to stop playing certain music.
To the protesters, all of these actions exceeded the boundaries of law enforcement.
The protesters’ agenda indicates that a new generation has appeared with its own way of thinking. The axis of political debate in Taiwan may gradually move away from the struggle between unification and independence forces, which the younger generation finds meaningless, toward a fight for deeper democracy and civil liberties.
Politicians should recognize the sincerity of this movement instead of smearing it. Any party that fails to recognize the shift that is taking place risks being sidelined and swept away.
Jack Wu is a doctoral student in the Department of Political Science at National Taiwan University.Translated by Julian Clegg
The small Baltic nation of Lithuania last week announced that it would accept a Taiwanese representative office in its capital, Vilnius, and that it would establish its own trade office in Taiwan by the end of the year. This was more than a welcome announcement to Taiwan and goes far beyond the normal establishment of trade relations. Lithuanian Minister of Foreign Affairs Gabrielius Landsbergis summed it up succinctly, boldly saying: “Freedom-loving people should look out for each other.” With these words, Landsbergis was purposefully going beyond normal diplomacy; he was also presenting a moral challenge and reminder to other democratic nations. A look
Having deceived the world about its nuclear capabilities while preparing for an arms race, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) is now using its increasing nuclear forces for virtual nuclear coercion. This new threat will continue until the United States, Japan, and Taiwan can restore the CCP’s sense of fear. This dynamic is a familiar one for Taiwan. As the CCP’s People’s Liberation Army’s (PLA) capabilities have grown, its inhibitions about conducting larger and more frequent coercive military demonstrations have shrunk. The PLA now more openly practices for the destruction of Taiwan’s democracy and the murder of its citizens. In the nuclear realm,
The Tokyo Olympics will perhaps be remembered as one of the oddest Games in the event’s long and checkered history. Held amid a global pandemic, spectators are banned from most venues, leaving athletes to play out their feats of sporting brilliance in eerie silence. Meanwhile, furious Tokyo residents wave placards outside some venues, calling for the Games’ cancelation. Adding to the incongruity of it all, the entire Russian team is absent, banned due to a doping scandal. That the Tokyo Olympics went ahead at all has been extremely contentious in Japan. Critics fear a mass outbreak of the highly contagious Delta
Just a few days after an outbreak of locally transmitted COVID-19 cases, President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) in May announced that a domestically produced vaccine against the virus would become available late this month. At the time, even though the government had placed orders for the Moderna and AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccines, just 700,000 of the doses had arrived, and many Taiwanese were reluctant to get inoculated, in no small part due to the Chinese Nationalist Party’s (KMT) disinformation campaign about the AstraZeneca vaccine’s alleged shortcomings. Before the outbreak, the government had been successful in keeping the number of infections to a minimum,