Saturday, March 16, 2013

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Is the Taiwan independence movement on the rise?

3/16/2013 Taiwan Explorer
For some reason I've been stumbling upon a lot of Taiwan independence related things in recent weeks, much more often than before. Is that a sign, that the movement is on the rise again? First I saw a protest march in Ximending. People were repeatedly crossing the intersection holding flag-like banners with pro-Taiwan slogans. A few weeks later I spotted a banner on a residential block (photo on top left), that said »We are Taiwanese, not Chinese«, and then a few days ago I accidentally stumbled upon a very interesting house. It wasn't the proposed flag of Taiwan in the front yard that caught my attention (in fact, I completely failed to see it in the beginning), it was the neatly renovated Fujianese house in the middle of a very common neighborhood in Daan, that sparked my interest. I'm very interested in architecture from the Qing Dynasty period, so it didn't take long, before I took this photo with my iPhone:

This proposed Flag of Taiwan was made by World Taiwanese Congress (WTC).

Judging by the flag it's obvious that the owner of this house is a supporter of the Taiwan independence movement, and he seems to be quite proud of his beautifully restored house, which looks like a remain from the Qing Dynasty, I'd say somewhere between the 19th and 20th century, or it was built in that style. Unlike Southern Taiwan, people don't usually connect Taipei City with the pro-Taiwan movement, because it's considered a stronghold of the Kuomintang, the pro-China party, that's currently in power. But is it fair to see Taipei so one dimensionally?

The 908 Campaign and the anti-nuclear sentiment

Yesterday I passed by a tent in front of the Shin Kong Life Tower, and opposite the Taipei Main Station. This is probably the most central part of Western Taipei, it's always very crowded. The tent was put up by the pro-independence movement called 908 Taiwan Republic Campaign. There was a WTC flag next to several 908's proposed Taiwan flags, lots of pro-Taiwan T-shirts, some books, leaflets, and a lot of anti-nuclear slogans. Just last week there was a huge march against a nuclear power plant, that the government pushes to build in Greater Taipei area. Around 200.000 people gathered in Taipei and marched through the city, according to Focus Taiwan. The independence and anti-nuclear movements are very closely connected in Taiwan.

The 908 Taiwan Republic Campaign tent in the center of Taipei at lunch time.

Explanation: 台灣自決運動起跑: Taiwan's self-determination movement is starting
無核家園: Nuclear-free homeland, 台灣國讚: Taiwan country is great

Shinzo Abe thanks Taiwan

Last week China decided to not attend Japan’s memorial service for the victims of March 11 Tohoku Earthquake, saying it did so, because "Japan treated Taiwan as an independent state at the ceremony" (source). Taiwan was invited, because its government and people donated the most money of all countries in the immediate aftermath of the disaster (at that time China wanted to get credit for that, but failed). Not attending the ceremony is a very pathetic way of politicizing a natural disaster, and truly shows the ugly face of the communist regime. Of course this action was not only about Taiwan, the Senkaku/Diaoyutai dispute has further soured the already tense relationship between these two countries in recent months, and both sides are poking each other at every opportunity possible and sometimes Taiwan gets involuntarily caught in the middle.

Unlike the previous Japanese government under Yoshihiko Noda (野田 佳彦), that invited China's representative to the 2012 memorial service, but "seated Taiwan’s representative in the general seating area crammed together with private sector representatives" (source), the recently elected government under Shinzō Abe (安倍 晋三) decided to show Taiwan and its people the respect they deserve, and invited the country's representative "to the front row" so to speak. China's reaction caused the prime minister to write a short note on his official Facebook profile:

A rough translation with the help of tools like Bing and Google Translate is following:
At the Great East Japan Earthquake Memorial Ceremony on March 11 Chinese were absent because of our "handling of the representatives of Taiwan."

At the last year's memorial ceremony Taiwan's name was not even read, even though there was an invited representative in attendance. During the earthquake, Taiwan proved to be Japan's important friend, and gave more than 20 billion yen in donations, much more than any other country in the world. Our response was disrespectful, and hurt the feelings of the people of Taiwan.

We've decided to change the correspondence this year. We whole-heartedly thanked and paid tribute to Taiwan.

That China has not sent a representative is very unfortunate, but I think we want to show the proper courtesy in the future.

We are filled with a feeling of gratitude towards all countries, including Taiwan, for the received support.
I probably made a lot of mistakes in my interpretation of this text, but I think the core message came out right. Abe's words are of course very kind to Taiwan and Taiwanese people, and it's quite remarkable, that Japan's head of government publicly implied, that Taiwan was a country ("feeling of gratitude towards all countries, including Taiwan"). I'm not sure, if something like this happened since 1972, when Japan officially quit relations with Taiwan (Republic of China) in order to have relations with the People's Republic of China (who still claims Taiwan was merely one of their provinces).

Here are some of the responses in the comments (my pick):
Yuko Yamanaka: 台湾の人たちに感謝!本当にありがとう!
Thanks to the people of Taiwan! Thank you again!

Seiko Nishiura: 台湾と日本は永遠の友達です。
Taiwan and Japan are friends forever.

Hiroyuki Sadakuni: Chinese Taipei でもなく、中華民国でもない。ましてや、“中華人民共和国ではない。“台湾は台湾。『台湾は日本の大切な友人』
It's not Chinese Taipei, and it's not the Republic of China. Even more, Taiwan "is not part of the People's Republic of China," Taiwan is Taiwan. "Taiwan is an important friend of Japan"

Shinichiro Yokoyama: 台湾の皆さんありがとうございます!心から感謝してます!!Thank you Taiwan! Thank you from the heart!!

Go Ikeda: 台灣の皆さまの優しさは決して忘れません。地震は悲しくつらい事でしたが、台灣をはじめとする多くの国々との絆の日に3.11が変わることができるようにすることが私たちの願いです。日本を愛してくれるみなさん、ありがとうございます。I will never forget the kindness of the people of Taiwan. The earthquake was sad and painful, but it ensured, that on the day of 3.11 ties with many countries changed, including with Taiwan is our wish. Everyone who loves Japan, thank you.

Masaki Abe: 台湾を国として認めよう
Will recognize Taiwan as a country.

Tomohiro Nozaki: そしてI love 台湾。日本の仲間です。
And I love Taiwan. It's a companion of Japan.

Julie Wu: 台灣跟中國一邊一國, 感謝安倍首相一路對台灣的支持 !!祝福台日友好 !!!
Taiwan and China, each side is a country. Thank you Prime Minister Abe for the support of Taiwan!! Blessing Taiwan-Japan Friendship!!
First it was baseball, now it's Shinzo Abe: That's truly a lot of love for Taiwan coming from their northern neighbor in recent weeks, but what's most significant here is the fondness between regular people on both sides. These sincere feelings are very rare in this part of the world, where most of the countries hold historic grudges, and provoke each other on a regular base for the sake of domestic politics.

A cute depiction of Japan's gratitude towards Taiwan (photo source).

What does all this mean?

If I had a simple answer to this question, I would probably have written a shorter post. But the truth of the matter is: It's complicated. There is no doubt, that the independence movement, that peaked under Chen Sui-bian's government (between 2000 and 2008), is gaining some momentum this year. We had the opposition party's Fury protest in January, that drew 100.000 people to the streets of Taipei, among them many Taiwan independence supporters, and we had the anti-nuclear march a few days ago, that doubled that number, and also attracted a lot of pro-Taiwan supporters from all over the country. The recent signs of appreciation from the Japanese government, as well as regular Japanese, is moving Taiwanese, and filling them with national pride. But something has changed with the young generation of today, I'm talking about the teenagers and young adults in their early twenties, who have little or no recollection of president Chen Sui-bian and the independence movements of those times. The majority of the young people who grew up during president Ma (2008-2013) are not questioning the legitimacy of the Republic of China anymore, they've managed to go beyond the old green-blue divide. They adopted the ROC Flag as the Taiwan flag, and they are comfortable with celebrating the birthday of the ROC as the birthday of Taiwan. This trend is something, that the old pan-blue and the old pan-green camp haven't anticipated, so nobody can really claim victory here (for now). It's also very far from what China would like to see. Psychologically the phenomenon makes a lot of sense: Every generation wants to be different than the one before, and move beyond the issues, that were created before their time. Figuratively speaking, the former president Chen Sui-bian failed to get rid of the "Republic of China" in "Taiwan", and the current president Ma Ying-jeou is failing to marginalize "Taiwan" in the "Republic of China". The new generation of Taiwanese, which is way past the waishengren and benshengren division, and has a hard time relating to the difficulties of the Cold War KMT rule, has unwillingly created their own national identity, and along the way established their own definition of Taiwan. Of course this phenomenon is still in its infancy, and completely disregarding the old divide would be too naive and dangerous. However, I believe this trend will become stronger in the upcoming years, this is where Taiwan is heading. The next generation's focus will be the democratic achievements of the past 25 years, less so the events of 1911, 1947, and beyond. The democratic Taiwan, officially Republic of China, is what they will identify with, because merging these two concepts into one will help to heal wounds and prevent further divisions in the future.

The new "Taiwan flag"?


Let me go back to the beginning and try to answer the question in the title: Is the Taiwan independence movement on the rise? The answer would be: "Yes" and "No" - "Yes" in the sense, that it's transforming into a different kind of movement under the ROC umbrella, and "No" in the sense, that the independence movement that we traditionally associate with this phrase (the one with the "台灣國" slogans and own flags) is slowly losing touch with mainstream. Then again, there are always unexpected events, that completely shift the course of history, so I could be completely wrong.

I know that this topic can cause a lot of hot heads, but before you shoot the messenger (me), let me tell you, that I'm not a supporter of either side - I am not pro-independence, and I am not pro-unification (I am nothing). I'm also not a supporter of DPP, KMT, or any other party registered in Taiwan, I do however support Taiwan's democracy, freedoms, and human rights. Generally speaking I'm just a foreign observer that tries to make sense of all this, because Taiwan is where I live, and the things, that happen here are affecting me, my family, and my life. I believe, that as foreigners in Taiwan we have little to no influence in politics, and I also believe that those expats who get passionately involved in local politics (especially the die-hard greens) are wasting their time and energy. I do however think that it's good for us to share our views, add additional fresh insights to the discussion, and broaden horizons without getting dragged into one of the two camps and their ideologies. I want to be above all that, I want to be as independent as possible, and I plan to remain that way for the foreseeable future.