Thursday, October 10, 2013

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Happy birthday, Taiwan! Wait, what?

10/10/2013 Taiwan Explorer
A young dancer rehearsing for the National day celebration (Photo: Cue).

"Happy Birthday, Taiwan!" are a lot of people saying today (like this girl on the photo on the left). It's the 10th October, Taiwan's National Day, also known as the inception of the Republic of China, which sees itself as the successor of the last Chinese dynasty, the Qing, that was dissolved in 1912. Republic of China is since 1949 continued on Taiwan and its outlying islands, while China has fallen under communist rule in the same year, and is ever since named People's Republic of China. Taiwan, formerly known to the world as Formosa, is now more than just an island: It's a country, it's a nation of its own. And a very well developed, proud and democratic one. But the old name Republic of China is still an integral part of the constitution. Taiwan has two identities that have to tolerate each other for over six decades. So while technically today isn't "Taiwan's birthday," it definitely feels like one to many people. A lot of Taiwanese long for recognition and respect of their nation, but they're constantly facing opposition and humiliation internally and externally. There are no easy answers when it comes to the status and identity of Taiwan. Law experts and laymen usually base their definitions on ideology, emotions, or preconceptions, because the evidence is often incomplete, or politicized. Taiwan is what you imagine it to be, and it's constantly fluctuating in some murky waters. Taiwan is much like Pi on his boat in the ocean, and China is like Richard Parker. We're still adrift, but nobody knows when the journey will end, and what challenges we will still face on the way there.

What's Taiwan's president saying today?

According to the national day message to the citizens, Taiwan's president has its own interpretation about Taiwan's current status. This is what he had to say today:

各位鄉親:兩岸人民同屬中華民族,兩岸關係不是國際關係。五年多來,兩岸在「一中各表」的「九二共識」基礎上簽署了19項協議,實現了海空運直航、陸客來臺、司法互助、經濟合作等交流,其中包括三年前簽的《兩岸經濟合作架構協議》(ECFA)與今年六月簽訂的《兩岸服務貿易協議》。 Read the whole message>>


My fellow citizens: The people of both sides of the Taiwan Strait are all Chinese by ethnicity. Cross-strait relations are not international relations. In the past five years or so, based on the 1992 Consensus whereby each side acknowledges the existence of “one China” but maintains its own interpretation of what that means, the two sides of the Strait have signed 19 agreements that have brought about direct sea and air transport links, visits to Taiwan by tourists from mainland China, mutual judicial assistance, economic cooperation, and other such breakthroughs. We’ve seen a lot of progress. For example, three years ago the two sides signed the Cross-Straits Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement (ECFA). Read the whole message>>

Two things made me scratch my head: If people on both sides are "all Chinese by ethnicity," what happened to Tibetans, Uyghurs, and Austronesians? And as far as I know, cross-strait relations are always an international issue, every crisis or positive development affects the whole region, and the US is always involved. But then again, who am I to comment on these things, I'm not a lawyer, nor a president, and I'm not Chinese either.

Taiwan's 102nd year was very eventful

This year was very eventful so far. We had the hottest summer in Taipei, lots of typhoons, political turmoil, and most of all we had protests almost every month. The president, who's handshake comes with a curse, is currently very unpopular. His approval ratings plunged to 9.2%, which makes former US President George W. Bush look very popular. Let's see what lead to this current negativity and dissatisfaction among Taiwanese people. Here's a list of the most important events since last year's National Day:

NOVEMBER 2012

Clashes between students and police were aplenty in 2013 (Photo: 1688.com.au).

Students protested the acquisition of Apple Daily by the pro-China media giant Want Want China last November, fearing a media monopoly, and influence of Chinese capital and communist party on Taiwan's freedom of press. Luckily the acquisition failed.

JANUARY 2013

The rally of the furious. 下台 means resign (Photo: Apple Daily).

2013 started with the opposition led "Fury rally." Around 150,000 people marched through Taipei in protest of the current government, mainly for failing to improve the economy.

MARCH 2013

The slogan "No nukes" has become part of contemporary language (Photo: Apple Daily).

The wave of dissatisfaction intensified in March, when the issue of the 4th nuclear power plant fired up young people, who organized anti-nuke marches and reinforced the anti-nuke movement. 220,000 people went on the streets all over Taiwan. It was huge.

MAY 2013

Burning flags and demanding apology - a Middle Eastern style public outcry.

The brutal killing of a Taiwanese fisherman by a Philippine coastguard caused a wave of anti-Philippines rhetoric on social media and TV, exposing the underlying frustration of Taiwanese with their weak international status. While the outcry was justified, politicians rode on the nationalist wave, and exploited the anger of the people to score cheap political points. It was ugly. The bilateral rift was eventually solved with diplomacy behind the scenes, emotions calmed down on both sides after the admission of guilt and apology from Manila.

JULY 2013

This was probably the biggest protest of the year (Photo: Imgur).

The suspicious death of a young corporal stirred up the nation in July. Allegations of military abuse, and a sloppy investigation put huge pressure on the president, which led to the resignation of the minister of defense. Two protests in solidarity with the corporal's family brought more than 250,000 people to the streets of Taipei. And with the help of Facebook.

There's not much to celebrate

If you think this was everything, you are wrong. There were even more protests, but they were regional, and did not capture the attention of the whole nation like the ones I listed above, but they were still important in their own way, because they reinforced the trend where civil society wants to do something, instead of relying on the people they elected. The intensity of this year took a toll on the National Day celebrations. The president's low approval ratings, and the general disillusion with politics made today's celebration irrelevant to most people. A lot of Taiwanese are taking Friday off which gives them 4 days to enjoy a mini vacation. And one thing is very sure: People definitely need a break, it's been too intense lately.