China-Taiwan Tensions and the Guomindang’s Existential Crisis

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People’s Republic of China vs Republic of China (Taiwan). CC BY 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

In November 2014 the Guomindang (Chinese Nationalist Party) suffered a defeat in Taiwan’s local elections, winning 40.7% of the votes and only 6 out of 22 local seats. The main opposition party, the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), gained 47.5% of the votes. This setback led to the resignation en masse of the Guomindang executive cabinet.

It was widely believed that the Guomindang’s declining popularity was caused by its policy of rapprochement with the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). The controversial signing of the Cross-Strait Service Trade Agreement (CSSTA) between Taiwan and mainland China was opposed by a majority of Taiwanese and resulted in the formation of the Sunflower Movement. Students occupied the parliament and eventually forced President Ma Ying-jeou to scale down his efforts to improve relations with the CCP.

The Guomindang did not draw the right conclusions from its electoral backlash. Instead of steering towards a more moderate policy, in June 2015 the Guomindang endorsed candidate Hong Xiuzhu (Wade-Giles: Hung Hsiu-chu), who stood out for her conservative pro-China views.

Hong’s poll ratings were so low that a few months later her own party ditched her, replacing her at an emergency meeting in October 2015 with Eric Chu, Guomindang chairman and mayor of New Taipei City. However, Eric Chu did not dissociate himself from Ma Ying-jeou’s pro-China stance. In May 2016, he travelled to mainland China to meet with President Xi Jinping. a move that further alienated Taiwanese voters. In the 2016 presidential elections, the DPP won 44.1% of the votes, while the Guomindang garnered a mere  26.9% of the votes.

Yet, once again, instead of aligning itself with moderate voters who viewed close Taipei-Beijing ties with suspicion, the Guomindang turned again to Hong Xiuzhu, electing her as its chairwoman – the party’s first female leader. Ahead of the chairmanship elections due in May 2017, the candidates are once again debating how to handle relations with the Communist Party, an issue that has been at the heart of the Guomindang’s internal struggles since the 1920s. Will the Guomindang be marginalized by the DPP and its Taiwan-centric stance? Or will it once again redefine itself so as to appeal to voters who reject closer ties with Beijing? Continue reading

China Ready to Use Military Force if Taiwan Declares Independence, says Chinese Admiral

“If the Democratic Progressive Party [Taiwan’s ruling party] declares independence (台独), then we must go to war without hesitation,” said Yin Zhuo, Rear Admiral of the Chinese Navy, in an interview on March 5. “If [they] declare independence, we will use military force to bring about unification, we must be very clear about that.”

In the interview, Yin Zhuo further explained that any action by the Taiwanese government that can be interpreted as a step towards independence would be regarded as a cause for war. Independence, he stated, “includes steps towards ‘de jure independence’ such as amending the Constitution, changing the name of the country or the national anthem.” Continue reading

Civilized Taiwanese vs Uncivilized Mainlanders: Peng Mingmin and Anti-Chinese Rhetoric

In recent years it has become common both in Taiwan and in Hong Kong to portray mainland Chinese as backward and uncivilized. Some controversial episodes that were covered by the media have shaped this perception. Only to name a few, in 2014 a mainland couple allowed their child to urinate on a street in Hong Kong; one year earlier, a mainland Chinese mother let her child defecate in a public area at Taiwan’s Kaohsiung Airport. Besides such incidents, mainlanders are often accused of behaving badly in other circumstances, too; for instance, they speak loudly, don’t line up, obstruct pedestrian traffic, etc.
   
In the present article we will try to show that the anti-mainland rhetoric based on mainlanders’ backwardness has a long history. A Taste of Freedom, the autobiography of Taiwan independence leader Peng Mingmin, is perhaps the first example of a consciously constructed anti-mainland rhetoric based on the contrast between civilized Taiwanese and uncivilized Chinese.
 
As we explained in a previous article, Peng Mingmin (born in 1923) belonged to Taiwan’s elite during Japanese colonial rule (1895-1945). He believed that the Japanese administration had brought modernity, economic development and efficiency to Taiwan. Long before Taiwan was returned to Chinese rule in 1945, Peng Mingmin and his parents travelled to Republican China. Looking back at his journey, Peng Mingmin described China as a backward, underdeveloped country that lagged behind Taiwan: 

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The Origins of Taiwanese Identity

The current discussion about Taiwanese identity is very much influenced by the ideological and political battle between those who think that the Taiwanese people constitute a separate nation, and those who think that the Taiwanese are simply a subgroup of the larger Chinese nation. Between 1945 and the end of the 1980s, when Taiwanese national identity was repressed by the official pan-Chinese ideology of the Guomindang regime, the only point of view that could be publicly expressed on Taiwan was that Taiwan was a province of the Republic of China (ROC) and the ROC was the only legitimate government of China. After the end of the Martial Law era, Taiwanese who believed in independence from China began to shape public discourse. 
 
It is important to note that collective identity – and the case of Taiwan is no exception – is seldom coherent and homogeneous. Identity is a combination of different elements. A person can have a class identity, a religious identity, different local identities (city, region etc.), national and cosmopolitan identity etc., and all these layers can – and usually do – coexist. For example, a person who was born in Berlin can be a Berliner, an East or West German, a German, and a European, and if he is an immigrant, another layer might be added. These different elements do not exclude each other (as nationalist ideologies often assume), but just make up the complexity of individual identity.
Let us now examine the emergence of Taiwanese identity during and after the Japanese colonial period.  

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The China-Taiwan Issue and the American Civil War

On November 6, 1860, the 19th presidential election of the United States of America was held. Abraham Lincoln, a relatively unknown politician born into a poor family, received 1,866,452 of the votes; although his three opponents combined received more votes (2,815,617), Lincoln won and became the 16th President of the United States (J. G. Randall / David Donald: The Civil War and Reconstruction, 1961, p. 133).
For the slave states of the South, Lincoln’s election was an insult. The new President was opposed to slavery. A large part of the white citizens of the South considered slave ownership as one of the fundamental rights guaranteed in the Constitution. They not only considered the black population inferior to themselves and by nature servile, but their entire economic structure and way of life depended on slave labour.
On November 13 the legislature of South Carolina under Governor William Henry Gist called a convention that would decide on the future of the State. Popular sentiment was by that time in favour of secession. On December 20 the South Carolina Convention passed by a unanimous vote of 169 an ordinance declaring that “the union now subsisting between South Carolina and other States, under the name of the ‘United States of America’, is hereby dissolved” (ibid., pp. 135-136). Within a few months, six more Southern States seceded from the Union: Florida, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana and Texas.
On February 4, 1861, delegates from these states met at Montgomery, Alabama, where they promulgated their own Constitution. This was the founding act of the Confederate States of America. Jefferson Davis of Mississippi and Alexander Stephens of Georgia were elected President and Vice-President respectively.

 

The evolution of the Confederacy (source: Wikipedia)

 

Davis believed – as most Southern Confederates did – that they were faithful to the principles of their forefathers who had fought against British rule and had established an independent state. In his Inaugural Address he stated:

The right solemnly proclaimed at the birth of the States, and which has been affirmed and reaffirmed in the bills of rights of the States subsequently admitted to the Union of 1789, undeniably recognizes in the people the power to resume the authority delegated for the purposes of government. Thus the sovereign States here represented, proceeded to form this confederacy … (quoted in: Hugh Tulloch: The Routledge Companion to the American Civil War Era, 2006, p. 91). 

Vice-President Stephens was clearer about the true motive behind secession: the issue of slavery. The Southern states were primarily slave rural economies, and they resisted attempts by the Northern industrial states to limit slavery. In his Address on the Confederate Constitution of March 21, 1861, Stephens said:

The new Constitution has put  at rest forever all the agitating questions relating to our peculiar institutions – African slavery as it exists among us – the proper status of the negro in our form of civilization. This was the immediate cause of the late rupture and present revolution … [Our new Government’s] foundations are laid, its cornerstone rests upon the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery, subordination to the superior race, is his natural and moral condition. This, our new Government, is the first, in the history of the world, based upon this great physical, philosophical and moral truth (ibid., p. 93; my emphasis).

Flag of the Confederate States of America

Lincoln, however, was an unswerving opponent of secession. He wanted to preserve the Union, by peaceful means, if possible, or by war, if the Southern states ‘rebelled’ against the central government. In his own Inaugural Address in March 1861, Lincoln declared:

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Taiwanese Reporter Barred From Attending ICAO Due To Pressure From China

According to media reports a Taiwanese journalist has been denied entry into the headquarters of the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) in the Canadian city of Montreal. The ICAO is a specialised agency of the United Nations and its 39th Assembly will take place between September 27 and October 7.

On September 25 a reporter of Taiwan-based United Daily News (UDN) went to register for media accreditation at the ICAO building. After security checks had been completed, a staff member asked for his passport. According to the UDN website, the journalist was informed that he “could not enter the ICAO building with this passport”.

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The 1992 Consensus and China-Taiwan Relations

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Meeting between Ma Ying-jeou and Xi Jinping in November 2015 (source: Voice of America [Public Domain] via Wikimedia Commons)

From 2008 to 2016 Taiwan’s Guomindang administration and China’s Communist Party sought to deepen cross-strait dialogue and improve relations between the two sides. The meeting between Zhang Zhijun, the chief of China’s Taiwan Affairs Office (TAO), and Wang Yuqi, the chief of Taiwan’s Mainland Affairs Council (MAC), as well as Zhang Zhijun’s visit to Taiwan in 2014, showed that the two parties were committed to taking cross-strait relations to a new level. Ma Ying-jeou, the chairman of the Guomindang, repeatedly defended the so-called “1992 Consensus” as the basis for dialogue between Taipei and Beijing. PRC’s state-run news outlet China Daily echoed this view in a 2012 article, arguing that “the 1992 Consensus will be the proven foundation for future peaceful cross-Straits relations“. But the rapprochement between the Guomindang and the Communist Party, which culminated in the historic handshake between Ma Ying-jeou and Xi Jinping in 2015 (see picture above), alienated a large number of Taiwanese voters. They feared closer ties with the Communist giant, which still threatens to invade Taiwan and annex it if no other options for unification were left. In 2016 the Taiwanese electorate punished the Guomindang, gaving a broad popular mandate to the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), thus putting an end to reconciliation as based on the 1992 consensus. 

But what is exactly the 1992 consensus and what does it mean for the development of China-Taiwan relations?

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