Taiwan expert Jon Sullivan with an excellent piece on the DPP, Taiwan identity, social class issues, and politics at The National Interest. He scribes:
Notwithstanding underlying trends in public opinion, a spate of recent academic publications suggests that this may indeed be happening. They suggest that a new economic cleavage based on class has not just mitigated national identity, but has replaced it. Because of the unusual equality of growth during Taiwan’s “economic miracle,” combined with the dominance of national identity during the democratization process, class has not been particularly salient in Taiwan. But since the global financial crisis, exacerbated by ECFA, Taiwan has seen the emergence of inequalities that it hasn’t witnessed in generations. The reality for many Taiwanese is stagnant or declining wages, unaffordable houses, unemployment, poor social mobility and feelings of relative deprivation and economic insecurity. Reflecting on these developments, Tsinghua University scholar Zheng Zhenqing says that “under the influence of the global financial crisis, a new axis of class politics has emerged.” Wu Yushan at Taiwan’s Academia Sinica agrees that “class politics based on wealth gap has become new driving force of party politics [. . .] the dominant social cleavage [has shifted] away from identity towards distribution.” Qi Dongtao at the National University of Singapore similarly argues that class divisions and class awareness have increased dramatically since ECFA. When the global financial crisis decimated Taiwanese exports, President Ma and the KMT promoted growth by opening up to the Chinese economy via the vehicle of ECFA.This is a really excellent piece. But there's a connection missing. The Taiwanese identity is still driving politics, and the emerging class politics we see in Taiwan is just the other side of the Taiwanese identity coin: it was always driven in part by economic injustice. Taiwanese have always resented how the mainlander-run political order extracted the surpluses they generated and handed them out among the mainlander population, most of whom were left out of the economic miracle since they lacked the kind of sophisticated production and financial skills and resources that the Taiwanese possessed. This economic cleavage produced two privileged classes: mainlander bureaucrats and soldiers who lived on the surplus produced by the Taiwanese, and the extremely wealthy capitalist class which had intimate connections to the top of the KMT and exploited those connections to make money off upstream industrial development (like plastics), finance, and land development. The Taiwanese identity is in large part a response to the colonial processes that underlie KMT control of Taiwan's economic flows.
Thus, the economic justice issue is a Taiwan identity issue, one bleeds into the other. The driver of both is of course China. Taiwan expert Ketty Chen observed this in her extensive and excellent piece on the SOAS conference this summer:
Lastly, the SOAS conference also brought to the forefront an issue that cannot be ignored – the influence of China, as the China factor was one of the reasons for the student occupation of the Legislative Yuan and the Sunflower Movement. Moreover, the movement against media monopoly, the demolition of Mainlander communities in Taipei, land expropriation in Miaoli County and elsewhere in Taiwan, all in the name of progress, development and investment, all bear the influence of China.Sullivan knows this, of course; few understand Taiwan politics better than he does. That is probably why he confidently expects the Taiwan identity to become a huge driver of politics in the future -- especially as the current young generation matures (talking about my generational issues). But he could hardly talk about economic justice in the relatively conservative National Interest.
Meanwhile over at Sullivan's wonderful China Policy Institute blog, J Michael Cole has a piece arguing that it is Time to Bring the Orphan In From the Cold:
Although Washington might operate under the assumption that limiting the DPP’s room to maneuver—or killing its chances of being re-elected—is to the U.S.’ advantage, such a strategy is terribly short sighted. Independence, the “status quo,” and anything short of “one China,” is a trump card not only for the DPP, but also for the many KMT voters who would never agree to seeing their country absorbed by authoritarian China. Pan-blue voters might not be as vocal as their “green” counterparts on the subject, but that notion is very clear in their minds (less than 10 percent of blue voters support unification). The last thing Washington wants to do, therefore, is to deny those voters that safe zone. In fact, knowing what we know about the composition of the Sunflower Movement, it is clear that any move by the U.S. to constrain the choices of the Taiwanese (e.g., freezing the DPP’s independence clause) would only fuel anti-American sentiment on the island, which certainly isn’t to Washington’s advantage. The more the U.S. forces Taiwanese in a direction that they don’t want to go, the greater the risks of instability on the island. Repeats of the Sunflower occupation, which will certainly occur if the government makes any concessions on Taiwan’s sovereignty, can only further weaken Taiwanese society and invite Chinese intervention (on this aspect, recent developments in Crimea should dispel any notion that authoritarian governments such as those in Moscow or Beijing will be deterred by fears of retaliation or sanctions when acting within what they regard as their immediate neighborhood). Washington officials should realize that a strong, confident, and united Taiwan, one that doesn’t feel isolated or forced to make choices it would rather not make is in the U.S.’ interest.Cole is largely right, but I would go further to contend that letting the KMT run Taiwan is against US interests, because the KMT is a pro-China party and because it will be less likely to cooperate with the US when China finally moves on the Senkakus or something big in the South China Sea. This is evident in how the Ma Administration constantly moves to irritate Washington (here and here, but especially here and here), to contravene its policies and stir up trouble with Japan. Anyone seriously think a DPP president will call in the Japanese ambassador to upbraid him about the Senkakus?
The other point that I constantly make is that the everywhere else around the periphery of China, the US is taking steps in concert with local governments to resist Chinese expansionism. But with Taiwan the US is encouraging Chinese expansionism. How's that again? Does the US really want to give up 23 million people, an army and an air force, and a forward position with a fellow democracy, and then fight a war with China over the uninhabited Senkakus or Spratlys? The truth is that Taiwan is an asset that US thinkers can't seem to imagine how to use.
- Drew's great post on his ride in the Never Stop race to Wuling.
- Cole on the pro-China agitation in front of Taipei 101
- The always useful Ketagalen Media on the formation of a splinter group off the student movement
- ROC Admiral says China 30 years behind the US
- The Ministry of Audit says ECFA is a failure. Commercial Times notes that Chinese data says China's imports from Taiwan are declining but still argues that the services pact should be approved.
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