Thursday, August 04, 2016

Understanding Tsai's Apology to Aborigines as a Pro-independence move

A vegetable seller breaks for a chat at a local temple.

One of the sharpest observers of Taiwan and its aborigines I know articulated a key issue with Tsai's apology in a comment on the post below this one about the apology:
The real key issue is that Tsai's apology shifts the official view of Taiwan from the primordialist standpoint of Chinese sovereignty as outlined in the two Chinese nationalist programs (ROC and PRC, to one of coloniality, and therein robbing the ROC and PRC of their territorial claims, which seek sovereignty in the integration of a Han racial nation. Tsai has effectively moved the goalposts and repositioned Taiwan outside of the Chinese nationalist paradigm.
KMT Chairman Hung, who understood this intuitively, attacked the apology:
Hung questioned whether or not Tsai was making use of aboriginal perspective of history to eliminate Han Chinese People’s perspective of history, or even engaging in desinicization to create a new perspective of history. “It is inevitable that people will question the DPP’s real motives,” added Hung.
Remember, in the KMT political lexicon, desinicization is a code term for removing markers of KMT colonialism in Taiwan -- which is exactly what Tsai was doing.

In the discourse of Chinese expansionism, which seeks to expand China out to the old Qing borders, the Qing (and other governments of China) were not imperialists or colonialists, but were Chinese and their lands China. Hence, the current wave of expansion is "rectification of the borders" and the variegated peoples in China are Chinese.

That means that in the Chinese expansionist view, Taiwan can never be a colonial holding, but is China, and colonialism cannot occur there, just as Tibet and Mongolia and Xinjiang can never be the objects of Han/Chinese imperialism, and the peoples of China are not peoples subjugated and assimilated by the dominant Han majority via the familiar processes of ethnic chauvinism and colonial expansion, but non-Han minorities who just happen to live in China (and whaddya know, how'd they get there?).

Tsai's apology drove a truck through this formula by acknowledging that the Han project in Taiwan is a colonial project. If it is a colonial project, then Taiwan is not a part of China, but a colony separate and different from it, where Han people do not belong, but have entered from the outside. Tsai implicitly recognized some kind of aboriginal claim to Taiwan. She also identified the aborigines as specific and diverse groups some of which she named, against China's presentation of all aboriginal groups as a single minority "mountain people", a minority that just happens to live in China (and whaddya know, how'd they get there? Because they weren't colonized or anything). Further, by presenting the apology as a form of transitional justice, she also aligned it with the movement for transitional justice in Taiwan against KMT colonial power, and with the Taiwan identity that is slowly obliterating the "ethnic" differences long exploited by the KMT. A shrewd political move.

The apology also recognizes that there can be no transitional justice without transitional justice for the aborigines. Otherwise transitional justice would be little more than a negotiation between privileged Han groups...

MEDIA: A sharp new PHD alerted me to the fact that AP caught some of this as well:
Tsai was elected by a landslide in January elections that have thrown a shadow over the island's relations with China, which claims Taiwan as a part of its territory from ancient times. Her view of Taiwan as a colonial society clashes with Beijing's claim that the island has always been an inherent part of China, which must eventually be reunited with the mainland, by force if necessary.
Kudos to whoever wrote that.

UPDATED: The Granite Studio takes note.
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Tim Maddog said...

Michael, you praised:
- - -
Kudos to whoever wrote that.
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Indeed. Except for the "reunited with the mainland" part, of course.

Tim Maddog

P. S. said...

Excellent analysis. Paves the way for future claims on islands (SCS, etc) as also having been occupied by indigenous peoples of Taiwan origin.

Anonymous said...

TIW personally speaking to protesters is a good example of why she'll never be as unpopular as Ma. She's at least willing to listen to the public when it's angry and make overtures to those that oppose her policies. Ma's insistence on staying the course and essentially blaming his unpopularity on the public being too stupid to understand his policies was stunning and prevented him from ever coming back from his nadir.

Anonymous said...

Tsai's recent comments during private meeting with people who oppose the nominations for judicial yuan are raising doubt about her. She said "Didn't most people decide to follow order during authoritarian period" in defense of judicial yuan nominee. This comments pissed off the participants so much that they went to the press to air their anger.

Tsai had angered the core green camp opinion leaders on the very sensitive issue regarding justice for the past government wrong doing. If this is a "blue" camp president,he/she might have more room to maneuver. Tsai dose not have this luxury.

In one sentence, she had belittled the past sacrifice of many people. More incident like this will doom her presidency.

Alex Feldstein said...

That is an interesting comment, fascinating to an outsider. I can see the move with a different understanding now. Thanks for posting!