Monday, March 05, 2018

Unknot thy knickers: there will be no independence referendum.

It was warm, so this was necessary.

Temps to plummet on Thursday, folks. As my mother in law is wont to say, don't put the blankets away til Tombsweeping Day...

Total Taiwan moment on Thursday. Student I failed last semester comes up to me in the hallway, asking to take the same class from me again. I really hate that, but we teachers have no right to say no, but I admonish him and warn him if he displays the same lack of effort and inattention, he will fail again. Meanwhile mom comes up behind him and takes over the conversation. Turns out mom has compelled the lad to move out of the dorm for not taking his classes seriously, and moved him back home so mom can oversee him and make sure he is out the door for class every day, homework in hand. She apologized profusely for her son's behavior, a way to give him an additional tongue lashing in the guise of apologizing to me. It was horribly embarrassing, and she continually overrode my desperate efforts to end the conversation. Helicopter mom, making a landing....

Meanwhile the amazing news this week was that Taiwan Launches Campaign For Independence Referendum. No, haha, not "Taiwan". There was so much silliness because the I-word was mentioned. On Twitter a China observer commented that this should be watched because it is what a run-up to war looks like... tenshunz, you know. Several of us laughed and explained that Taiwan's referendum law specifically rules out referendums on the status of the nation, the national territory, the Constitution, and similar.

It was just another case of the strangest Taiwan-China divide of all: the difference between those who watch China, and those who watch Taiwan. The China crowd drives us nuts for numerous reasons, but outstanding among them is the habit of China people who want to comment on Taiwan stuff not bothering to ask what the answer is before writing/posting/tweeting on it. The classic moment in this difference was of course the Trump-Tsai call (take 1and 2and 3)...

Fortunately, the Hong Kong Free Press has the call:
Former Taiwanese presidents Chen Shui-bian and Lee Teng-hui have said they support a bid for an independence referendum to be held next April.

Lee said a vote would be the “most powerful weapon” to ensure the island nation is respected as a “normal country,” with a new constitution, under the official name of Taiwan.

“I attended the press conference today as a concrete action to show my support for the referendum,” Lee told pro-independence supporters on Wednesday, according to the Central News Agency.
The Taipei Times had a list:
The Island of Joy and Happiness Coalition (喜樂島聯盟), launched by Formosa TV chairman Kuo Bei-hung (郭倍宏), was joined by Lee, former president Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁), former vice president Annette Lu (呂秀蓮) and former presidential adviser Peng Ming-min (彭明敏), as well as the New Power Party, the Taiwan Solidarity Union, the Social Democratic Party and the Taiwan Radical Wings.

At a news conference in Taipei packed with hundreds of independence supporters, coalition representatives announced plans to formally launch on April 7, the anniversary of late democracy activist Deng Nan-jung’s (鄭南榕) self-immolation in 1989.
and printed their call:
“President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) has influenced many DPP lawmakers to ensure that she and the 113 legislators have a tight grip on the right to decide Taiwan’s future and the nation’s destiny,” the coalition said in a statement. “The Island of Joy and Happiness Coalition believes that [Tsai’s] methods are no different than the belief held by some Chinese that they have the right to decide Taiwan’s future and it also constitutes the severest infringement on 23.5 million Taiwanese’s right to self-determination.”
Anyone see what wasn't in the news? That explosive reaction from China? Oh yeah, it never happened. But you can be sure that the China watcher crowd will pass over that silence in... silence.

UPDATE: A friend who was there said this protest was only about protesting the referendum law that does not permit referendums on independence.
Note that (1) all the groups present are part of the third force political movement and (2) it is highly critical of President Tsai and the DPP.

Brian H over at New Bloom nailed it. This is not about China. It's about domestic politics. He scribed:
THE DECLARATION by Third Force parties, along with former presidents Chen Shui-Bian and Lee Teng-Hui and other influential figures such as former vice president Annette Lu, former DPP presidential candidate Peng Ming-min, and Formosa TV chair Kuo Bei-hung, that they intend to seek a referendum on Taiwanese independence poses a significant challenge to the DPP. Namely, with this move, the Third Force has more or less declared its intent to seize the mantle of traditional positions held by the DPP away from it.
Brian provides a detailed discussion of the internal politics of the third force (which you should read), but the key point is that despite its internal quarrels, the alternative social groups/parties presented a unified front on this issue.

My man Donovan and I predicted that this sort of thing would happen in our analysis (points 6 and 7) shortly before the 2016 election (we were hardly the only ones). Fundamentally, the DPP is a big tent party with a large pro-independence base that is very conservative, and it has close links to big businesses. As the KMT is crushed, that leaves space on the pro-Big Business right which the DPP will fill -- business groups donated more to the DPP than KMT in the run-up to the 2016 election (thus a double whammy for the KMT, on the one hand losing its assets, on the other, businesses stop donating. Hard for the party to recover).

With the gravitational pull rightward, the DPP will shift to the right, opening space to its left which someone will try to fill. That is what the third force is attempting to do. At some point, Donovan and I have long felt, the DPP will probably fracture into pro-big business and pro-society, small business groups, especially if the KMT shows no signs of recovery.

So this 'independence referendum' is pure vapor, it will never occur and is simply aimed at appealing to the DPP's pro-independence base, as Brian H observed (and also at twitting Tsai for not being militant enough). The problem for the third force is that the DPP is a conservative nationalist party not only because of its big business links but also because its base in the south is socially conservative. Moreover, everyone is already pro-independence except for a few old Deep Blues desperately clinging to the KMT...

The DPP's base understands the DPP is pro-independence even if it does grumble about the slow pace of independence. But recall that the DPP has done nothing on gay marriage, has made lots of noise about drugs, and similar. Its base, especially in the South, likes that. The third force is more progressive than the DPP base, and the DPP base knows that. Hence, this will go nowhere.

Also note that except for the NPP politicians, the big names listed in the Taipei Times piece are mostly from the previous generation of Taiwan Independence activists. For that generation Taiwan Independence was about getting rid of KMT colonial power. The current generation of under-40s in Taiwan is a post-independence generation -- Taiwaneseness, independence, and democracy are the bedrock of their social identities. Their decision on independence has been made and they are concerned with pressing environmental, social, and economic issues. Against that, holding referendums on independence amidst calls for Taiwan to assume its place in the world is actually engaging in the politics of the previous generation.

If the third force wants to poach the DPP base and appeal to the rising bloc of under-40 voters, it would be better off pushing loudly for issues involving the environment, jobs, salaries, child care, and the social safety net.... imagine if those same worthies had sat down and called for a referendum on a 30K a month minimum wage for all workers or a referendum on a moratorium on slopeland development.

Lee Teng-hui also praised Mayor Ko of Taipei last week, another way of helping politicians who are neither KMT nor DPP, but are pro-Taiwan. Ko has been the subject of much griping from DPP politicians attacking him for being pro-China, an attack that is completely absurd.
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Anonymous said...

Excellent analysis. Thanks!

Zla'od said...

Do we have to call it a "third force"? Sounds too much like York Harding.

Taiwan activists could organize a legal independence referendum. Step one: use the referendum law to amend the referendum law.

Anonymous said...

Will Trump visit Taiwan in June? Acts allow him and AIT’s new headquarters will open that month. Possibility is high.

B.BarNavi said...

What's absurd about Ko being pro-China when he has advocated for direct city-to-city links with Chinese cities, unnecessarily made the declaration that "both sides of the strait are the same family", and has confiscated pro-independence flags at the Universiade?

Michael Turton said...

What's absurd about Ko being pro-China when he has advocated for direct city-to-city links with Chinese cities, unnecessarily made the declaration that "both sides of the strait are the same family", and has confiscated pro-independence flags at the Universiade?

He is strongly pro-independence and pro-Taiwan. He is also mayor of a city that is not. There is nothing wrong with advocating city-to-city links, nothing pro- or anti-China about it. It's good diplomacy.

As for the "family" comment what term did he use? One that enabled him to talk to the PRC while distancing Taiwan.

Confiscating pro-independence flags sucks but it is meaningless.

In the meantime, he aligned himself with the DPP and accepted its support. he has always said he is green and was known to be green before he entered politics. Why he gets no points for a lifelong commitment to that, I have no idea.