Tuesday, October 28, 2008


Some good stuff out there on the opinion pages recently....

Taiwan News has a great editorial in the wake of the giant march on Saturday.

Besides ignoring Tsai's pointed question about whether the KMT government or party has entered into a secret agreement with the PRC and rejecting the possibility of a "debate" on the sovereignty question, Presidential spokesman Wang Yu-chi stated yesterday that "cross-strait policy was a major focus of the debates in the presidential election campaign" and claimed that "the people made a clear decision on the cross-strait problem on voting day March 22."

Unfortunately, the presidential spokesman, and possibly Ma himself, suffer from confusion as to what the majority of voters actually decided when they elected Ma as the "president" of the "Republic of China." It is essential to note that an electoral mandate does not give a president of a democratic state a blank check to do whatever he and his party desire but merely authorizes them to implement their campaign commitments within the bounds of the government's powers in the Constitution and its explicit and implicit principles.


What is decisive in the ROC Constitution and the regular democratic elections implemented under its framework is the sovereignty of a political community of 23 million people, not a territorial myth. If the political community formed by the 23 million people on Taiwan, Penghu, Kinmen and Matsu do not constitute a democratic independent state, just who elected Ma "president" and of what? The majority of Taiwan voters did make a "clear choice"' to authorize Ma and a KMT government, in cooperation with the national legislature, to implement his "633" economic program for six percent growth, to improve cross-strait relations with the PRC and provide "clean and competent governance" and to fulfill his own public vow to respect the principle that "Taiwan's future must be decided by the Taiwan people alone."

However, Ma, the KMT government and party or the Legislative Yuan did not thereby receive authorization to unilaterally change the nature of Taiwan's sovereignty or the boundaries of the "actually existing" ROC constitutional order or body politic in the course of implementing these policies without receiving explicit consent from the people.

Indeed, there is "reasonable suspicion" that Ma and his government have wilfully transgressed the bounds of their mandate by concessions or even negations of Taiwan's sovereignty through unilateral actions such as agreeing to Beijing's "one China principle" contained in the so-called and mythical "Consensus of 1992," and agreeing to consider Taiwan merely an "area" and not a "state."

KMT officials have claimed that sovereignty is an empty question, but as the Taiwan News notes, it is a central question. Ma was not elected to give Taiwan to China -- indeed, in his election, he repeatedly promised not to do that. In other words, the fact that Ma had to promise not to sell out Taiwan in order to be elected is proof positive that he has no mandate to do so. Voters were very clear -- they were voting against Chen Shui-bian, and for Ma's promises of economic advancement.

Also on tap is another good commentary from J Michael Cole in the Taipei Times today, in which Cole argues that Taiwan's youth need to take to the barricades...

So what’s going on with Taiwan? Why does it not fit the model of violent youth and peaceful, or at least milder, elderly? Why are pictures of political demonstrations filled with old people who should probably be watching the rallies from the comfort of their home, while young people are conspicuous by their absence?

The reason is well beyond Taiwan’s alarmingly low birth rate or aging population. Rather, it is a direct consequence of Taiwanese youth being altogether — and dangerously — apolitical. Part of the problem lies in the fact that they were born around the time Taiwan was undergoing its “economic miracle,” which in a matter of a decade or two propelled the developing country into a regional powerhouse. As a result, a majority of Taiwanese youth today, the so-called “strawberry generation” born between 1981 and 1991, never knew hardship or hard physical labor.


At a political level, Taiwanese youths’ ostensible indifference to matters of sovereignty sends a dangerous signal to Beijing, which is that Taiwanese are unwilling to fight for their identity as a people, or for the survival of the democracy that came at the price of blood and tears in their parents’ and grandparents’ time. A nation that fails to light a “fire in the belly” of its richest resource — its youth — and that is unable to appeal to a sense of nationalism to inspire the level of aggressiveness and violence that are required to defend it is strongly handicapped in the game of survival the Chinese Community Party is engaged in, especially on the question of Taiwan. In fact, without an active youth with a modicum of anger and aggressiveness in their heart, Taiwan represents an attractive target for bullying by China, one that, in its eyes, is ripe for capitulation.

This aggressiveness need not translate into acts of “violence” against the likes of Zhang, however undesirable his presence in Taiwan may have been. Channeled properly, it can inflame the imagination and compel a nation’s youth to be steadfast, creative and thunderous in the defense of their ideals. Only when Taiwan’s youth has awakened will Beijing listen and think twice before it tries something foolish.

The lack of political fire among the young here is astounding to me. In fact the only violence I have ever met from them is violent rejection of the idea that they should be involved in politics.


cfimages said...

I think the violent youth article is quite weak and makes a few spurious claims.

Firstly, a lack of violence should always be seen as being a good thing. I am very impressed by the restraint shown by the young people here, especially as I've had a fair bit of experience with social and political activism in Australia, where planning meetings often come down to debates/arguments between those that advocate violence and those that oppose it, even when the goal is the same.

Statements such as At a political level, Taiwanese youths’ ostensible indifference to matters of sovereignty sends a dangerous signal to Beijing seem, based on my experience, to be flat out wrong. Whether they're green or blue leaning, none of the young Taiwanese that I've talked to have seen themselves as anything other than Taiwanese. The pro-blue youth I know have been just as critical of China as the pro-green.

The youth are fairly apathetic here, that is true, but the average under-30 in the west is fairly apolitical as well. As one example, when we were trying (successfully) to stop a uranium mine being developed in a national park in Aust a decade ago, opinion polls regularly showed 70% or so of people were opposed to the mine (higher amongst the youth), yet we would only get 5-10K turning up to rallies (in a city of 3million).

StefanMuc said...

Can't really agree with the Taiwan News there. Maybe it would be nice if campaign promises would form some kind of contract which the elected representative were bound to, but I doubt that's codified in the constitution of Taiwan. In a representative democracy you hand power to someone who you believe to be suitable for the job. After that they have the power, and exercise it within the bounds of the constitution.

It's really the job of the voters to find out if the candidates can be trusted. if they hand control of parliament and government to the same party, to the extent that there is no effective opposition possible ... well they better have an extremely high level of trust for that party.

How anyone could put that level of trust in the KMT is a mystery to me, however. It seems important to me that voters realize: this is what you authorized, how you vote has a direct effect on your life, you bear part of the responsibility for the way this turns out.

Anonymous said...

Two very insightful articles, indeed! The second regarding the lack of political passion among young people in Taiwan is tremandously alarming, but accurate. The analysis on the "strawberry generation" is dead-on! Unfortunately, they are the prototypical result of "hyper" consumerism and materialism. I've always felt that Chiang Kai Shiek and his KMT successors rushed capitalism and consumerism into Taiwan for their own personal benefits, without fostering any real sense of democracy that is supposed to accompany the concept of free markets. Consequently, what's left from the Chiang legacy is this "strawberry generation." They are willing to forgo anything, including national identity and social justice, just to ensure their bourgeois lifestyle. Perhaps I'm being too harsh, as all this might just be part of a natural cycle, with the new generation trying to balance the equation by fleeing toward the other extreme. Just look at the dramatic changes in political activism in America from the 60s to the 80s. Remember how different Alex P. Keaton, America's most lovable young Reaganite on TV, was from his poor, liberal hippie parents on "Family Ties?" Hopefully what follows the "strawberry generation" will be a revival of national pride. I fear though that Taiwan may not be able to wait that long...(thanks to chairman Ma!)

Dixteel said...

The 2nd article is right on. I noticed it before but didn't really pay attention to it. Now I think of it, it is indeed unusual, comparing to other democratic nations like South Korea and the US. Especially now when there are so many dire issues Taiwan has to face, you wonder why the young people don't have any fire and don't pay much attentions to politics.

But one thing I noticed that contradicts this observation is during election, although most young people don't pay much attention to the political issues, some of them have extreme hates for ex-President Chen and perhaps DPP in general. What I noticed is that their understanding of the political/economic issues are quite limited, yet they have a strong discontent against Chen's government. And the funny thing is a lot of what they say is the exact same thing you hear from pro-KMT media. Some of them don't seem to have a clue as to what the focus of issues Taiwan faces. I think I have several reasons/explanation of this phenomonon:
1. The strawberry generation (my generation) grow up in a time when DPP are using aggressive protests on the street and in Legislator. In my opinion it's probably necessary and they might have saved Taiwan doing so (although there are also bad side effects). However, to most young children, DPP just looks bad on television. And the media and school makes them look worse of course. So now a lot of them see DPP with a bad impression from childhood.
2. The corruption charges against Chen, made by the media and justice systems, whether they are valid or invalid, give young people further bad impressions of DPP.
3. Natural cycle. The strawberry generation generally have their most challenging and turbulent time of their life during Chen's administration. They have to study their ass off, they have to learn to deal with people, they have to find jobs, they might loss their boyfriend/girlfriend etc, during Chen's 8 years. It's human nature to blame others when something doesn't go well, especially when everyone else is doing the blaming game as well.
4. Pop culture icons. Those singers, comedians and actors the young people saw on TV everyday don't have clear political stances on serious issues neither. Some of them are even quite pro-KMT and pro-China...whether it's due to money, general environment in entertainment industry or their personal preference, I don't know. But in any case, they further contribute to the youth's political view.

All of these contributed to the youth's anger against DPP I think. And perhaps that's what happened...their fire and energy were directed against DPP instead of the real and serious issues Taiwan faces. And maybe that's why now they are quite...perhaps they realize they made a mistake supporting Ma, or maybe they still support Ma but they don't have any fire anymore because Ma failed his promises and so far did quite a crappy job.

But there are still a lot of hope on the young people. Survey shows majority of them think themselves Taiwanese, no Chinese, which means their national identiy is quite solid, perhaps even more than older generations. And I noticed more and more young people are joining into the political discussions. So it's good.

Perhaps it's not too bad a thing that Taiwan's youth is cooler than youth in other countries...too much heat from youth can lead to disasters...look at China in 1960s and Iran in 1980s. But indeed I hope Taiwan's youth can show more energy and contribute their talents to Taiwan's cause.

J. Michael Cole 寇謐將 said...


I fully agree that lack of violence is a good thing. But conversely, this doesn’t mean that apathy is necessarily better. Your statement that “Whether they’re green or blue leaning, none of the young Taiwanese that I’ve talked to have seen themselves as anything other than Taiwanese. The pro-blue youth I know have been just as critical of China as the pro-green” — which I find encouraging, by the way — nevertheless confuses one’s political persuasion (“green,” “blue”) or identification as “Taiwanese,” with political activism.

In other words, it is one thing to criticize China, or see oneself as Taiwanese, and quite another to actually do something to fix a problem — and that is where I sense apathy.

As I believe you are based in Kaohsiung, maybe our experiences with young Taiwanese differ. Up in the cozy north, I have long been struck by how uncaring youth seemed to be, as if the nation’s future was “neither here nor there” as long as they can keep on going to KTV, buy video games, get an education and land a decent job. As I write in my article, all these things are laudable and, I agree with you, much more desirable than violence (or “aggressiveness,” which might be a better term) — were it not for one thing: China’s threat of invasion.

Which brings me to my second point, about your comparison of the situation in Taiwan with opposition to the uranium mine in Australia. While, as you write, 70 percent opposed the project, but only 5,000 to 10,000 people turned up at a rally, would appear to dovetail with figures in Taiwan (in other words, prove that youth elsewhere also cannot be mobilized), the main — and crucial — difference is that the issues are altogether different. In no way did the uranium project represent an existential threat to Australia, however nefarious the mine might have been. In Taiwan’s case, it is no less than a nation’s identity, its freedom and international space — not to mention 23 million lives, should it come to war — that are at stake.

The implications of this lack of passion, if you will, are that until Taiwan manages to put together a volunteer military (and we’re years away from that, despite Ma Ying-jeou’s promises), the successful defense of Taiwan will hinge on the level of motivation and dedication of its young soldiers, both active and the about 1,657,000 who went through compulsory service. Having talked with young Taiwanese who have just completed their obligatory service, I am dismayed by the lack of rigor in training (aside from the first two weeks in boot camp) and how many rejoice in not having had to do hard work, at getting days off every week or a long break in the afternoon to go shopping. If young Taiwanese were serious about defending their country, wouldn’t they be asking why, after completing their training, they still can’t use a weapon effectively? Wouldn’t more of them choose the military as a career (granted, pay and conditions will have to improve dramatically for the military to be seen as an attractive career choice)?

Anyway, just some thoughts in response to your comments — which I appreciate, as they forced me to revisit some of my points and assumptions.

Anonymous said...

The assertion that Taiwanese youth are politically ignorant, as expressed by J. Michael Cole and you, is the same tired old condescending attitude long held by TI fundamentalists, especially foreign ones. Special interest groups like FAPA and the Formosa Foundation have for years sent young Americans to Taiwan to “educate” (i.e. brainwash) Taiwanese youth about their own politics. Of course, the notion that a young American knows Taiwanese history, culture, and politics better than a native Taiwanese, is as patently absurd as it is patronizing.

The fact is that Taiwanese youth are very knowledgeable and aware of their own self interests; just because they don’t agree with the viewpoint of TI fundamentalists and their foreign allies does not make them ignorant or apathetic.

skiingkow said...

I can understand the youth in my country (Canada) being apathetic -- we need electoral reform here badly so that there is more representation by population.

However, I find it really hard to fathom how the youth in Taiwan are so blase about the political situation in their country. You don't have to be overly patriotic (like in the U.S.)to appreciate and stand for freedom, democracy and independence. And you don't have to be a political junky to understand that the PandaMa government is sacrificing all 3 of these things.

Maybe there has to be a watershed moment for these young people. Maybe, just maybe, the events that transpire over the next week (with Chen coming to town) will wake these zombies up.

Sometimes you don't appreciate something until you miss it, though. I hope that won't be the case in Taiwan.

Anonymous said...

The lack of fire in the youth seems attributable to the lack of clarity from their elders. On one hand they're told they're Chinese. On another hand they're told their Taiwanese. And I suspect there is yet another hand telling them they are "global citizens".

In such an environment, why should they care about "sovereignty". That's soooo 20th century.

Anonymous said...

I don’t see anything astounding about young people’s lack of political fire here. Reasons:

1.Chen’s inept administration (mediocre-to-fair on the economy, mediocre on Taiwanese identity, good on making the military an organ of state not party, poor on just about everything else) persuaded them that “change” is not change. Young people were involved to a degree in 2000 and well may have stayed involved if Chen’s regime had not turned them off – had not basically left them feeling like suckers who were mostly just used for electioneering purposes.

2.The overall hollowness of the Taiwanese identity vs. Chinese identity issues that drive “politics” here. The former is too poorly and too infrequently framed in inspiring ways by green elders; elders do horrible job of persuasively limning “Taiwanese identity’s” connection with universal principles. Worse, they have instead grounded the identity so much in a past-based victim mentality – hardly the sort of approach that would inspire young people, who are philosophically and hormonally forward-looking.

3.To their credit, young people are looking for personal identity first, something the education system and the “harmony value” militate against from the time they enter school. This search/quest/whatever is a necessary precursor to intelligent and independent (non-puppet) involvement in politics. So, arguably, it’s a good thing young people are not involved – a good thing that they are focused on this first thing first.

4.The whole education system is still geared to inculcating “harmony,” obedience, don’t-go-first-ism (under the guise of “politeness”), “don’t think too much,” and win-lose competition. Difficult for young politicized firebrands to emerge from this kind of matrix. And kids are carted from one cram school to another after school to make sure they don’t get in the habit of thinking too much or very deeply for themselves -- to make sure that the programming sticks. The great irony is that “green” parents engage in this sabotage of youth potential as much or even more than “blue” parents do.

Nearly all levers for positive change here have their business end in the education system. No one is grabbing the lever-ends and applying any real muscle. Though Cole made some good points in yesterday's piece, I'd say he failed to include the most important ones.

Michael Turton said...

The fact is that Taiwanese youth are very knowledgeable and aware of their own self interests; just because they don’t agree with the viewpoint of TI fundamentalists and their foreign allies does not make them ignorant or apathetic.

LOL. I've been teaching adults in the 18-30 group for about a decade. Few appear to show any interest in politics; they do not write letters, phone, or email their representatives, they do not participate in marches (for either party), they do not donate, they do not form interest or pressure groups, and they don't follow politics or public policy debates. In fact I have encountered violent, raised voice objections to participation in politics from many young people here.

Of course J Michael and I hope that Taiwan's youth wake up in such a way that it will support out politics. But I, at least, do not see them waking up in great numbers to any politics at all. Despite the obvious presence of a small group of young people who do participate in politics and are knowledgeable.

And clearly, anon, if they are not pursuing public policy debates and attempting to influence their course, then they are not aware of their own self-interests.

As for your cracks about TI fundamentalists, they are ridiculous. The youth may not be participating, but clearly the five year olds are busy commenting here.


Michael Turton said...


Whether they're green or blue leaning, none of the young Taiwanese that I've talked to have seen themselves as anything other than Taiwanese.

Quite true. But my view is that that "Taiwanese identity" does not embrace the idea of political activity in its support; all hold that identity, but few advocate for it. Indeed, that identity seems to make them comfortable with almost any other political view, even contradictory ones.

Sure, youth are apathetic everywhere, but most countries do not face Taiwan's situation.


Anonymous said...

Maybe 'the youth' are all just too damn tired, after spending 12 or more hours a day studying.

Carlos said...

My mom is from Kaohsiung, and I grew up in the US.

I started getting into political theory in high school (not Taiwanese politics) and my mom would tell me "You should stay away from all of that, it's dangerous." I didn't. In 1999, when I was 17, my mom first told me about 2-28, the White Terror, the DPP... and as strongly as she seemed to feel about those things, she said it all in a quiet voice and told me not to talk about it around company. In college I joined a pro-independence Taiwanese student group and she was genuinely scared that agents were still watching over those groups.

It can't possibly be easy for kinds in Taiwan to grow up with an interest in politics, not in that atmosphere. The way I see it, it's not their fault... the White Terror simply worked very well.

cfimages said...

Mike in Taipei - thanks for the response. Some food for thought for me. A couple of quick points while I have time.

I was trying to demonstrate that the youth in the west, often looked upon as being more aware and involved, are not necessarily any more active. It's still pretty much a minority there, it's just more organised and vocal. I'm always eager to see more awareness and political activity amongst the young (or any age group). Taiwan probably needs a 1960s-style hippie movement.

The uranium mine I mentioned would have been in a world heritage listed national park that is also a sacred site for the local Mirrar Aboriginal people. While it's not a threat to Aust, it does go into indigenous rights which is similar (albeit on a much smaller scale).

MT - Sure, they don't get that involved but they all see China as the enemy. I believe that if they thought that China were likely to attack (militarily), they'd be much more active - although based on what I've heard about the quality of military training, they may not be any good.

Michael Turton said...

BTW, great seeing you the other, day, Craig.


Anonymous said...

"The fact is that Taiwanese youth are very knowledgeable and aware of their own self interests; just because they don’t agree with the viewpoint of TI fundamentalists and their foreign allies does not make them ignorant or apathetic."

I too found this quote laughable. Just because you've got a small loud minority of Taiwanese students that insist they are Chinese, and are fiercely loyal to the KMT, does not mean all of them are. I'd have to guess at least 7/10 or more of Taiwanese youth I've met are actually very anti-politics in general. Of the final 3, perhaps 2 are generally Pan Blue. Of all of those Pan Blue kids perhaps only 3/5 even know the basics of what happened in 228. The situation politically is dire as heck.