Thursday, February 25, 2016

Should He Go?

A controversy over a proposal to remove portraits of Sun Yat-sen in public buildings raises important questions about national symbols and ‘founding fathers’ 

His portrait is in every public building in Taiwan, the stern look above the gray mustache signaling both vision and undoubted ruthlessness. The man is Sun Yat-sen (孫中山), the “founding father” of the Republic of China (ROC). Now legislators from the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), which for the first time in Taiwan’s history secured a majority of seats in parliament in the Jan. 16 elections, want those portraits to be removed. As expected, the plan has sparked consternation within the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT), which has described it as an attempt to “destroy” the ROC and fuel “ethnic divisions” in Taiwan. 

The proposal, initiated by DPP Legislator Gao Jyh-peng (高志鵬), wants the requirement that Sun’s portraits be installed in every public building be dropped and for Sun to no longer be referred to as the nation’s “founding father.” 

My article, published today on Thinking Taiwan, continues here (photo: Reuters).

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Taiwan Needs Unity

Winning the elections was the easy part. Now president-elect Tsai Ing-wen needs to reach across the political spectrum to build a truly unified administration 

The bluster and inevitable scorched-earthness of the Jan. 16 elections are at long last behind us. As expected, Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) has been elected president, and the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) has gained a majority in the Legislative Yuan, a first in Taiwan’s history. For all its impressiveness, the DPP’s decisive electoral successes last month were the easy part; the real work will begin on May 20, when the new administration starts governing. If it is to accomplish anything worthy of the mandate that it has been given, the Tsai administration will need to do everything it can to encourage unity — not only in its ranks but, far more importantly, across Taiwan. And that needs to start now, while Tsai puts together her future administration. 

For far too long Taiwan has been a house divided, locked in a seemingly interminable conflict pitting “greens” against “blues.” Although civil society managed in recent years to transcend that political-ethnic divide by aiming for the common denominator of civic values, if Taiwan is to move forward as a nation a similar maturing will have to occur at the institutional level. In other words, political parties and government institutions must start reflecting the desires of the society in whose name they govern and leave behind the zero-sum approach to politics that, while conferring tactical benefits, will never yield dividends strategically. 

My article, published today in Thinking Taiwan, continues here (photo by the author).

Thursday, February 04, 2016

The Unifying Themes Behind ‘Black Island’ and ‘The Convenient Illusion of Peace’

My two recent books look at the impact of civic nationalism in Taiwan, one from a domestic perspective, and the other at the strategic level 

I distinctly remember the feeling that something had shifted, that a new, undefined force had installed itself in Taiwan. It was in the air, in the glimmer of determination that showed in the young protesters’ eyes. That was the summer of 2012, following a major rally against a pro-Beijing Taiwanese billionaire’s attempt to expand his media empire. In my nascent excitement, I made the observation that youth seemed poised to change the face of politics in Taiwan. I was immediately accused of being naïve, of placing my hopes in a segment of Taiwanese society that was apathetic, materialistic, and irremediably apolitical. 

As recent history has demonstrated, my critics were wrong, though I can understand why they viewed things differently as the mood at the time was indeed pessimistic. Throughout 2013, the fabric of politics in Taiwan was transformed by the intensification of civic activism, which in early 2014 translated into the Sunflower Movement and its three-week occupation of the Legislative Yuan over a controversial services trade agreement with China. Those two intense years were the seeds of the ideological split that brought the once seemingly undefeatable Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) to its knees and ensured that President Ma Ying-jeou’s ambitions would be dashed. 

My article, published today on the China Policy Institute blog, continues here.