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Quo vadis, Taiwan?

This is the final version of my project “Quo vadis, Taiwan?”. I am reasonably satisfied with it, even if there of course always remain things to be done. Here is the abstract:

This paper is a study of the presidential election and the coinciding referendum on United Nations membership, held in Taiwan on 22nd March 2008. Two questions lie at the heart of the study: “What were the alternatives for voters on 22nd March?” and “In what ways were the ballot-casting on 22nd March important?”

In order to answer these questions, Taiwanese history is presented briefly, with heavy focus on recent times leading up to the election and to the referendum. To summarise, the alternatives were the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), lead by Frank Hsieh, and the Kuomintang (KMT), lead by Ma Ying-jeou. Both parties were prepared to lead Taiwan closer to China to a higher degree than the incumbent president, Chen Shui-bian, but differed in how far and how fast such a change in policy ought to be pursued.

The alternatives can also be said to be either pragmatic, focusing on economy (KMT); or ideological, focusing on Taiwan’s rights to international acknowledgement (DPP). The presidential election seems to have been more important than the referendum on United Nations membership. The referendum put two questions to the voters. The first, initiated by DPP, asked if Taiwan should apply to the United Nations under the name of Taiwan (done once before and was blocked by China). The second was initiated by KMT as a counter-manoeuvre, and asked if Taiwan should apply to the United Nations under any name (since the early 1990s, applications under the official name Republic of China have been blocked annually by China).

The referendum is deemed to have little practical effect, except to stir up agitation in Beijing and further isolate Taiwan from the international community by presenting her internationally as trying to change the status quo which is at present a safeguard for peace in the area.

Download “Quo vadis, Taiwan?” (PDF, 381KB)

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  1. Michael Turton’s avatar

    Every paragraph of this contains some pretty serious errors. First, Ma and Hsieh were not prepared to lead Taiwan closer to China than Chen. Chen had long advocated closer relations, but based on recommendations made by the KMT to Beijing shortly after he was elected, China refused to deal with Chen.

    asked if Taiwan should apply to the United Nations under any name (since the early 1990s, applications under the official name Republic of China have been blocked annually by China).

    The referendum officially said under the name ROC, Taiwan, or any other name. In fact both referenda referred to Taiwan.

    urther isolate Taiwan from the international community by presenting her internationally as trying to change the status quo which is at present a safeguard for peace in the area.

    It is Beijing, not referenda, that isolates Taiwan. The 1,400 missiles that China points at Taiwan are also a change in the status quo, but apparently people only complain about harmless referenda. In any case they had serious practical effects — Chen has redefined the Taiwan issue internationally and across the strait, constraining China’s freedom of action in many ways.

    The alternatives can also be said to be either pragmatic, focusing on economy (KMT); or ideological, focusing on Taiwan’s rights to international acknowledgement (DPP).

    This too is a total misreading. Both alternatives were pragmatic, each engaging with China in a different way. The DPP offered a way that sought to preserve the island’s industrial base and retain its capital at home. The KMT simply said let everything move. The “pragmatic vs. ideological” is a pro-KMT political framing that has nothing to do with reality. Both campaigns offered “pragmatism” but of a decidedly different nature. Note that the DPP campaign platform was the close to that of every other country surrounding China, all of which limit the effect of China’s economy on their own, knowing that openness like the KMT advocates would be industrial suicide.

    Michael

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  2. Olle Linge’s avatar

    First and foremost, thank you for taking your time to comment what I have written. Unfortunately, it seems to me like you have somewhat misunderstood my intentions here. The aim of this paper was to assess what people thought of the referendum and the election, so I am not even trying to pin down what actually happened, if that statement even has any meaning. This paper was not an argument for either side, it was an attempt to describe how the situation was portrayed by media, an analysts of opinions prior to the 22nd March elections. Naturally, there are many different versions and many opinions, yours among them. Describing these was the aim of the paper, not finding some kind of truth. Also, it seems a bit unfair to criticise an abstract of a paper without reading the paper, but of course, I do not expect people to take the time to read the paper itself. However, I do think that this is more of a misunderstanding than actual disagreement.

    For instance, many people did believe that both Hsieh and Ma wanted a closer relationship to China than did Chen. You might not think this was the case, but my goal was to describe the impressions of people in general (including people holding your opinion, of course). Treating any opinion as fact seems overly self-confident and I make no claim in this direction.

    “The referendum officially said under the name ROC, Taiwan, or any other name. In fact both referenda referred to Taiwan.”

    Yes? I am not sure what you are criticising here. As far as I understand, all the earlier attempts to join the United Nations have been applied under the name The Republic of China. Only the two most recent referenda mentioned Taiwan explicitly. Is this wrong?

    “It is Beijing, not referenda, that isolates Taiwan. The 1,400 missiles that China points at Taiwan are also a change in the status quo, but apparently people only complain about harmless referenda. In any case they had serious practical effects — Chen has redefined the Taiwan issue internationally and across the strait, constraining China’s freedom of action in many ways.”

    I am well aware of this, and again, my goal was never to make an argument for either side. Internationally, however, the referendum was being blamed. I stopped listing condemnations of the referendum after clearing the US, the European Union and Russia, but I am pretty sure the list could have been made much longer. Again, it seems to have been the official line of these countries to blame the referendum. This might be unfair or even wrong, but that has got nothing to do with my paper.

    “This too is a total misreading. Both alternatives were pragmatic, each engaging with China in a different way. The DPP offered a way that sought to preserve the island’s industrial base and retain its capital at home. The KMT simply said let everything move. The “pragmatic vs. ideological” is a pro-KMT political framing that has nothing to do with reality. Both campaigns offered “pragmatism” but of a decidedly different nature. Note that the DPP campaign platform was the close to that of every other country surrounding China, all of which limit the effect of China’s economy on their own, knowing that openness like the KMT advocates would be industrial suicide.”

    This was the conclusion I drew from the sources I have reviewed. Yet again, it was what I perceived as the opinions of the electorate, which means that it is not necessarily true. Please note that I say “can be said to”, i.e. it is a way of viewing the alternatives on 22nd March. Obviously, some people did view it that way, so I do not see any problem here. In the paper itself, I do include criticism of the economic argument for KMT (for instance that outsourcing to China is not necessarily good and might have adverse effects in the long run).

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