Taiwan's future in the balance

The Taiwan News has a great editorial today about the choices Taiwan faces in 2008. 

The year 2008 may become the most crucial year in Taiwan's history as our 23 million people will decide with their ballots whether to stay on the challenging road of democratic deepening, Taiwan-centric "well-being" economics and self-determination of the Democratic Progressive Party or take the certain path of return to quasi-authoritarianism and corruption and marginalization in the "great China" economic sphere under restored Kuomintang rule. 

The Taipei Times also had an editorial yesterday about Taiwan's economic performance in 2007.

The economy grew 5.46 percent year-on-year compared with an increase of 4.89 percent the year before, while total trade volume is likely to hit a record high of US$450 billion this year.

Despite volatile food and energy prices, the consumer price index is estimated to increase by just 1.65 percent from last year and the unemployment rate is predicted to hold steady at 3.9 percent — both more or less in keeping with government targets.

Despite the constant negativity that echoes around, Taiwan is not doing too badly. I don't think the KMT can claim that it would have done a significantly better job managing Taiwan's economy. 

However, the difference between the DPP and KMT is not in their economic policies. It is in their support for democracy and the rule of law. The KMT has been displaying its true colors of late. The KMT is brazenly seeking to undermine the democratic process in Taiwan. If they are successful it does not bode well for Taiwan's future. The Taipei Times today reports on the KMT's plan to boycott the forthcoming referendums. 

The Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) — the initiator of two referendums to be held this month and in March — resolved yesterday to boycott the two referendums — the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) and its own — that are scheduled to be held simultaneously with the legislative poll on Jan. 12.

The KMT's Central Standing Committee passed the resolution to boycott the DPP-proposed referendum on recovering assets stolen by the KMT and the KMT-proposed referendum to empower the legislature to investigate misconduct of senior government officials and their family members.

It goes beyond belief that a political party would gather the signatures for a referendum and then proceed to boycott it. In normal democracies political parties campaign for a yes or no vote in a referendum. Only in exceptional circumstances would they propose a boycott. However, the KMT is not a normal political party and as long as it continues to play a major role in Taiwanese politics Taiwan cannot be a normal democracy. Another excerpt from the Taiwan News editorial:

The past eight years offer a mountain of evidence proving that the greatest obstacle to the consolidation and deepening of democracy and to the Taiwan's progress toward economic well-being and social equity is the KMT itself.

The choice really is that stark. The two elections to be held this year will determine if Taiwan continues to develop as a democracy or goes backwards. 

Freedom at last

Freedom Square - four characters just installed on the gate of Taiwan Democracy Hall, 8 Dec 2007

I saw the characters of 大中至正 taken down from the main gate of Taiwan Democracy Hall last night. Then tonight at 6:30pm the final one of the four characters 自由廣場  meaning “Freedom Square”, was put in place. They seemed to spend a lot of time adjusting the right hand part of the 場 into position. It still looks a bit wrong to my eyes.

Expect further controversy about this issue. It has nothing to do with politics and everything to do with aesthetics. I have already heard several people criticise the choice of script. I am no expert on this, but I welcome other’s comments.

A few other bloggers have also published their opinions and photos. Alton writes about the change. Poagao also has his say. And there were plenty of comments on my post about the issue yesterday.

Four characters removed from Democracy Hall

Main gate of Taiwan Democracy Memorial Hall, 9:37pm 6 Dec 2007

9:37pm, 6 December 2007

Taiwan Democracy Memorial Main Gate, 4:52pm 7 Dec 2007

4:52pm, 7 December 2007 

Taiwan Democracy Memorial Main Gate, 5:26pm 7 Dec 2007

5:26pm, 7 December 2007

Taiwan Democracy Memorial Main Gate, 5:28pm 7 Dec 2007

5:28pm, 7 December 2007

Just before darkness fell on Taipei City this evening two workmen completed the removal of the four characters 大中至正 (dàzhōng zhìzhèng) from the main gate of National Taiwan Democracy Memorial Hall (國立臺灣民主紀念館). It was the latest step in the renaming of the Hall. Back in May the central government changed the name from Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall (中正紀念館) to Taiwan Democracy Memorial Hall. The four characters on the main gate also refer to Chiang Kai-shek. The government plans to replace them with 自由廣場 (zìyóu guǎngchǎng), which means Freedom Square.  

Lines of media satellite news vans at the main gate on Taiwan Democracy Hall on 7 Dec 2007

A crowd of a few hundred people and a huge media contigent gathered to watch the historic occassion. There was a small number protesting the change, while the vast majority were either in support or just wanting to witness the moment. There was also a large police presence and they formed a wall across the middle of the area in front of the gate. The red and blue protesters were kept on one side and the green supporters on the other.

A few other bloggers have commented on the name change. Michael Turton has written about AFP reporting on the issue. At Taiwan Matters Feiren has a post on the incident yesterday were several people were hit by a truck and one person was seriously injured. Spinning the Globe witnessed the incident. Tim Maddog also has some comments about this and other issues. 

Earlier this year I wrote about some of my ideas for transforming the space around the Hall. However, I know that many people in Taipei have a sense of attachment to the Hall. While I support the removal of the references to Chiang Kai-shek, I think more thought could have been given to the new names and there should have been some sort of process of consultation. Your comments and opinions are most welcome on this blog!

Taiwan's true Greens

logo of the Taiwan Green Party

Taiwan Green Party logo

I often feel somewhat vexed by the fact that the DPP has used the color green to represent itself and that Taiwan-centric political parties in Taiwan are referred to as the Pan-Green Coalition. While there may be no doubt about what these parties stand for in Taiwan, they in fact share little in common with international Green politics.

Green parties are usually associated with the environment movement. Actually they usually have broader based policies based on the four pillars of the Greens. These are ecology, social justice, grassroots democracy and non-violence.

While the DPP stood for many of these ideals when it was initially founded, since coming to power it has proven to be a party that serves the interests of big business and has little regard for environmental issues.

I was glad to read in the Taipei Times today that the Taiwan Green Party has announced some of its candidates for the January 2008 elections for the Legislative Yuan. The Taipei Times reports that Green Party Secretary-General Pan Han-shen (潘翰聲)

…added that the party wants to push for government funding for minority representatives and for limits on campaign spending so that "the Legislative Yuan isn't dominated by well-connected and well-funded people."

[..]

Pan said the GPT has three priorities: "To change the structure of Taiwan's economy and promote a low-carbon economy, to vote against the construction of the Suhua Freeway and to build a second forest park instead of a second dome complex on the site of the old Songshan Tobacco Factory."

While Taiwanese politics is dominated by the blue-green divide a lot of important issues don't attract the level of public debate and attention they deserve. In particular, climate change barely rates a blip on the political radar even though it is a crucial issue that will change the world enormously in the next few decades. 

While the Green Party faces an uphill battle to get representation in Taiwan's parliament it at least creates a genuine political alternative. I hope that future electoral and constitutional reforms ensure that the Greens and other minor parties can become a fixture in Taiwan's political landscape and allow a broader range of political issues to be debated. 

Carrying the torch for Taiwan

President Chen gives a speech outside the Presidential Building UN for Taiwan Day 24 Oct 2007

This morning a crowd of several thousand people turned out in front of the Presidential Building for the beginning of the UN for Taiwan torch relay. President Chen Shui-bian gave a speech talking about the importance of Taiwan entering the UN using the name Taiwan. 

President Chen and Vice-President Lu hold the torch outside the Presidential Building Taiwan for UN Day 24 Oct 2007

President Chen and Vice-President Annette Lu held up the torches and set off to mark the start of the relay. According to an article in today's Taipei Times they were to run down Ketagalan Boulevard and hand the torches on to Frank Hsieh and Su Tseng-chang. From where I was standing they just disappeared into the crowd and I never saw Hsieh or Su.

Carrying the UN for Taiwan banner down Ketagalan Boulevard in Taipei 24 oct 2007

The crowds followed the torch down Ketagalan Boulevard. The mood was happy and festive.

police bmw motorbike directing the traffic in Taipei for UN for Taiwan torch relay

Police directed the traffic.  

ROC flags fluttering outside the Legislative Yuan 24 October 2007

I snapped the ROC flags fluttering outside the Legislative Yuan. Unfortunately Taiwan is still stuck with a flag that represents the historical ROC. Taiwan really needs a new flag that represents the modern and democratic nation. For some information about what a Taiwanese flag might look like check out this page, an editorial from the Taipei Times and this Wikipedia article.  

KMT members supporting unification outside the Control Yuan 24 Oct 2007

A small group of KMT members Chinese Unificationist Party members [corrected after comment from Poagao] were standing outside the Control Yuan. They were holding signs saying 要入聯,先統一 (Want to enter the UN, first unify). A small scuffle broke out between the men and those holding opposing views. Their opinion represents a very small minority as is evidenced by their small numbers in comparison to the huge crowd supporting "UN for Taiwan".  

Overall it was great to participate in this event. "UN for Taiwan" seems to have captured the spirit of the public here in Taiwan.  

*More photos at flickr.  

Ma Ying-jeou gets on his bike

Ma Ying-jeou sets off on his bike ride photo from China TimesTaipei's most famous jogger, Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九), has taken a new interest in cycling. Yesterday he set off from the southern tip of Taiwan on a ten day bike ride to the northern tip of Taiwan. 

Yam News reports:

國民黨總統提名人馬英九昨天從台灣最南端的屏東鵝鑾鼻公園燈塔出發,展開為期十天、近六百四十公里的「微笑台灣之青春鐵馬向前行」,預計五二○當天抵達台灣最北端的富貴角燈塔。馬英九出發時還振臂高喊:「離開台北政治,我感覺真爽!」

KMT Presidential candidate Ma Ying-jeou yesterday set off from Taiwan's southernmost point Eluanbi. He will ride for ten days and 640 kilometres on a "Youth going forward make Taiwan smile" bike ride. On 20 May he will reach Taiwan's northernmost point, Fugui Lighthouse. When Ma started the ride he raised his arm and shouted, "It feels great to leave behind Taipei politics!" [English translation by David]

Taiwanese Premier Su Tseng-chang at a Bicycle Day event on 5 May 2007Looking at Ma's bike ride blog it seems that Ma is riding a Merida bike. Compare this with a photo of Premier Su Tseng-chang (蘇貞昌) at a Bicycle Day event earlier this month. Su was dressed in Giant livery. It seems that major bicycle manufacturers in Taiwan are also divided along political lines. They are both wearing yellow jerseys, the color traditionally worn by the leading rider in a bike race. 

Chinese-language media and promotion for the event make much of the use of the word tiěmǎ (鐵馬), which literally means iron horse, but also means bicycle. Mǎ (馬), meaning horse, is also Ma's surname. 

I wonder what bright idea DPP Presidential candidate Frank Hsieh (謝長廷) might come up with to match Ma's effort.  

Foreign workers raise their voice

Conditions for foreign workers may not have improved much since the Thai workers rioted in Kaohsiung back in August, but the political shockwaves are now being felt. Much of the poor showing by the DPP in the recent local elections can be attributed to the corruption and mismanagement of the DPP government that was exposed in the wake of the riot.

The woes of foreign workers have continued and another incident involving Filipino workers at the Formosa Plastics Group in Yunlin County received detailed coverage at POTS Extra (see more links below). It has also been discussed in this thread on Forumosa.

On Sunday a protest of foreign workers sought to again raise issues related to the exploitation of foreign workers in Taiwan. The protest was held the day after International Human Rights Day. The Taipei Times reports on the protest here. The Bangkok Post carried a three paragraph report and photograph of the protest from Associated Press.

It is a shame that the DPP have lost touch with their grass roots since coming to power. Many of the leading figures in the DPP have spent time in jail and campaigned for basic democratic and human rights in the dangwai movement that later formed the foundations of the DPP. The DPP, despite its rhetoric, cannot claim to have made significant improvements in human rights since it came to power.

Links to stories from POTS Extra