Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Taiwanese with Chinese Characteristics?

You can tell it’s election season again in Taiwan. How so? Among pan-Blue candidates, being Taiwanese is suddenly popular again – too popular, if New Party Chairman Yok Mu-ming has anything to say about it.

Yok made an announcement yesterday in response to comments DPP presidential candidate Tsai Ing-wen made at a campaign event in Nantou (English, Chinese), where she defended her declaration of her Taiwanese identity in a recent campaign ad. At the July 9 event, she explained:


Recently, some people have falsely understood the meaning of the words, ‘I am Taiwanese’ that I said in my advertisement. I must emphasize, ‘I am Taiwanese,’ refers to anyone who lives in Taiwan and identifies with Taiwan’s people. Anyone who travels abroad should loudly proclaim, ‘I am Taiwanese,’ in order to inform foreigners of Taiwan’s existence and help them understand the development of Taiwan’s economy, society, democracy and human rights.

Tsai also accused Ma of seemingly being unable to utter the word, “Taiwanese.”

Ma was not about to take that one lying down! On his June 12 Facebook page post, he responded (Chinese, English): 


In my blood, I am a Chinese son of the Yellow Emperor. In terms of my identity, I identify with Taiwan and fight for Taiwan. I am Taiwanese. In terms of nationality, I am a citizen of the ROC, and I am the President of the ROC.

Now, identity is a tricky thing, as many residents of Taiwan know well. Many local residents declare that they share both a Taiwanese and Chinese identity. If we could truly believe that Ma was one of these conflicted souls, we would not be quick to play down his declaration.

However, Ma has hardly been shy about declaring his Chineseness in the past (this interview is just one case among many). See this interview, for example. In fact, he has made such a point of declaring Chinese identity that his sudden verbal acrobatics hardly come across as more than electioneering.

Enter Yok Mu-ming.

Yok stirred the pot on July 12 when, in his response to Tsai’s Nantou speech, he stated (Chinese): 

 我是郁慕明,我是中國人! (I am Yok Mu-ming. I am Chinese.) 

Grammatically, his declaration mirrors that of Tsai, and, on the surface, the statement is indeed targeted at the DPP presidential candidate.

Yet, the fact that Yok’s statement followed right on the heels of Ma’s cannot be overlooked, nor can the fact that, at the time of the posting of Yok’s declaration on the New Party’s website, another statement was posted that declared that the New Party would definitely be taking part in the January legislative elections. This declaration was hardly news to anyone who has been paying attention to Taiwan’s political environment. But the back-to-back posting of these statements to the New Party website recalls the big picture.

Yok is intelligent enough to know that he will not score political points against the DPP with his rhetoric. As the bluest of Taiwan’s blue parties, the New Party is not about to peel off votes from the DPP in the upcoming legislative election. The DPP seemingly agrees, if their refusal to respond to him is any indication.

However, as it becomes ever more evident that all is not well (Chinese) between the KMT and James Soong and his People’s First Party, raising the prospect that three blue parties will fight over seats in the legislature, Yok might feel that there is value in passing his party off as Bluer-Than-Thou. Yok's real dart board might just be Taiwan's newest Taiwanese with Chinese characteristics.

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