An opinion poll conducted last month by the Taiwan Foundation for Democracy revealed that the proportion of people who identify as Taiwanese has soared to 83 percent, while those who identify as Chinese has plummeted to only 5 percent.
The results contain two significant implications: First, the independence-unification debate has been flipped and, second, there is a collective recognition among Taiwanese that Taiwan is a sovereign, independent nation.
That 83 percent of respondents identified as Taiwanese is truly exciting. The turnaround means that Taiwanese can finally take a big first step toward normalization of the nation, which has evaded them for the past 74 years.
To reach this stage, they have passed through three eras of political debate:
First, there was the era of “no Taiwanese independence,” which began with the 228 Incident in 1947 and ended with the death of former president Chiang Ching-kuo (蔣經國) in 1988. During this 41-year period, all thought, opinion and actions were controlled and distorted by the ruling Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) government. This inflicted an abnormal cognitive bias on Taiwanese politics.
That was followed by the era of “no unification, no independence” during the presidency of Lee Teng-hui (李登輝), who succeeded Chiang in 1988.
Lee began to correct the anomalies of Taiwanese politics by establishing the Guidelines for National Unification and developing the “two states” dictum. The two effectively canceled each other out and laid the groundwork for the “no unification, no independence” doctrine.
When the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) gained power for the first time in 2000, then-president Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) did not abolish the Guidelines for National Unification, but introduced a “one country on each side [of the Taiwan Strait]” credo.
In 2008, then-president Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) introduced his own political formula, which advocated the “1992 consensus,” but included the phrase: “one China, with each side having its own interpretation of what ‘China’ means.”
In essence, all of these are variations on the “no unification, no independence” theme. During the 28 years after Lee assumed office in 1988, there was a tug-of-war between maintaining the abnormal state of Taiwanese politics and the normalization of Taiwan as a regular state.
Finally, the era of “no unification” began in 2016 when the DPP staged a political comeback, winning a historic majority in the legislature with the election of President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文). Tsai’s guiding policy has been to maintain the cross-strait “status quo,” scrupulously avoiding taking action that could provoke Beijing and operating under the reality of the “Republic of China, Taiwan.”
Meanwhile, the Tsai administration has launched a radical reform program of political, economic and social reforms.
Tsai’s bold pension reform policy, while inducing the wrath of “deep-blue,” pro-KMT retired civil servants, has resonated with most Taiwanese. On Jan. 11, Tsai was re-elected. She has pledged to hand over a “better country” to the next generation.
For most Taiwanese a “better country” means a final repudiation of the “unification” argument advocated by the 5 percent who call themselves “Chinese.”
There is finally a collective recognition that Taiwan is a sovereign and independent nation: We are Taiwanese, not Chinese.
This consensus provides the impetus for Taiwan to move toward political normalization. Hopefully, the consensus moves even further so that in the near future, 100 percent of Taiwanese will identify as Taiwanese.
Robert Liu is a retired EMS professional.
Translated by Edward Jones
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