Ideal vs. Reality: On the Topic of Taiwan
By Irene Pang
The article travels back in time to the night of the Oscars, where Taiwanese Director Ang Lee won his second Best Director Oscar for “Life of Pi.” Whether or not you smiled upon hearing the result or frowned because Steven Spielberg did not win (or had no reaction whatsoever because you had not gotten over the fact that the much-acclaimed Director of Argo, Ben Affleck, was not nominated), there was one thing you could not possibly deny: that 8617 miles away, in a small island the size of Maryland and Delaware combined, approximately 23,268,087 people unanimously rejoiced at Ang Lee’s win. The small island, dear Reader, is Taiwan, a highly marginalized nation of warm-hearted people who celebrates democracy, freedom of press, and tolerance of differences, while embracing the island’s unique historical and cultural legacy. As the article states, Taiwan is one of the most marginalized nations in the world, with only 23 official diplomatic allies, which consist of other marginalized nations in Africa and Central America. Ever since Taiwan lost its membership in the United Nations to China in 1971, the country has become that bird in a cage, whose soul both flares and flickers because its vitality is brutally constrained and its full potential is ruthlessly hampered.
With its status in the international community teetering on the verge of the abyss, Taiwan has come to regard moments like Ang Lee’s win as its last chance of getting its voice heard loud and clear in the international stage; after all, aren’t we all in this world together? Discover what remains of us after stripping down differences in language, culture, ethnicity, and religion and you will not be surprised, I hope, to find out that at the fundamental level, we all share the same identity as humans and possess basic human rights. If the inhabitants of Taiwan deserve recognition in the international community as individuals, the country itself ought to occupy its own place on the global stage.
I eagerly consumed the article like a starving child who had not been fed for days. After I finished reading the article and shared it on my Wall, I was determined to continue from where I’d left off. Just as I was about to place my iPhone down and to carry out my chore, I was interrupted again: this time, by a friend’s message in my Facebook inbox. I clicked open the message and read: “Hey Irene! Could I ask you for your opinion on Ma Ying-Jeou?” Ah, yes, my opinion of Ma? (In case some of you may not know, he is the current President of Taiwan, as much as I hate to admit).
To get things straight, I am in support of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) because I identify myself more as Taiwanese than Chinese and I am a huge proponent of democracy, which I value deeply. President Ma, in my opinion, does not endorse the views of Taiwanese citizens because he aligns himself more with China, which has had a long history of bullying and tormenting Taiwan by denying it as a country because China still regards Taiwan as part of its territory (which I find quite incredible, since Chinese Nationalists had retreated to the island after losing the Civil War against Mao’s Communists more than 60 years ago). Yet, Ma did win the 2012 presidential election against the DPP’s candidate Dr. Tsai Ing-wen, which made me wonder just what exactly do the people on the island want?
Ma’s primary supporters consist of the middle to upper class citizens, the segment of population that increasingly conducts businesses with China because of its looming status as a superpower backed by a robust economic growth. Indeed, we see the center of international system gradually shifting away from American hegemony to the emerging power of the east, China, which boasts remarkable economic growth on a large landmass and will eventually surpass the United States to become a global hegemon. As a small island located right next to this menacing power (powerful states are generally viewed as threatening according to the realist notion of balance of power, which I endorse), Taiwan’s best strategy is to maintain a positive relationship with China and to leverage its unique geographic position—essentially, Taiwan is a stepping stone to Southeast Asia and a buffer between China and the other great power, the U.S. While the idea to foster a peaceful relationship with China seems reasonable, the move comes at a significant cost to Taiwan. By fostering closer economic (and political) ties with China, Taiwan is essentially auctioning off its very existence by yelling, “Going Once. Twice. Sold… to China.” The island’s very identity is put at risk because a closer economic relationship naturally leads to a closer political relationship. And guess what awaits at the end of this journey that seeks to cultivate a “positive” cross-strait relationship? Complete unification (surprise surprise!). While it is not likely for unification to take place during our lifetime, it is, however, a reality that may happen not far in the future (by not far, I mean in about 100 years, perhaps).
So here is the real conundrum: do people in Taiwan value their sense of identity more or their flow of income? There seems to be a trade-off between strengthening Taiwan’s identity as a culturally-rich democratic nation and reaping business profits. Nowadays, unfortunately, it seems that people will rather deepen relationship with China in order to gain economic yields than to stand by their own nation and to serve as the defender of democracy.
Why care about identity and values if you cannot secure wealth and a steady (if not growing) economy? That is the philosophy of the majority of middle to upper income families in Taiwan.
In such a manner, I explained to my Chinese friend my views on Ma and Taiwan’s challenge via iPhone (no, I did not type out everything I wrote up there on my iPhone—that would be torture).
Hence, good dreams—dream, yes, by tomorrow I will be able to say that:
I dreamed a dream in time gone by,
When hope was high and democracy, worth fighting.
I dreamed that patriotism would never die,
I dreamed that Mankind would be fair…