Switch or Shift? Facts and Notes from the Field about a “Language Turn” while Campaigning

Facts:

Every direct observer of the vibrant campaigning Taiwan who does not just rely on TV News reports and texts in English or Chinese is struck by the noice, soundtracks, polyphony and multilinguism of the campaign. Indeed, beyond the historical political liberalization process, the Taiwanese electoral culture is also the product of the different linguistic fields for which different forms of linguistic capital and language proficiencies are expressly required for candidacies to ROC top positions.

Social representations of language use in the Taiwan society, and basic sociolinguistic-like analysis might stress the sole official language – Mandarin Chinese referenced as “National Language” –  and a classical diglossia between this “higher” language versus “lower” ones including other mutually unintelligible Sinitic languages or “dialects” and marginally Aborigine Autronesian languages. Ethnic and political boundaries would complete this demolinguistic panorama with Taiwanese and Hakka languages for DPP Southern middle class versus KMT urban Northern high-educated upper-class in Mandarin.

The legitimate agents of such statements are the reporters and academic observers who are themselves conditioned by linguistic habitus, did not study this topic or rely on very smooth corpora. However, an ethnographic approach of language strategies of electoral candidates might fine-tune this description by pointing the struggle between two social fields with different linguistic economies resulting of the social integration process of the ROC to the Taiwan society at the turn of 21st century.

The fact is that grassroots elections preceded the arrival of the ROC in Taiwan, and local elections were held as soon as ROC institutions settled in the island. By proscribing the Japanese colonial language, Taiwanese languages became languages for campaigning. The other fact is that the Media were strongly held by the State and the Party with an exclusive promotion of Mandarin while the top positions were reserved to Nationalist Party leaders.

From the late 80s, these two fields went in contact with memorable clashes such as CHU Kao-cheng using Taiwanese for the first time at a national institution. With the direct election process for top positions of the ROC, KMT Mainlander political staff who was not proficient in Taiwanese languages had to start to learn them as soon as the early 90s with James SOONG and the younger generation whose the best representative is MA Ying-jeou.

Notes from the 2012 field:

This on-going process may seem to come to a critical point for this 2012 presidential bid. Indeed, since 1996, at least one candidate was able to make the show in Taiwanese languages – i. e. LEE Teng-hui, CHEN Shui-bian or Frank HSIEH – but among the candidates of the on-going race, none of them is at ease with the linguistic habitus of electoral meetings. Ethnicity is not relevant as an explanation because if SOONG and MA might be categorized as Mainlanders, the loudly advertised Hakka identity of TSAI Ying-wen does not induce automatic Hakka performance in front of an assembly of Hakka supporters.

The point is not the strategy which does not look like to have changed, but the problem of proficiency of the candidates in Taiwanese languages. All the candidates are multilingual but as learners of “foreign” languages for legitimate languages such as English at school and then Taiwanese languages with special coaches for special purpose : electoral campaigning. As learners of any foreign languages, they need to practice or might regress : preliminary observations point that SOONG, MA and even TSAI are not proficient as they were able to be ten years, four years ago or even just last year!

Finally, multilinguism remains beyond the symbolic initial speech for TV debates during which every candidate greet the audience in three or four different Sinitic languages;  or the candidates for vice-presidency who are outstanding performers in Taiwanese such as WU Dun-yi and SU Chia-chuan. Plurilinguism is also changing from Taiwanese languages to English in which both heavy weights candidates feel more comfortable to speak, and these striking speeches performed in English at the American Chamber of Commerce in Taipei last November 22th by TSAI and MA.

The final rush will show if it is a temporary switch to be forgotten during the three ultimate weeks whether it is the beginning of the irrevocable shift of the linguistic practices in public life in Taiwan.

Yoann GOUDIN is a Ph. D Candidate in Didactics at INALCO (Institut National des Langues et Civilisations Orientales) in Paris. He is currently a visiting scholar at the Institute of Linguistics at Academia Sinica, and recipient of the TFP (Taiwan Fellowship Program) awarded by the Center for Chinese Studies, ROC.

Women: resistance starts here

The year is about to turn and with it the tide is also turning. Mothers, often the poorest of the poor, are no longer merely victims of the logic of market competition, division and austerity: they are fighting back. As I argue, with my co-editors in the editorial of the most recent edition of Interface, Feminism, Women’s Movements and Women in Movement, the long-established feminisation of poverty is becoming a feminisation of resistance, particularly in the Global South.

What lessons can those in the UK learn from these struggles?

Mothers who are heads of households are one of the groups (including young people) that are the hardest hit by the Coalition government’s austerity measures and the economic downturn. Cut backs to benefits, tax credits and other subsidies effect women most severely, particularly working mothers. As Emilia Hill recently argued, hard won victories for women’s equality are being eroded. Yet these women still have to ensure that their children eat, have a roof over their heads, proper clothes, schooling, health, love and nurture.

Decades before the UK banking crisis and its consequences, women in the Global South have experienced the dislocations, violences and exclusions of market logics.  They know that the removal of public provision of health, education and housing reinforces the care responsibilities of women and that economic crisis and cut backs increase unemployment, undercutting the survival mechanisms of poor families. Many are all too aware that the cumulative effect of these processes is the breakdown of community solidarities, social bonds and collectivity.

Yet, women of the Global South are not only victims, as women never are. My research demonstrates that as women are at the heart of the community and the family they have also been at the heart of resisting these processes by organising the collective provision of housing, education, health and childcare.

In the process, the meaning and practice of motherhood and womenhood become a place of political struggle.

No longer is motherhood confined to the individual care of partner and children. Instead motherhood becomes a symbol of collective community caring and nurturing. Women’s knowledges are combined and developed as the basis of creating sustainable systems of food production, health care, community education and housing.

No longer is womenhood confined to a role in the private sphere as mother, daughter or wife or to an unregulated market sphere of super-exploitation. Rather women take centre stage in the struggles for recognition of their community and family’s right to a dignified life determined on their own terms. Women become the thinkers, facilitators and organisers in their communities.

Such politics impacts upon how women’s bodies are experienced and lived. The body is not merely a site of pain, pleasure for others and exhaustion but also becomes an embodiment of the ability to create and defend life. Women who stand against the violence of the state in protest, women who sing and use their voices to bear witness to the violences of marketisation turn their bodies into sites of resistance and pride.

These practices re-make and re-invent broken solidarities, social bonds and collectivity. In the logic of their resistances is a reimagining of the political; away from the dominant script of power politics around great leaders, parties, the winning of elections and the occupying of the state towards a politics of everyday life, social relationships and self.

Such resistances compel us to stretch our understanding of what politics is, where it occurs, and what it stands for. It suggests that a reimagining of a liberatory politics and theory for our times must take women’s resistances seriously. Dialogue and solidarity between women in the Global South and Global North is an essential part of this process.

For those interested in developing this dialogue and solidarity, Interface, I hope, will give much food for thought.

Sara Motta

Does the US have a preference in Taiwan’s elections?

In a recent post on this blog, Bonnie Glaser of CSIS asserted that the US announcement of Taiwan’s candidacy for the Visa Waiver Program and the recent spate of high-level US visits to the island were signs of a “clear preference” of the Obama administration for President Ma Ying-jeou over his challenger, Dr. Tsai Ing-wen of the DPP.

I cannot agree.  US officials have clearly stated that the VWP announcement had its own timeline, and was simply the result of Taiwan fulfilling a set of criteria set by the United States.  Indeed the negotiations on Taiwan’s participation in the Visa Waiver Program were initiated by the Chen Shui-bian administration and took several years in coming. Of course it is likely that the Ma administration has worked harder to fulfill those criteria with the upcoming elections in mind, but that is another story.

On the high-level visits: another reason for the recent spate might be that the Obama administration is listening more closely to Congress, which has been increasingly vocal in arguing for more high-level visits to the democratic island. If the US government would let the Taiwan elections play a role in decisions to send high level visitors to the island, it would actually be in clear contravention of its own stated policy of strict neutrality in the Taiwan elections. We can trust the US to stick to its words, can’t we?

But Glaser’s article is also problematic for other reasons. It portrays the US as having “lingering worries” and being concerned about “Tsai’s unwillingness to be forthcoming about concrete policies towards the Mainland that she would pursue if elected.”

There may be some officials in some corners of the US government who still cling to such a position, but there many others in the Obama administration and in Congress who are more concerned about President Ma drawing too closely towards China at the expense of relations with the United States.  They are pleased with Tsai’s vision of rebalancing Taiwan’s relations and moving it closer to the US and its allies in the region.

Dr. Tsai has shown herself to be a creative and pragmatic thinker, but the response — from Ma and from Beijing – has been to revert to old and empty “One China” mantras.

The “lingering worries” officials are also barking up the wrong tree: if they really want stability in cross-Strait relations they need to lean much more heavily on Beijing. The root cause of the instability is that China does not wish to have a democracy on its doorstep, and that it sees Taiwan as a springboard for its power expansion into the Pacific. Taiwan is not threatening China in any way, except by being a vibrant democracy.

Perhaps these US officials should wonder aloud whether the Chinese leaders are both willing and able to continue the stability in cross-Strait relations the region has enjoyed in recent years. They might add that it is far from clear that the leaders in Beijing and their advisers fully appreciate the depth of the mistrust of their motives and PRC aspiration in countries surrounding China, and particularly in Taiwan.

The other problematic aspect in Glaser’s analysis is that she portrays a win by Tsai Ing-wen as adding a problematic issue to a long list of contentious issues, ranging from North Korea to the South China Sea.  It is a fiction to believe that by accommodating China on the Taiwan issue, one could get it to be more cooperative on other issues. China will play hardball on those other issues no matter what happens in Taiwan. The only way to get it to play by international rules is for the US to play hardball in return.

Winston Churchill once remarked that “One can always rely on the Americans to do the right thing …. after they have exhausted all other options.”   One would hope that the United States has learned its lessons from its earlier mistakes and that it will now be fully supportive of Taiwan and its democracy. The United States needs to show it wants to be on the right side of history.

Gerrit van der Wees is Senior Policy Advisor to the Formosan Association for Public Affairs and editor of Taiwan Communique, both based in Washington DC.

Daily shorts Dec 28

Ma’s history of underachieving is good reason for him not to be re-elected for another four years, so says Jerome F Keating. He also discusses how leaks from the US and its recent emphasis on the visa waiver programme demonstrate it is meddling in the election. Michael Turton weighs in on the US interfering in the election. Taipei Times editorial discusses how the timing of the US visa waiver announcement is very bad, as is the timing of unprecedented visits from US officials. In similar non-interference vein, a Chinese official urged the port city of Xiamen to make more effort to strengthen ties with Taiwan ahead of the election.

Having made their plays for independent voters, the candidates now turn their attentions to the base (although if you need to shore up the base at this stage, its probably a bad sign). According to Michael Turton’s discussion of the discrepancies in the latest polls, targeting the base might be a really good or a really bad idea, but frankly, no one knows. For the record though, the latest China Times poll puts less than 5% between Ma and Tsai, while the TVBS poll has 6% between them. Apple daily puts 8% between them. In each case, Ma has a handy lead. The DPP plays down the latest Apple Daily poll.

This Taiwan Thinktank poll has Tsai trailing by 0.4 percentage points, with James Soong being the deciding factor in the overall outcome – “I believe that if we voted with the current figures, Tsai would win but not by a large margin. The first factor is the shift in James Soong’s votes. The other factor is votes from those who live overseas. But the bigger factor is still Soong.” Soong is down with that, averring that if he wins 5% of the vote then the KMT will lose. A more believable poll shows that young people are worried about their futures, particularly in regard to future job opportunities. Having courted them by dressing up their platforms up with social media flim-flam, will the parties actually come through for this cohort?

United Daily News scrutinizes the four qualities that Tsai has emphasised about herself: “ability to maintain a manner neither self-effacing nor overbearing in facing China; ability to engage in humble soul-searching in facing the people; ability to grasp the international situation facing the world; and ability to keep up with the times. The bit-chomping author blows up each claim as soon as he (I bet it’s a man) has listed them.

Ma cites how improved relations with China has provided Taiwan with a new line of defence.  Ma also responds to Tsai’s allegations that he has sacrificed Taiwans’ sovereignty. From the same piece, Ma harrumphs, “Maybe the milk fish farmers in Tainan, southern Taiwan, will still vote for the DPP as they usually do, but they have acknowledged that being able to sell fish to China is a good thing.”

All three candidates are campaigning hard in their latest stops on the trail (Tsai to deliver an important cross-Strait relations talk in Kinmen). Tsai and Ma continue to exchange words following their presentations last Friday over the issues of national identity and democracy.

Peng Ming-min has a long interview piece in the Taipei Times relating to his role as Chairman of the International Committee for Fair Elections. Peng is a smart guy with pro-democracy bona fides, but he’s also one of the fathers of the Taiwan independence movement. Saying that ‘the committee is neutral and non-partisan’ doesn’t change the fact that their judgements will instantly be written off as partisan prejudice.

Tsai discusses how democracy has become more constrained under the Ma administration. I just finished reading this article that says the same thing about Chen’s administration. So do we now consider LTH as the paragon of democratic values?

President Ma had a simply wonderful Christmastime, visiting several locations on Christmas eve. Dressed for the occasion in a spiffy white jumper and down-to-earth-just-like-you-and-me blue jeans, Ma did carol singing, gift giving, board playing and attended Midnight Mass.

Finally, the Taipei Times has an article based on the post that Bonnie Glaser made here just before Christmas. Alas, your favourite Taiwan 2012 election blog did not merit a mention, forever doomed to anonymity by the callous indifference of the descriptor “an online article”.

Mail me at jonathan.sullivan@nottingham.ac.uk, follow me on Twitter @jonlsullivan, or access my papers at http://jonlsullivan.com

Observations from a Taiwanese politics correspondent

With three weeks left before the election day on January 14, here are my observations of the tightly-contested elections:

US messages

The American Institute in Taiwan (AIT) announced on Dec. 22 that Taiwan was nominated for inclusion in the US Visa Waiver Program (VWP), saying that it was “the culmination of hard work and cooperation between the authorities in Taiwan and the United States.”

Despite the AIT stressing that the announcement was unrelated to the presidential election, the fact that the announcement came three weeks before election day still had the political implication of a US preference in the election – at least for Taiwanese politicians.

In the first of three televised platform presentations on Dec. 23, President Ma Ying-jeou wasted no time in highlighting that the US decision was a reflection of warmer bilateral relations during his term and it was part of his successful diplomacy while the Democratic Progressive party (DPP) said the candidacy has been a collective effort of the government and the Taiwanese people.

This is not the first time the US was said to be sending messages with political implications at the wrong time.

In September, London-based Financial Times quoted an unnamed US official as saying that the US was concerned about stability across the Taiwan Strait if DPP Chairperson Tsai Ing-wen was elected.

The US also sent deputy secretary of energy Daniel Poneman, the highest-ranking US official to visit Taiwan in over a decade, to Taipei last week.

The US should do what it preaches – maintain neutrality in Taiwan’s upcoming presidential election.

Do you believe in polls?

Public opinion polls on the presidential election conducted by various news agencies, thinktanks and institutions have been published almost on a daily basis. Anyone who follows them regularly would find the results very confusing.

While several recent polls showed that Tsai’s support rate had caught up with – even surpassed – Ma’s, most polls still say Ma is ahead.

Sources have said the Chinese Nationalist Party’s (KMT) internal poll showed Ma is leading by 7-8 percent, which represents over one million votes while the campaign of People First Party (PFP) chairman James Soong and the national security authority, which conducted its own poll privately, both believed Tsai is going to win by a margin of 2-4 percent, which translates into 260,000 to 520,000 votes.

When Tsai was asked about her opinion toward public opinion polls, she has always said that her campaign will take them “as references.” So you get the idea.

The DPP’s support rate in presidential elections in the past were often underestimated by 10-15 percentage points. It appeared that this year is not the case because more pan-green supporters were willing to express their preferences.

Impact of negative campaigning

The KMT and the DPP have engaged in a war of negative campaigning as the KMT has brought up the case about Yu Chang Biologics Co. and questioned Tsai’s role and alleged improper profiteering before, during and after the formation of the biotech company.

The DPP has answered with a controversial case of the merger of two banks in 2002 when Ma served as Taipei City mayor.

Both parties have accused the other side of “character assassination.”

It seems to me that the negative campaigning from both sides did not benefit their campaigns, as many people expressed their displeasure of the smear war in the newspapers, blogs and social media websites.

As the one which first launched the attack, the KMT’s motive was intriguing. If it is leading by 7-8 percent in support rate as it claims, launching such attack one month before the election day would be unnecessary.

Some analysts observed that, because the election has been so tightly-contested, the KMT was hoping to vie for the support of swing voters by doing this – even if it ended up influencing only one per cent of the electorate.

Legislative Yuan elections

The KMT is trying to secure 60 of 113 legislative seats in the legislative elections while the DPP is eyeing 50. These goals tell different stories.

The KMT’s goal of 60 shows how bad the party has done since 2008, when it won 81 of 113 seats. However, if it is able to win 60, the KMT will still control the legislature.

The interesting thing is, while the DPP’s slogan for the LY elections appeal for support to gain more than half of the 113 legislative seats, the party already knew it would not accomplish the feat, which was why it has a goal of 50.

A phenomenon worth noticing is the so-called “split voting,” which means a voter votes for party A in the legislative elections and party B in the presidential election.

There have been reports in southern Taiwan that KMT legislative candidates asked voters to support them and said it’s fine to vote for Tsai in the presidential election. The main reason is the KMT, Ma in particular, has been unpopular in the south.

Chris Wang is a politics reporter and analyst for the Taipei Times

The Swiss role

For a Swiss-watcher, recent events in Georgia have created an unexpected flurry of excitement.  Moscow’s 18 year wait to join the World Trade Organization inched a step closer with the announcement of a Swiss mediated deal between Russia and Georgia. The latter, a member of the WTO, had all but blocked Russian entry into the organization, ostensibly over the issue of border customs controls for South Ossetia and Abkhazia, who’s attempted succession from Georgia sparked the five-day Russo-Georgian war three years ago.

The Swiss-brokered deal will see a neutral company monitor trade over a border which Georgians claim to be theirs, but which hasn’t seen Georgian customs officials since they were evicted by Russian forces in August 2008.

Many small states present themselves as international mediators. Berne’s initiative in Georgia, though, is interesting in two respects. First, despite lacking the resources usually associated with ‘power’ mediators, such as the United States, Berne has expanded the disputants’ options by offering additional resources to resolve the crisis; in this case a neutral monitoring company. Second, it would appear that Berne’s intervention originated from its position as Russia and Georgia’s ‘protecting power’, a role it assumed immediately after the 2008 war when ‘special interests’ sections were opened in Swiss embassies in Tbilisi and Moscow to deal with Russian and Georgian interests respectively.

Berne has made something of a feature of this kind of activity: it currently ‘protects’ US interests in Havana and Tehran, and held dozens of mandates during the 1st and 2nd world wars. Indeed, alone amongst protecting powers in the modern era, Switzerland has held numerous ‘double-mandates’: i.e., as in the Russian-Georgian case, it has represented both sides of the conflict simultaneously.

I suggested in a recent article that scholars have exaggerated the benefits Switzerland accrued from its ‘double mandates’ during the 2nd world war. Instead, I developed an argument first explored in my study of Anglo-German relations, Barbed Wire Diplomacyand argued that the belligerents did not, ultimately, place much store in Swiss mediation, notwithstanding Berne’s obvious success in protecting western prisoners in German hands. Neither London, nor Berlin were willing to cut Berne much slack, and did so only when all else had failed. Washington has taken an equally restrictive attitude towards Switzerland’s remit in Cuba (since 1961) and Iran (since 1979), and has preferred to parley with its opponents through other channels.

Clearly the Russian and Georgian authorities view the situation rather differently. From the outset of the recent negotiations, the Swiss have played a very pertinent, and prominent, role. It was the Swiss foreign minister, Micheline Calmy-Rey, who shuttled between the Russian and Georgian capitals to clinch the deal. Moreover, it was Berne’s ambassadors in Moscow and Tibilisi, Walter Giger and Gunther Bechler, who appear to have first set the train in motion when they held meetings with the Georgian foreign minister, Grigol Vashadze, in early July.

As with any high-profile mediation, Switzerland risked diplomatic humiliation, if either side had chosen to walk away from the table. At the same time, Georgia and Russia had much to lose. Had they pulled the rug from under the deal, Berne might not only have been less disposed to offer its support in the future, but more importantly, its ability to fulfil its mandate, and represent the interests of each in the territory of the other, might have been irrevocably compromised. Russia’s willingness to go through Swiss channels might, then, have been a signal of its determination to sign a deal and to commit to a negotiated settlement even before Calmy-Rey’s heels left Swiss soil.

Neville Wylie

Daily shorts Dec 24

East Asia Forum discusses US and Chinese interests in the election. The Washington Times has a similar article. The KMT gives five reasons to be suspicious of the TaiMed case and Tsai’s involvement. The KMT United Daily News explains why the TaiMed and Fubon scandals are completely different kettles of fish.  The latest China Times poll puts Ma ahead by 5.2%. Do they think increasing the number of decimal places will make it more believable?

Ma and Tsai exchanged words over the interpretation and validity of the 1992 consensus. Former president LTH considers Ma’s insistence on the 1992 consensus is not based on fact and also urged voters to support the DPP – ““Ma’s continuous remarks that the ‘1992 consensus’ exists is unacceptable as it is an action that distorts history and is effectively lying to Taiwanese.” Ma denies selling out Taiwan to China over agreements made between Taiwan and China during the past few years. Tsai warns of unification with China if Ma is elected for a second term – “If President Ma is re-elected, this generation might face the issue of ultimate unification.” Jerome F Keating discusses the outcomes of the legislative election

Finally, this being the season for being thankful, I would like to extend my gratitude to the contributors who have helped make this blog such a success thus far: Sigrid Winkler, Dafydd Fell, Michael Turton, Jens Damm, Mikael Mattlin, Sheng-chih Wang, Julie Chen, Linda Arrigo, Gunter Schubert, Harry Wu, Chris Wang, Paul Katz, Muyi Chiu, Dalton Lin, Tim Rich, Malte Kaeding, Sasa Istenic, Chun-Yi Lee, Julia Famularo, Wang Hong-zen, Jeremy Taylor, Bonnie Glaser, John F. Copper, Scott Simon, Cal Clark, Lin Pei-Yin, Ko-hua Yap, Jerome Soldani, Tony Liu, Ben Goren, Michal Thim. My thanks to everyone who has helped spread the word, and for retweets to @TimMaddog, @Taiwanderful, @davidonformosa, @chungiwang, @Koxinga8, @KeepTWfree, @TaiwanCorner, @taiwanreporter, @filination, @Brownlaoshi, @blickpunktaiwan, @Portnoy and so on.

The campaigns won’t stop for Christmas, but the blog will be taking a few days off. If anything interesting happens, be sure to let me know by mail at jonathan.sullivan@nottingham.ac.uk or Twitter @jonlsullivan. Normal service will resume on Dec 28, and we have a great line up of people to guide you through to Election Day. Happy Holidays everybody.

 

US Prefers Ma but will work with Tsai

Today, the U.S. finally announced that Taiwan has been officially listed as a candidate for the U.S. Visa Waiver Program (VWP).  The announcement was made just three weeks before Taiwan’s presidential elections.  It came on the heels of a visit to Taiwan in early December by US Deputy Secretary of Energy Dan Poneman, the highest ranking US official to visit the island in eleven years.  In September, U.S. Assistant Commerce Secretary Suresh Kumar traveled to Taiwan.

This spate of visits and policy decisions comes after an extended lull in the US-Taiwan relationship, with only a trickle of official exchanges and a lot of rancor over Taiwan’s re-imposition of a ban on imports of U.S. beef in January 2010.  The recent steps are welcome; they further consolidate an already strong US-Taiwan relationship.   Taiwan is America’s ninth largest trading partner and a growing import market for US exports.  Last year US exports to Taiwan surged 41 percent to $26 billion.  Nevertheless, the fact that these steps were taken so close to Taiwan’s elections calls into question the Obama administration’s claim to being neutral about the election’s outcome.  Although US officials studiously avoid saying so directly, there is a clear preference for Ma Ying-jeou to win a second term in office.

US worries about a DPP victory derive in part from the US experience with Chen Shui-bian, who pursued pro-independence measures that Beijing judged as provocative, resulting in heightened tensions in both cross-Strait and US-China relations.  Even though the DPP and its presidential candidate Tsai Ing-wen have learned lessons from that period, the US still has lingering worries.  Tsai’s unwillingness to be forthcoming about concrete policies toward the Mainland that she would pursue if elected has exacerbated Washington’s concerns.

Obama administration officials’ preference for a Ma victory is also a consequence of their hope to avoid introducing additional contentious issues to the increasingly complicated US-China agenda.  Bilateral tensions have run high in recent years over a long list of issues, including North Korea, South China Sea, China’s military modernization, and China’s currency valuation and trade practices.  US arms sales to Taiwan in January 2010 and September 2011 infuriated the Chinese and soured US-China relations as well, but the impact was relatively confined and short lived compared to the likely Chinese reaction to the return of the DPP to power.  Past experience demonstrates that when Chinese fears of Taiwan independence spike, other issues are crowded out in US-Chinese consultations, making compromises and solving problems even more difficult than usual.

If Tsai wins, the US will do its utmost to encourage the DPP to be pragmatic in its approach to Beijing, while at the same time pressing China to be flexible as well.  Finding a mutually acceptable formula that would enable the semi-official SEF-ARATS channel to remain open will be an urgent priority.  Active diplomacy would likely be undertaken by the US to urge both sides of the Taiwan Strait to find a creative way forward that enables the numerous cross-Strait communication channels that have been established in recent years to continue to function.

Regardless of whether Beijing and Taipei are able to work out a modus vivendi, in the absence of policy steps by Taiwan that damage American interest in the maintenance of cross-Strait peace and stability, US-Taiwan relations are likely to remain positive and strong.  Washington may see advantages in a Ma Ying-jeou victory, but if Tsai is elected, the U.S. will look forward, and seek to work with her to develop a positive relationship and sustain robust ties.  If Chinese leaders assume that the US will reflexively revert to the old playbook that was employed during the Bush administration to cope with Chen Shui-bian to manage a new situation, they would be mistaken.

Bonnie S. Glaser is a Senior Fellow in the Freeman Chair in China Studies at CSIS

A ground view from Taipei

Having been in Taipei also during the 2008 presidential elections, I have to admit that I have been disappointed by how little the elections have been present in daily life in 2011. In 2008, the city was plastered with faces and banners demanding Taiwan’s right to join the United Nations and the World Health Organization. Even as a bystander I could feel the heat building up to a boiling point. The issue of Taiwan’s international status was so hot then, that I decided on the election day to rather watch the outcome of the polls from Hong Kong, and more importantly to verify that Taiwan had not yet come under Chinese missile attack before I boarded my plane back to Taipei. For the 2012 elections, it appears safe for me to stay in Taipei.

This year, the issues fought about the hardest in the campaign seem mainly to involve topics such as the legality of piggy banks for campaign donations and the correct display of fruit prices.

Granted, also now in 2011, political talkshows on TV are going on for hours, in the newspapers wars are fought, and slowly but steadily Ma and Tsai’s faces start to show up on Taipei’s buildings, buses and billboards (I personally have not come across Soong’s face yet). Occasionally also a taxi driver would get into a political discussion with you, but so far I have not experienced a staunch supporter of either candidate, most could find positive and negative points in Ma and Tsai (again Soong has not received much consideration), even when they claimed to have a clear political inclination to one camp.

The assessment of the candidates that I could gather from my, admittedly, rather unrepresentive sample of people that I talked to shows mainly that the voters find it hard to decide for one or the other candidate.

As stated above, I have yet failed to meet anybody who gave credit to James Soong, apart from one friend who thinks that he is a warmer person and more in touch with his emotions than Ma Ying-jeou. According to her, if a child, crying and looking for its mother came running up to Ma, he would back away instead of giving the child a hug – especially if the child had a dripping ice cream cone in its hand. But even my friend has not decided yet who to give her vote to.

While Ma has been described to me as pretty much anything ranging from an evil villain to the saviour of Taiwan, nobody at all seems to genuinely like him as a person. If charisma was to play a vital role in this election, he can already start packing his campaign utensils. However, he appears to score higher when it comes to policies, although green supporters naturally despise him for his China connections.

For Tsai, the most commonly detected flaw is her failure to define her policies. Nobody can pinpoint what she is trying to do with regards to China, but also in light of issues that trouble Taiwan domestically, such as unemployment or the economy, she does not manage to paint a clear picture. However, I have never heard even one derogative word on the ground about her being a woman aspiring to run a government, despite Taiwan still being a strongly male-dominated society. Chapeau for that, even in Europe we can learn from this example.

Sigrid Winkler recently received her PhD from Free University Brussels, and is currently conducting post-doctoral research in Taiwan. 

Daily shorts Dec 23

An alleged leaked document from DPP HQ lists businessmen returning from the mainland, undecided voters, and defectors from the Soong camp as areas of vulnerability. Did we really need a leaked document to tell us that? The fundamental strategy in the run up to the election is to play it safe– “The last thing you want is to win 1 per cent of support and lose 3 or 5 per cent for a stupid mistake, such as a careless comment.” But they do plan to stage 40 huge rallies before the elections. Meanwhile, Ma’s campaign promises to focus on addressing tough policy issues: “Explaining government policies and goals will continue to be the core of our campaign. People want to hear more details about candidates’ platforms and want to know which candidate would solve problems for them”. The KMT’s alleged smear campaign has backfired according to this article, and their excessive negative campaigning demonstrates a lack of positive achievements. Perhaps that’s why they have shifted focus to Ma’s wife.

Michael Turton discusses how Ma is trying to elevate the stock market prior to the election. Ma also pledges more support for farmers and agricultural exporters. Is this what they mean by ‘vote buying’? Ma spent the night at a fruit growers house  – “I’ve become friends with most of the families I have stayed with during the long-stay trips and home stay is a great way to better understand local issues,” Ma said. However there’s at least one sector not feeling the KMT love, as aboriginal groups demand an audience with Ma having been denied access to recent debates. One group spreading the love KMT message is the Straits Exchange Foundation, who’s Chairman urged Taiwanese businessmen working in China to “make the right choice” and support the KMT. It doesn’t say whether he was wielding a baseball bat and electrodes at the time. Ma touts his success in getting agricultural products into the Chinese market, but the Taipei Times says the KMT’s boasting about its economic achievements is flawed, given the impact of greater economic integration with China. They also dismiss Ma’s claims to being “thrifty” given his enormous personal wealth and willingness to part with tax payers’ money. The Tsai campaign is focusing on small and medium sized enterprises as key to increasing competitiveness, and pledges to increase ICT investment so that Taiwan is on a par with Korea.

This China Times editorial discusses how DPP spin doctors are seeking to protect Tsai by covering up the truths of her involvement in TaiMed. The alterations of the TaiMed documents led the DPP to accuse the KMT of falsifying evidence. The prosecutor argues there is no bias in his investigations into the recent scandals. This piece discusses the irony of Ma and the KMT in attacking Tsai given Ma’s own previous involvements in alleged scandals. Speaking of which, the DPP continues to pressure Ma over alleged connections to the Fubon banking group. But Fubon Group says Ma rejected their financial donations and Ma denies any conflict of interest. Feeling left out (it must be a weird feeling for Soong not to be under attack) the PFP gets involved  by accusing Ma of taking unlawful donations in his 2008 election bid. Both Tsai and Ma say they have sufficiently explained away their recent scandals. But here they are accusing each other of being unethical and manipulative. The Academia Sinica President says the Yu Chang controversy  saga needs to end already. Are the recent scandals evidence of how the blue/green battle has become a divide between classes? (Me either, but read it anyway).  The TaiMed scandal continues to backfire against the KMT says Michael Turton. Scandals are dominating the news and directing attention away from more important policy issues—has it ever been any different?

Legislative candidates have picked their running numbers while some thought it was cosplay day. Jerome F Keating predicts a big shake up in the legislative Yuan as a result of the election. Not so fast, says the KMT, who reckon they’ll get 60 legislative seats and thus still have a decent majority. Pundits are not impressed by the performance of the legislative Yuan and argue it can only be reformed if the KMT loses its majority. Former President Chen Shui-bian doesn’t want a pardon from the DPP if they are elected; he just wants all his money back (sorry, he wants a retrial). Like every financially pressed university chancellor in the world, Ma promises to increase the number of Chinese students attending Taiwanese universities. With impeccable (and in no way contrived) timing, KMT Taipei Mayor Hau Lung-bin, announced his highest approval rating to date in five years on the job. The DPP attacked Ma over his comments that he was surprised to see a decline in the rate of suicides; the ever self-deprecating President expected it to be much higher. In related news, Ma says that Kim Jong Il’s death is of no significance to Taiwan.

New Straits Times discusses how PRC citizens are proud of Taiwan’s elections. At least one professor is optimistic that the Taiwan election may serve as a beacon of democracy for democratization in China ::awkward silence, people shuffling towards the door:: Speaking of profs, the folks at James Town Foundation finds there is little difference between the two parties cross strait policies and that neither independence nor unification are likely in the near-term. And if you didn’t see this already, the Wilson Centre panel from a couple weeks back is worth catching (with Karl Ho, Dafydd Fell, Cal Clark and John Hsieh).

And finally, Soong’s running mate is going to visit Bhutan in order to understand how their happiness index is so high despite limited resources. What would this campaign be without the eccentric electromagnetic wave attracting man?

Mail me at jonathan.sullivan@nottingham.ac.uk, follow me on Twitter @jonlsullivan, or access my papers at http://jonlsullivan.com