What Taiwan Wants 台灣要什麼
TIME ASIA 時代雜誌亞洲版
Taiwan's presidential election might prove to be a perilous watershed in its relationship with China. Can Beijing rein in the renegade?
By Andrew Perrin Tungkang
When talk-show host Wang Ben-hu comes to town, even Taiwan's coldest winter in 10 years cannot keep the crowds at home. Wrapped in thick coats, scarves and woolen beanies against a chill wind blowing off the
South China Sea, at least 3,000 residents of fishing village Tungkang huddle in the courtyard of a centuries-old Taoist temple, temporarily converted into a television studio. As if on cue, the biting wind abates, and Taiwan's most provocative TV celebrity appears with a microphone to mingle among his fans. Wang doesn't mince his words: "You people were once treated no better than dirt," he says. "You were looked down upon. Mistreated. Abused. Ignored. But now you are like shining doves leading the way forward for Taiwan." The audience rises to its feet, everybody—men, women, young and old—professing their love for Taiwan and their hatred of China, communism and anyone who supports the idea that Taiwan, an island of 23 million people that China claims as its 23rd province, is anything other than a sovereign nation.
Welcome to Taiwan's deep south, which has long had a mind of its own. It is rural, underdeveloped, and populated largely by native Taiwanese, not the mainland Nationalists who fled the Communist takeover of China in 1949 and who are concentrated in the urban, industrial north, particularly the capital, Taipei. Southerners are bitter about having been marginalized, and resent what they regard as the hijacking of their island by the mainlanders, whose obsession for decades has been to one day reunify with China under the Nationalist banner. Now, however, the south's independent streak is no longer an isolated phenomenon, but growing into an island-wide movement that is defining the presidential election taking place on March 20 and threatening to dangerously escalate tensions between the island and the mainland. "The north is the Republic of China," says Wang, 51. "Up there they are still debating whether Taiwan is part of China. But the south is the Republic of Taiwan. People here don't care what China thinks. To us, Taiwan is an independent country. It is home. And now the south's voice is finally being heard."
In Taiwan today, fewer and fewer people see themselves as Chinese. According to an annual poll taken by Taipei's Chengchi University, the
proportion of Taiwan's residents who consider themselves exclusively Chinese has plummeted to 10% from 26% in 1992, while the number who think of themselves as exclusively "Taiwanese" has jumped to 42% from 17%. Meanwhile, a November poll by the island's Mainland Affairs Council reveals a similarly negative response to China's only model for reunification: the Hong Kong formula of "one country, two systems." Just 7% of respondents found that formulation acceptable, while 71% considered it unsuitable for Taiwan. Analysts on the island agree that China largely brought this problem upon itself. By blocking Taiwan's entry into almost every international organization and isolating the island diplomatically, all the while threatening it with military action if it goes its own way, China allows itself to be painted as a neighborhood bully by Taiwan politicians looking to garner support from disaffected voters. For many on the island, the final straw was the SARS crisis early last year, when China blocked World Health Organization (WHO) officials from touching down in Taiwan. The upshot was that in the early days of the outbreak, hospital administrators had to rely on the Internet to find effective measures to control the spread of the virus on the island.