Taiwan’s Separatist Movement: The fine line between Patriotism and Nationalism

Written by an anonymous contributor. 

The ‘One China Policy’ has long been a point of contention. Yet few have overtly challenged the Asian superpower on its strategy towards Taiwan. While Beijing deems the island of Taiwan a breakaway province and nothing more, a significant portion of Taiwan’s residents aggressively reject this identity they’ve been assigned. Not to mention, in light of Tsai Ing-wen’s victory in the 2016 elections, cross strait relations have only deteriorated. On the surface, the US seems to be Taiwan’s only ally but not even the newly elected President with his strongman politics and power play moves was willing to risk ruining relations with Mainland, going back on his word and conceding that America will act in accordance with the ‘One China Policy’ (although Taiwan’s refusal to be used as a bargaining chip might have come into play).

Tensions between Beijing and Taipei culminated in early 2016 when pictures of Chou Tzuyu, a 16-year-old Taiwanese born K-POP star, waving the flag of the Republic of China on a Korean variety show started circulating the internet. Mainland netizens immediately branded her a separatist and all hell broke loose. Besides the fact that the ROC fag had been the official flag of Taiwan for close on 70 years, the girl had never explicitly spoke against the communist regime, the accusations had no standing. In many ways the wrath of the citizens of the People’s Republic of China was irrational and over the top. Chou was ruthlessly attacked and as a result, her band lost the chance to perform in China, possibly forever; and under crippling pressure, both her and her managing company issued an apology. But the Taiwanese won’t take this, their retorts for the mainlanders were equally ugly and ferocious and Chou’s plight became a rallying cry for independence. In retaliation, using internet circumvention tools, Chinese netizens flooded to Facebook and Twitter (as we all know, all Western social media platforms are blocked in China) and waged a ‘meme war’ against the Taiwanese. If anything these farcical actions only added fuel to the fire, the separatist movement is going stronger than ever.

It is an act of ‘patriotism’, these Chinese netizens say. But is it?

Drop any comment in favour of Taiwan’s independence on Weibo (China’s own version of Twitter), you can be rest assured that you will be greeted with a wave of insults and possibly death threats. The so-called ‘patriotic education’ lies at the heart of China’s political propaganda and territorial integrity just happens to be a key feature. For as long as I can remember, I’ve always been told that because I am ethnically Han and have black hair, black eyes and yellow skin, by definition, I am Chinese. The Chinese government uses this ideology to justify coercion and hegemony. They assert that because the Taiwanese population is predominately of Han ethnicity, they are effectively Chinese; as such, any local identity is superseded by ethnicity. So deeply entrenched this notion in Chinese culture is that back in 2011 when Gary Locke, a third generation American, was appointed the US ambassador to China, he was condemned by the mass society for representing American interests because ‘he had forgotten his roots’. It’s a propaganda victory for the CCP.

This isn’t patriotism, it is nationalism.

For the most part, nationalism has done no harm, quite the contrary it has built unity and cohesion among Chinese citizens. But in 2005, China passed the Anti-Secession Law, ‘formally declaring the right to attack Taiwan…including Taiwan’s simply continuing the status quo of de facto independent[1]‘. This very particular type of nationalism that the CCP has cultivated has lead people to believe that anyone should support the government even in the face of injustice. What the Chinese don’t realise is that there is a difference between being proud of their home land, culture and traditions and complying with the government’s every demand.

As a Chinese national, it goes without saying that I would much rather see reunification than separation. However, I was raised in China’s cultural harbour, Shanghai, and the sublime west coast of Canada, and thus believe that human rights preside over political and territorial ambitions. The prospects of reunification by mutual consent is looking pretty bleak for Beijing but the geopolitical risks at stake is far too significant.

The cross strait conflict looms in the decades ahead.

Bibliography

http://thediplomat.com/2017/02/trump-and-one-china-two-phone-calls-many-interpretations/

http://www.economist.com/news/briefing/21710264-worlds-rising-superpower-has-particular-vision-ethnicity-and-nationhood-has?frsc=dg%7Cc

The New Face of Chinese Nationalism

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-35340530

https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/nationalism/

https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/patriotism/

[1] http://thediplomat.com/2017/02/trump-and-one-china-two-phone-calls-many-interpretations/

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