Friday, March 21, 2008

Su Beng and Taiwan's 2008 pre-election atmosphere

Su Beng has been extremely busy since he returned to Taipei from Tokyo on February 25th. He was there to look in on his noodle shop, the “New Gourmet” (新珍味) restaurant which is located in Ikebukuro, Japan. A few days ago I met with him to continue work on the biography and to talk about the atmosphere in Taiwan, prior to the upcoming presidential elections.

With Taiwan’s presidential elections (on March 22) drawing near, numerous rallies have been organized for the presidential candidates, and Su Beng has been doing his part by attending rallies, talking to voters, and encouraging the undecided to vote.

The “Walk Against the Wind” was one such movement which supported Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) presidential candidate, Frank Hsieh (謝長廷). It was initiated by 12 young people, including former National Youth Commission chairwoman Cheng Li-chun (鄭麗君) on February 5th. The walk started in Oluanpi (鵝鸞鼻), the southernmost tip of the country, and finished on February 28th in Taipei.

If you'd like to know more about the “Walk Against the Wind”, click here.

Shortly after his return, on February 26th, Su Beng joined a segment of the “Walk Against the Wind” which was organized by the Taiwanese Association of University Professors (TAUP). The TAUP had set off from Tai Dong (which is on the east coast of Taiwan) and walked eastward.

Su Beng walked with the Taiwanese Association of University Professors in the "Walk Against the Wind".

And mobilized his Taiwan Independence Action motorcade to join them

One of the Taiwan Independence Action motorcade "propaganda trucks" with a poster of Su Beng's latest booklet Taiwan Should Be Independent.

A shot of "Walk Against the Wind" participants

He handed out copies of his booklet, Taiwan Should be Independent.

Here Su Beng sits on one of his “propaganda trucks” as he shouts to participants of the “Walk Against the Wind”: “There’s so many of you but you are not loud enough! Long live Taiwan Independence!”

I talked to Su Beng about the pre-election atmosphere, his views on the two presidential candidates and people’s attitudes towards the Taiwan independence issue.

The frustrating thing is that there have been many accounts floating around about the Chinese Nationalist Party’s aka Kuomintang’s (KMT) vote buying schemes and bribes.

According to Su Beng, the KMT has increased their vote buying tenfold and changed their vote buying strategies. Previously they’d pay a person NT$300-500 to vote for their candidate, but when this didn’t bring them the results they expected in the past two elections, they decided to change their strategy. Now they are using even more devious tactics by paying each person around NT$3000-5000, but this time around, people are only paid one-third upfront and are promised the remaining two-thirds of the payment only after the KMT presidential candidate, Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) has been successfully elected.

This account has been floating around from several sources, not just from Su Beng. People have called in to political talk shows reporting such incidents, but unfortunately, as is so often the case in these situations, no one has been able to substantiate it as of yet.

On the Taiwanese people’s attitudes towards independence for Taiwan, Su Beng believes:

The independence of Taiwan is not a matter just to be decided solely by its people; there are some other outside forces that will impact it. 400 years ago many of our ancestors came from China; they had fled the oppressive Ching dynasty to seek a better life, and freedom, but the KMT didn’t teach us this history.

There has been a worldwide trend, wherein most colonized territories became independent after World War II, except for Taiwan. Many small countries and islands that are less developed and have lower standards of living than Taiwan have become independent. So, history is on our side, but Taiwan’s current political situation is not favorable.

Taiwanese people do not take action or heed other’s advice until things become really bad or serious. It’s as if things are fermenting, then after having been suppressed for so long, when things have reached a boiling point, then the Taiwanese will be galvanized into taking action.

The Taiwanese people want independence, it is a much more popularly accepted idea now, but still, many Taiwanese people can be bought. They don’t have any principles; they prefer the guarantee of having money.

Regarding the presidential candidates, the party platforms and what their election would mean for Taiwan, Su Beng had this to say:

If Ma Ying-jeou becomes president, then Taiwan will slowly be infiltrated by China. The KMT’s view is that Taiwan is a part of China; their goal is eventual unification of Taiwan and China. They are very firm and strong in these beliefs; these are among this party’s principles.

The DPP’s stance on Taiwan independence is not so firmly rooted. It began as an emotional reaction to the authoritarian rule of the KMT. The DPP lacks conviction, strategy and a rational approach in the fight for Taiwan independence.

If Frank Hsieh is elected, it will be an extension of President Chen’s policies, the DPP doesn’t have many firm policies, they have been just trying to fight off the KMT. The greens will feel at ease if Hsieh is elected, and take things calmly day by day. But if Ma is elected, the greens will feel more uncertain about the future, agitated and concerned. This may lead to aggression. Perhaps some oppositional, resisting forces will be organized, but the KMT dominated government will suppress people, and democracy and the path to independence will be impeded.

How does Su Beng think the clashes in Tibet will affect the Taiwanese?

What’s happening in Tibet may stimulate some thought amongst the Taiwanese, but it won’t have as much impact as it does on the people in the surrounding areas of Tibet. Tibet has a lower literacy rate and standard of living; the Tibetans are willing to lay down their lives to fight for their independence, but the Taiwanese are unable and unwilling to sacrifice themselves for the independence of Taiwan.

And finally, Su Beng commented on the Taipei Taxi Driver Association’s support of Ma Ying-jeou:

Well, democracy is a double-edged sword; it can be both good and bad. The Taipei Taxi Driver Association’s taxi drivers elect a president to represent them, but this also gives him a lot of power.

The rumor is that the KMT bribed the president of the Taipei Taxi Driver Association by giving him between NT$5 million and NT$ 20 million to distribute amongst taxi drivers in order to buy their votes. There were about 1000-1500 taxi drivers at the March 10th rally which was organized to support Ma Ying-jeou, but it’s unclear how many of these taxi drivers will actually vote for him.

On March 12th over 2000 taxi drivers participated in a rally to support DPP presidential candidate, Frank Hsieh. They wanted to borrow my “propaganda trucks” and megaphones, but unfortunately my megaphones were broken, so we couldn’t go, but many of the main organizers are amongst my supporters.

There are about 5000 taxi drivers affiliated with the Taipei Taxi Driver Association. Only about 1500 of 5000 taxi drivers were at the rally for Ma Ying-jeou.

*Special Thanks to Su Beng's assistant, Bin Hong (敏紅) who provided me with the photos and video footage included in this post

Friday, March 14, 2008

Greens turning blue

Su Beng's support base in his fight for Taiwan independence has been amongst the working classes, especially taxi drivers. Since his return to Taiwan from Japan in 1993, he has worked tirelessly to educate them about Taiwan's history, to increase political awareness and to instill in them a strong sense of Taiwanese identity. He has a force of them called the "Taiwan Independence Action Motorcade"(獨立台灣會). The motorcade has made rounds in Taipei every Saturday and Sunday afternoon for more than ten years, delivering messages over a megaphone- that the Taiwanese need to stand up for Taiwan, to build their own nation, and shake off the shackles of colonialism. In recent years Su Beng has also mobilized his taxi driver base to protest several high level Kuomintang (KMT) officials' meetings with Communist Chinese officials.

Those leaning towards self-determination or independence for Taiwan (as Su Beng and his supporters), and traditionally supporters of the Democratic Progressive Party have been dubbed the “greens” or more collectively, the “pan-greens.”

The “blues” or “pan-blues” are those favoring the opening up of Taiwan to China- in the form of recognizing Chinese educational credentials, greater communication, transportation links and investment opportunities. This is the platform of the Nationalist Chinese Party aka Kuomintang.

Now that we are in the last stretch before Taiwan's presidential election on March 22, it's down to a contest between the green and blue. The run up to the presidential election is always an intense period of time in which the media loves to throw in speculation over which side (green or blue) is gaining momentum and support amongst the public.

So the Taipei Taxi Drivers' Association's announcement that they will officially support the blue presidential candidate Ma Ying-jeou on Saturday, March 8th was one such story that was recently circulated in the media. In addition to its announcement, the Taipei Taxi Driver's Association organized a rally supporting Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) on Monday, March 10th. About a thousand or so taxi drivers turned out for the rally. When asked by television reporters who they’d vote for, some taxi drivers said that they didn’t know whether or not they’d actually vote for Ma.

Why is this such a big deal?

Because in the beginning, back in the day, not long after the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) was formed, its support base in large part came from the working classes. The demographic of the average DPP supporter has certainly changed over the years, but this perception remains. In particular, there is a perception that taxi drivers in Taiwan tend to be predominantly green supporters. In the past, groups of taxi drivers have mobilized in support of the green camp. Practically everywhere you go in Taiwan there are yellow taxi cabs to be hailed, so they would seem to be a formidable force of green supporters. To hear of this flip in political alliance would seem to be a huge blow to the green camp.

A few days after the March 10th rally, there were television reports revealing that the KMT had paid taxi drivers NT$1000 per head to attend the rally supporting Ma Ying-jeou.

On March 12, a rally to support Frank Hsieh (謝長廷), the DPP presidential candidate was organized by taxi drivers in Banciao- near the DPP campaign headquarters there. There were about 2000 taxi drivers in attendance.

What is the story behind the Taipei Taxi Driver Association's switch in support?

I'm certain that Su Beng has plenty to say on this topic, and that, amongst other things will be a topic of discussion at our upcoming meeting in a few days.