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Chairman’s Lunar New Year Message to ICDT Members and Friends

Chairman’s Lunar New Year Message to ICDT Members and Friends
                             Dr. Rong-I Wu
Dear ICDT members and friends, 
Taiwan is celebrating the commencement of the Lunar New Year of the Goat (Feb.19, 2015) and the whole country is filled with a festive spirit of anticipation.  Allow me to take this opportunity to send you our warmest greetings and best wishes for a HAPPY AND PEACEFUL NEW YEAR!!  We would also like to take this opportunity to express our deep gratitude for your inspiring support for Taiwan’s democratization endeavors.
I am sure we all agree that democracy-building is no easy task.  It is particularly arduous for Taiwan as we have to do it under the heavy baggage of an authoritarian legacy within and political and security threats from a rising China without.  Nevertheless, I am pleased to report that we are moving along in the right direction and have even made some significant progress in the past year.  Let me just highlight briefly a few critical areas of progress.
Massive Mobilization and Empowerment of CSOs (Civil Society Organizations)
During the past year and a half, several massive civic movements have taken place in Taiwan, including three crucial ones of incredible scale:  the August 2013 CSO mobilization to demand justice for Hung Chung-chiu, after mistreatment of the army conscript resulted in his death and a subsequent attempted cover up by the military; the March 2014 Sunflower Student Movement protest against the KMT government’s underhanded attempt to push the Cross-Strait Service Trade Agreement (CSSTA) through parliament without due process and transparency; and the April 2014 protest of civic groups against nuclear power.  In all three cases, the CSOs were able to mobilize massive protest demonstrations and rallies, with nearly half a million netizens each time taking to the streets.  During the Sunflower Movement, the protesting students even effectively occupied the parliament chamber and disrupted all legislative operations for 24 days.  It should be further noted that the KMT government was forced in all three instances to make concessions and also promised to carry out reforms.
Growing Strength of the “Taiwan Identity”
More and more people in Taiwan now identify themselves as “Taiwanese,” as opposed to “Chinese.” They feel a sense of pride and dignity in identifying themselves as Taiwanese citizens, expressing their affinity, attachment, and loyalty to Taiwan, their own society and nation.  Two decades ago under the KMT’s authoritarian rule, over 70 to 80% of people in Taiwan regarded themselves as “Chinese.” Now, the reverse is true.  A recent attitudinal survey conducted by the Taiwan Brain Trust in January this year, shows a record high for Taiwan identity, with 89.5% of the interviewees identifying themselves as “Taiwanese,” as opposed to only 6% identifying as “Chinese.”  In-depth studies of this identity change and its political implications are still in the nascent stage.  The rise of energy and activism within civil society movements in recent years clearly must have something to do with the rise of the national identity.  Obviously, this identity issue could play a critical role in shaping Taiwan’s fundamental orientation and its China policy in the future.
Punishing the Authoritarian and Corrupt KMT Government by Votes
In the past four months, two major elections were held in Taiwan:   the so-called “9-in-1” local elections (all local officials and council members at all 9 levels of the municipalities and counties) on Nov. 29, 2014; and by-elections of 5 legislative seats at the central level on Feb. 7, 2015.  In both instances, the voters used their ballots to punish the ruling KMT severely for its brazen arrogance, incompetence, and corruption.
In the November elections of 22 municipality and county chief executives, the KMT lost 16 to the opposition, and kept only 6 generally smaller and less important seats.  Of the 6 most important municipalities, the KMT were defeated in 5, including the capital of Taipei City.  In the February by-elections of 5 legislators, the KMT was again defeated in 3 out of 5.  As a result of these disastrous defeats, Premier Jiang Yi-hua was forced to resign, and President Ma Ying-jeou was pressured into stepping down from the chairmanship of the party.
The KMT’s disastrous defeats clearly revealed that its traditional control machine and power base have been seriously eroded.  In the past, Beijing has relied almost exclusively on the KMT old guards’ tacit collaboration to conduct its “united front” strategy toward Taiwan in service to its long-term goal of unification.  Now, in Beijing’s view, the KMT’s capability and credibility have apparently been called into question.  China may have to rethink and re-craft its approach to the changing political landscape in Taiwan.
Changing Political and Economic Environment of the Region
In the Asia Pacific, the United States’ “Pivot to Asia” and TPP (Trans-Pacific Partnership) initiatives are particularly critical to Taiwan’s international environment.  We are sure such efforts toward strengthening security and economic ties with East and Southeast Asia are bound to have a positive impact on Asia’s peace and stability, which will in turn benefit Taiwan greatly.  We certainly hope that rising China is watching and appreciates this new emerging geopolitical landscape, and that it will be encouraged to adjust its “China Dream” from ambitious power projection to pragmatic cooperation in the greater interest of peace and stability in the entire Asia Pacific region.
Should you be interested in more details on the major trends cited above, please click on the Recent Development section of our ICDT Website <<>>.  We are cautiously optimistic that the internal as well as external developments over the past year are basically favorable to Taiwan’s continued endeavors for democracy and human dignity.  The next round of major political challenges is set for the coming combined presidential and parliamentary elections, which are scheduled for January 2016.  If the current trends continue, we are fairly certain that liberal forces for democracy should be able to prevail in the coming year.  Yet, needless to say, we have to continue to work hard and even intensify our efforts in the years to come, and we will continue to count on your moral support.
Michael Kau, our Secretary-General, and I are prepared to stand with you in solidarity and to work not only for Taiwan’s democratization but also for the promotion of democracy anywhere in the world.  As always, we look forward to receiving your advice and ideas.  Once more, I would like to wish you all:
Sincerely yours,
Chairman, ICDT

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