Identity Politics in Taiwan

Taipei Times: Tsai’s reform aims focus on future
Thus, even though Tsai also emphasizes the nation’s problems of youth unemployment, educational rigidity, growing disparities of income and wealth, an aging population, environmental pollution and loss of trust in the judicial system, she does so within a context of identity politics that points toward ultimate success in development potential, internationalism and openness to new ideas and technologies, a spirit of adventure and a willingness to sacrifice the misadventures of the recent past for the potential of the near future.

However, of even greater significance, the address makes it clear that the issue of national identity is now to involve a dual emphasis and interrelationship of policies toward Aborigines and policies toward China.

Rather than indigenous affairs being an ad hoc and marginal feature of social or cultural policy, it is to move center stage, as Tsai’s key notions of “the entire nation” and fairness require that policy should better monitor and improve the social and economic relations between Aborigines and a majority Chinese population.

Policy toward Aborigines can no longer be presumed as cultural protection of outsiders who are within Taiwan. Aboriginal policy must now be central to a political economy that has a firm identity, and it can only be a political bonus that Aboriginal ethnicity cannot be defined in any way as Chinese in origin.

Again, the “Straits question,” or relations with China, can no longer be seen as purely mechanistic, economic or political, but deeply embedded culturally in the developing crisis of identity among Taiwanese of many backgrounds, ethnic or otherwise. It can no longer be dismissed in artificial appeals to “the concensus” or other spurious formulae designed to hide abiding contradictions.
The same political dynamics are underway all across the world. Although it expresses its form in many different ways, the victory of Tsai in Taiwan is ultimately driven by the same forces propelling Trump in the United States. The friction within and between nations is being driven by culture and identity.

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