by Antoaneta Bezlova
(IPS) -- Beijing still preaches brotherhood and cultural kinship with "Taiwanese compatriots" whom it calls the fellow descendants of the Yellow Emperor, but the emergence of an assertive Taiwanese identity is making the idea of re-unification between China and Taiwan an obsolete remnant of a bygone era.
Never before in the five decades of rivalry and belligerence between the island of Taiwan and mainland China, has the gap forged by different consciousness on both sides of the Taiwan Strait loomed this large.
"Re-unification? Why?" Taiwanese sailor Huang Ching-long asks IPS. "We (Taiwanese) and mainlanders are different. We have the right to vote, we can hold national referendum and go freely abroad. People in mainland China are not allowed anything of the kind. Why would we volunteer to get new dictators? We had enough with the (ruling) Kuomintang."
Ten years ago, the majority of 23 million Taiwanese people described themselves as "Chinese." Now polls show that the majority of them feel "Taiwanese" before they feel "Chinese."
Yet the shift in this ethnic identity -- 54 years since the communist revolution in China -- has gone almost unrecognized by mainland Chinese experts, who continue to brandish threats against Taiwanese President Chen Shui-bian for pushing ahead with an agenda to formally declare Taiwan an independent state.
Indeed, in the Mar. 20 presidential elections, Chen, leader of the ruling Democratic Progressive Party, campaigned on a platform of greater independence and defiance of communist China.
He won by a razor-thin margin against the opposition alliance of the Kuomintang and People First Party, who favor a less confrontational approach toward Beijing - although the results of the vote are now the subject of violent, angry divisions in Taiwan.
China continues to claim Taiwan as part of its territory, which it lost during the Civil War (1945-49) between the Nationalist (Kuomintang) forces of Chiang Kai-shek and the communist Red Army of Mao Zedong. After its defeat at the hands of communists, Chiang led the Kuomintang troops into exile on Taiwan.
The Kuomintang's (KMT) autocratic rule of the island claimed thousands of victims and Taiwan lived under the heavy hand of military rule until 1987, when martial law was lifted. People born on the island -- native Taiwanese like Chen Shui-bian, resented the bullying domination and corrupt rule of the mainlanders, but had little means to fight it.
The years since Chiang Kai-shek's death have seen the introduction of gradual democratic reforms, which have pushed Taiwan away from its historic claims to regain what it called the "rebel provinces" of communist China.
Lee Teng-hui, a native Taiwanese who became the island's first democratically elected president in 1996, admitted that the KMT's grand visions of uniting with mainland China under Nationalist rule have been taken over by open talk of Taiwan being a separate state.
Lee and consequently Chen Shui-bian's talk about Taiwanese national identity has infuriated communist leaders in Beijing. China has warned Taiwanese voters not to support pro-independence leaders but has refused to acknowledge that their "provocative talk" is backed by a real and growing sense of a new Taiwanese consciousness.
The Democratic Progressive Party, which promotes a 'Taiwan first' political agenda, has increased its electoral support from 4.97 million votes in 2000 to 6.47 million votes this year. Even the Kuomintang, which advocates improved relations with mainland China, dropped the mention of the reunification goal from its pre-election rallies.
Responding to popular support for Taiwanese identity, KMT's leader Lien Chan and his running mate James Soong (both originally from mainland China), had to kiss the ground during a recent political rally to show that they love Taiwan.
Little of these events have been reported to the mainland public.
State-controlled mainland media in China gives scarce information on life and social changes in Taiwan apart from the official communist propaganda. Chen and his party are regularly vilified by Beijing for plotting to make the island's de facto independence permanent and abandoning the goal they once shared of reunification one day.
While the high drama of Taiwan's presidential elections made headlines around the world, the mainland's media virtually ignored the polls until the opposition staged protests in front of the Presidential Palace in Taipei demanding a recount of the closely fought vote last week.
An avalanche of reports that appeared in the mainland newspapers over the weekend also sought to discredit Chen Shui-bian's leadership and cast doubts on his legitimacy as re-elected president. "Taiwanese masses protest 'unfair, unjust' election," read a headline in the 'Beijing Youth Daily', one of the mainland's most popular newspapers.
Chen won the Mar. 20 presidential vote by a margin of less than 30,000 votes. His opponent Lien Chan has refused to accept the outcome, alleging that Chen won due to of a number of sympathy votes, triggered by a suspicious assassination attempt on the eve of the elections, on Mar. 19.
Messages in the mainland's Internet chatrooms echoed Beijing's critical line of DPP and its leader. "Everyone knows he is cheating. Chen is not to be trusted," said one entry. "We should give up the dream of peaceful reunification and start preparing for military action," wrote another netizen.
However, mainland writers who have visited Taiwan in recent years and witnessed the surge of nationalist pride among Taiwanese, are issuing a passionate plea to compatriots on the island not to forget the motherland.
"Save the memories of the homeland," writer Li Rui said at a panel discussion organized by the Guangzhou-based 'Southern Weekend' newspaper last week.
"Common culture is like mother's womb," warned mainland author Zhang Wei. "You may change the name it bears, you can even change the laws but eventually you cannot escape the truth that we all came from the same womb."
Many Taiwanese agree -- but they also think that the chance for reunification, if there ever was one, has passed.
Huang Su-eng, a social worker with the Female Labor Rights Association in Taiwan, sounds frustrated when she describes to IPS the current atmosphere of political correctness.
"We have come to the point when anybody that opposes confrontation with mainland China is seen as an internal enemy, a person who doesn't love Taiwan," she says. "I don't think reunification is possible, not in any foreseeable future. But I also don't like this antagonism with mainland China. Does this make me an enemy of Taiwan?"
April 2, 2004 (http://www.albionmonitor.net) All Rights Reserved. Contact email@example.com for permission to use in any format.
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