Humans of Hong Kong

Humans of Hong Kong

Translated version of feature stories and interviews by Stand News. 立場新聞專題、人訪的英文版本。

2020/1/11 - 18:05

Lin Fei-fan: Taiwan’s sense of ‘national doom’ and the expansion of Xi’s imperialist vision

Humans of Hong Kong 為《立場新聞》欄目,刊出由特約作者翻譯、英文版本的立場專題、人物專訪,方便國際讀者閱讀。

"Humans of Hong Kong" is a brand new column highlighting the English version of feature stories and interviews by Stand News.

Taiwanese citizens will elect their new President on 11 January 2020. The top job is contested by James Soong Chu-yu from the People First Party, Han Kuo-yu from the Kuomintang (KMT), and Tsai Ing-wen from the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP). The results of this election will be determined not only by domestic issues in Taiwan, but also by the complex and interlocking relationships between cross-strait relations, the Hong Kong anti-extradition movement, and the geopolitics of the ‘new Cold War’.

 “The phrase ‘national doom’ has always been used and manipulated by politicians to promote partisan interests and to attack their opponents. For this reason, I don't really like using it,” said 31-year old Lin Fei-fan. Lin rose to fame as a student leader of the Sunflower Movement in 2014. He was appointed as the Deputy Secretary-general of the Democratic Progressive Party in July 2019.


This development was foreseeable and yet still surprising. On the one hand, it had been reported that Lin had close ties with the DPP and the incumbent President Tsai Ing-Wen; on the other hand, he had originally planned to return to the UK to continue studying for a PhD in September. What changed Lin’s mind and led him to take up the post? Precisely the phrase of which he is deeply critical. “Truthfully, it was the feeling of ‘national doom’––when I returned to Taiwan in January, there was already a deep and foreboding sense of dread that Taiwan would soon fall to the Chinese Communist Party. The whole country was gripped by anxiety and despair, and I felt the same.”

That was the aftermath of the 2018 Taiwanese local elections, in which the DPP suffered from landslide defeat, losing 16 out of 22 major municipality and county seats. Han Kuo-yu, who defeated the DPP candidate in Kaohsiung––previously a stronghold of the DPP––relished a heady, popular victory. Immediately, the new DPP General Secretary Luo Wen-jia invited Lin Fei-fan to join the Party, in the hope of reconnecting with the younger generations through Lin’s fame and influence. “I rejected the invitation at first,” Lin said.



Lin ultimately decided to leave the ivory tower and take up the offer to get involved in electoral politics, because he was worried that the revolutionary reforms introduced by the DPP over the last three years would be completely reversed. “There could be the reintroduction of nuclear power; the reversal of pension reforms; and the disruption of transitional justice processes.” These three issues encapsulate the ‘progressive’ mindset of younger generations of Taiwanese, who have been pushing for these reforms for many years. The results of the 2018 local elections, however, demonstrated that conservative and reactionary forces were much stronger than people once thought; they seemed like a premonition that Taiwan would ‘return to square one’ in 2020. “The KMT is coming back; does this mean we are going to sign the Cross-Strait Service Trade Agreement (CSSTA) again? That would be a great setback to the legacy of the 2014 Sunflower Movement, which resulted in a greater vigilance against China and a stronger determination to defend our democracy. In that moment, I told myself: it’s time to take the plunge.”

Lam’s change in mentality is largely representative of the mentality of most Taiwanese citizens in their twenties and thirties. They are worried about the 'Kuomintang Restoration’ and its rejection of progressive values; and what is worse is the fear of the potential of infiltration by the Chinese Communist Party. Tsai Ing-wen's popularity has gone up since President Xi Jinping announced that “One Country, Two Systems” would be the ultimate formula used to annex Taiwan into the People’s Republic of China in his “Message to Compatriots in Taiwan” on 2 January 2019. After the breakout of the anti-extradition movement in June 2019 in Hong Kong, Han Kuo-yu’s popularity also fell drastically. The latest poll shows that Tsai Ing-wen enjoys a massive lead over Han in terms of popularity. In one poll, Han’s level of support from young people was in the single digits. 

 “I do not think that one misstep will take us down the path of no return. Instead, I would put it this way: Tsai and Han symbolise two different visions for Taiwan,” Lin said.

The 2020 Presidential Election Result is about the future of the Nation

The 2020 Presidential Election offers two choices for Taiwanese citizens: Tsai Ing-Wen from the DPP, who represents the pro-independence, Taiwan-centred side of society; and Han Kuo-yu from the KMT, who represents the ‘conservative’ elements. In Lin’s words, “from 2008 onwards, the core principle of the KMT has been reliance on China. In exchange for carving out a space for political survival, the party accepted the ‘One China’ principle, whose endpoint is the annexation of Taiwan into the People’s Republic of China. This is the path that the KMT has been taking all along––and it is precisely for this reason that the KMT has never managed to win over Taiwanese people’s trust.” 

Han Kuo-yu is seemingly different from the previous presidential candidates of the KMT. In Lam’s view, Han’s manifesto is all slogans. “Of all the presidential candidates the KMT has ever had, Han seems the least concerned with articulating a clear set of policies.” Lin said that Han’s campaign slogan, “Taiwan Safe, People Rich” has almost no substance. “How can Taiwan be safe? How can people be rich? Han never talks about it. Nobody has campaigned like him in the past.”

Regardless of how unorthodox Han appears to be, if you strip away the slogan ‘Taiwan Safe, People Rich’, what he is advocating is essentially the same old KMT thinking: Taiwan should maintain good relations with China so as to lower the risk of Chinese military invasion and repression; at the same time, Taiwan will be able to gain riches by doing business with China.

 “They [people who support the KMT] are still living in the past, living and thinking like people from 20 years ago.”

Lin observed that there had been a period of ‘strategic ambiguity’ between Taiwan and China, underpinned by the principle of “no unification, no independence and no use of force”, for a while. This allowed both sides to achieve their respective goals. Taiwan exploited this grey area to acquire economic benefits while maintaining a certain degree of political autonomy. But this unspoken consensus has been broken. It has become increasingly difficult for Taiwan to do business with China without falling under its control. “In my view the fundamental shift happened when Xi Jinping came to power in 2012. The focus of Chinese foreign policy changed from a stance of hiding the country’s might and biding its time, to a more expansionist approach. With that, the cross-strait grey area vanished.”

Lin described Xi’s foreign policy as a form of ‘Chinese imperialism’. The expansionist nature of this policy is evident through China’s growing influence in African politics; the One Belt One Road project; the country’s attempts to prevent Taiwan from participating in global politics; and its active meddling in the Taiwanese presidential election by means of spreading fake news. This policy is also the root of many young people’s sense of ‘national doom’: “If China had not done these things, it would not be possible for politicians to manufacture a sense of ‘national doom’; it is China’s aggression that is feeding the sentiment of ‘national doom’. 



 ‘National doom’ comes from Chinese aggression and repression

While the KMT sees the phrase ‘national doom’ as a political slogan manipulated by the DPP to pursue its own interests, Lin argues that it captures the deeply-felt sentiments amongst Taiwanese citizens regarding Chinese repression and aggression. Since June, the unfolding of the anti-extradition movement in Hong Kong has provided a focal point for Taiwanese people’s anxieties, presenting a blood-soaked example of what ‘One Country, Two System’ might look like for Taiwan. “‘One Country, Two Systems’ was originally set out to be a template for Taiwan’s unification with China––Hong Kong was meant to exemplify the guarantees that would be granted to Taiwan. But the situation in Hong Kong clearly demonstrates that ‘One Country, Two Systems’ does not exist and is not credible,” Lin said.

There is a general feeling in society and within the KMT that the threat of China and the crackdown in Hong Kong are playing into the hands of the Tsai-Ing Wen led-DPP, and that the DPP’s electoral campaign is relying on stances in foreign policy. The KMT even described the situation as a 'political windfall’ for the DPP. But Lin argues that the DPP’s and Tsai’s stance regarding the threat of China and the crackdown in Hong Kong shows a crucial clarity of vision regarding Taiwan’s future; it is not simply a ploy to gain votes. “When the DPP says it supports Hong Kong, it is saying that it is necessity to scrutinise ‘One Country, Two Systems’; when the KMT says it supports Hong Kong, it means that Han Kuo-yu has gone to the Chinese Liaison Office.”

People often say, “Today Hong Kong, Tomorrow Taiwan”. Lam observes there is a bond of brotherhood between Hong Kong and Taiwan, since they are both facing first-hand threats and repression from the same source: China. Taiwan and Hong Kong are both at a crossroads in different ways – Hong Kong’s battle is playing out on its streets, while Taiwan’s fight is taking place at the ballot boxes. 

 “The 2020 presidential election is a choice between two paths, two sets of ideals: you can either rely on authoritarian China, carving out a space for survival in its shadow; or you can choose to try and strengthen Taiwan––its economic autonomy, national security and the strength of its democracy––in the face of Chinese repression.”