TAIPEI—Wen Lii is jogging with an inflatable yellow fish these days.
It’s part of a colorful bid by the 33-year-old to become the next provincial magistrate of the Taiwan-administered island chain of Matsu.
The large island of Taiwan isn’t visible from the southeast coast of mainland China, but it’s easy enough to spot the smaller Matsu, a lavish home of 13,000, where the yellow croaker fish is known, and not just as seafood.
“The fish are known for croaking loudly in the sea, energetic and not afraid to make their voices heard!” Lii explains on a recent day between campaign stops and island hopping.
He is a candidate for the independence-leaning Democratic Progressive Party (DPP). This is the first election in Matsu with a string of DPP candidates competing for positions outside the Kuomintang (KMT), a party that promotes closer ties to Beijing and tends to dominate Taiwan’s older communities.
Lii has joined candidates across Taiwan in the quintessential array of healthy photos that characterize the local election season — everything from mixing drinks at a gay bar to baking cakes and square dancing with cheering aunts.
However, there is a shadow that invariably hangs over local politics.
Matsu is less than 20 kilometers away from China. While the residents of Matsu were being courted, internet censorship in the mainland this week worked to take down social media posts featuring rare protest banners in Beijing calling for “votes” and “dignity”, while another president Xi Jinping called for an “insidious called dictator. Many online commentators expressed concerns for the safety of whoever was behind the daring demonstration – China is a leading jailer of political prisoners and its courts have a 99.9 percent conviction rate.
Leading Taiwan at any level is wrestling with the question of the future of democracy and the evolving risk of military confrontation with Beijing as geopolitical tensions mount.
“It’s like living next door to a neighborhood bully who has repeatedly threatened to take over or destroy your home,” Lii told The Star.
Taiwan’s local elections on November 26 will usher in a list of mayors, councilors, village chiefs and magistrates who will shape the future of Taiwanese politics; one of the victors may even become the next leader of Taiwan. (In the next presidential election in 2024, President Tsai Ing-wen will not be eligible for a third term.)
The Star visited Taiwan last month and spoke to lawmakers, pundits and politicians who argue that forging global ties based on shared democratic values is not just good politics, but part of the island’s survival strategy.
“People in Taiwan are always aware of the risk of China attacking us, but at the same time, we continue with our daily lives,” Lii said.
“I really think it just makes people more adamant about practicing democracy and connecting with like-minded countries of the world, like Canada.”
Demonstration of democratic values
Beijing has steadily increased diplomatic and military pressure on Taiwan in recent years, having cut all contact with the government in 2016 after DPP’s Tsai refused to endorse the communist regime’s claim that Taiwan and the mainland are a single Chinese nation. , with Beijing’s leaders being the sole legitimate government.
Unlike its predecessor, Ma Ying-jeou of the KMT, Tsai’s party emphasizes the defense of Taiwan’s democratic values and liberal policies.
From Taipei, the Star’s Joanna Chiu speaks to locals about their thoughts on political tensions with China, the risk of war, how countries like Canada can help, and what makes Taiwan unique.
Meanwhile, public opinion in Taiwan has become widely critical of China’s authoritarian political system. According to a 2021 Pew Research questionnaire69 percent of people in Taiwan had a negative view of China, with the majority believing that China does not respect the rights of its people.
In August, the Chinese military completed the largest-ever military exercises around Taiwan, sending warships and planes across the dividing line of the 180-kilometer-wide strait that separates Taiwan and continental Asia. It was a show of force after a one-day trip to Taiwan by US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, the most senior US official to visit the island in 25 years.
Taiwan and mainland China split during a civil war in 1949. Beijing sees official international contact with Taiwan as an encouragement to make the island’s de facto independence permanent, a move that most countries do not actually support.
And yet Taipei’s mayoral candidates were eager to meet with the Star about strengthening Taiwan’s global position and cooling tensions with mainland China, which remains Taiwan’s largest trading and investment partner.
“We want the world to come to Taipei. Our international affairs office can help attract economic and trade developments to make Taipei a friendly city for foreigners to immigrate,” DPP Taipei mayoral candidate Chen Shih-chung said at a campaign event, where he spoke for a row of toilets stood as part of a pledge to install more public toilets.
The KMT candidate, Chiang Wan-an, meanwhile, after some square dancing, told the Star that if he were elected mayor, he would promote the exchange of people from cities in mainland China and Taipei to “promote dialogue over confrontation.” “.
A potential candidate for Taiwan’s next president, who is the great-grandson of former Taiwanese President Chiang Kai-shek, also said his city should hold regular technology exhibitions and sporting events so that “international people will visit Taipei regularly. ”
‘Taiwan can help’
Across the political spectrum, Taiwan’s political class seems to agree on the importance of deepening Taiwan’s ties to the world.
Under Tsai and during the COVID-19 pandemic, Taipei has called for expanded foreign ties and increased engagement with international organizations such as the World Health Organization and the Montreal-based International Civil Aviation Organization.
Miao Poya of the newly formed Social Democratic Party became Taiwan’s first openly gay city councilor in 2018 and is running for reelection. She says the pandemic has only increased Taiwanese people’s interest in making meaningful contributions to global efforts, such as fighting climate change and advocating for LGBTQ rights. (In 2019, Taiwan became the first jurisdiction in Asia to legalize same-sex marriage.)
“Taiwan has handled the COVID-19 pandemic quite well. Our death rate is low. People in Taiwan were surprised to see so much positive global media coverage. I think it made people think that Taiwan could contribute more in areas like global health and human rights,” Miao told the Star.
“The slogan is: ‘Taiwan can help.’ We want to help. Taiwanese know that without representation in the United Nations or other international bodies, we are at risk become a stranger to international society.
“I think the more successful Taiwan becomes, the more China doesn’t like it, and worries that people in Taiwan could influence people in mainland China…I think I’d be a (progressive) candidate that China doesn’t.” like.”
JOIN THE CALL