South Asia and Beyond

Chinese Netizens Hail Taiwan Elections, Want ‘Freedom’ In Mainland

 Chinese Netizens Hail Taiwan Elections, Want ‘Freedom’ In Mainland

Readers may not be surprised to know that when the Taiwan elections were getting underway, coverage in China’s state-controlled media was censored. People’s Daily in a small report buried in page 4, merely noted that the “Taiwan Region” had held elections for its leaders and representatives. But Taiwan elections were two words entirely missing from China’s social media, courtesy the heavy hand of government censors.

That ordinary Chinese did not share their government’s views was evident from the interest expressed by netizens, many of whom were impressed by the transparent nature of Taiwan’s election process.

“Congratulations Xiao Lai” wrote a Chinese netizen on Weibo within minutes of William Lai of the DPP being declared the winner. Important to note that the word Xiao used before the surname indicates respect or affection.

In the run up to polling day, several comments from Chinese netizens on Weibo stood out. Some emphasised the importance of focusing on the elections rather than solely on reunification, while others advocated a similar level of transparency in China’s elections.

One comment by a netizen was particularly telling. “Taiwanese people have achieved democracy and freedom. We should reflect on ourselves,” he wrote on Weibo. In fact, there was a fair amount of curiosity expressed about Taiwan’s election process vis a vis China’s. For instance, the absence of polling stations in the latter and the complete lack of any public messaging encouraging citizens to vote!

There were also those who wore their loyalties to the Chinese government on their sleeve. A news item on Jan. 11 titled “The Ministry of Foreign Affairs urges the United States to intervene in Taiwan’s elections by any means,” a netizen with the highest likes on Weibo said: “We must intervene in the election in an honest and open manner. This is our right. Let the candidates be clearly stated.”

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Other netizens made fun of him, pointing out that, “If you can’t even choose the representative of the neighbourhood committee at your doorstep, don’t worry about other people. Your rights are just having weekend breaks as 996 is universal in China (employees have to work from 9:00 am to 9:00 pm, 6 days per week; i.e. 72 hours per week, 12 hours per day).”

On January 14th, a Weibo blogger posed an interesting question: “If you were a compatriot from Taiwan, would you be willing to reunify?” Almost all the responses in the comment section expressed unwillingness. One said: “Don’t unify, if you unify and come to China you will have to see medical shortages and high housing prices.”

Another said: “No bread and freedom. Choose freedom. Bread can be obtained. Only freedom can secure bread.” The meaning was clear: freedom should be prioritised over economic needs. Freedom is essential and can lead to securing other needs.

As far as the Chinese government is concerned, the first statement within hours of the Taiwan poll results being declared, came from Chen Binhua, spokesperson for the State Council Taiwan Affairs Office. He claimed that the results revealed that the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) could not represent the mainstream public opinion on the island.

This was complete nonsense as the DPP had won over 40% of the vote. If counted together with the 26% of the Taiwan Progressive Party, it’s clear that more than 66% of Taiwanese see their political aspirations as very different from China’s.

Chen Binhua also claimed that the elections would not change the basic landscape and development trend of cross-strait relations, would not alter the “shared aspiration of compatriots across the Taiwan Strait to forge closer ties”, and would not impede the inevitable trend of China’s reunification.

China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi, in a similar vein said, “The results of the elections will not change the fact there is only one China in the world, and that Taiwan is part of China, nor will it change the universal consensus in the international community to follow the one-China principle.”

Resham

Research Associate at StratNewsGlobal, A keen observer of #China and Foreign Affairs. Writer, Weibo Trends, Analyst. Twitter: @resham_sng

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