Written by Lara Momesso.
While most of the discussion on Taiwan’s presidential and parliamentary elections has focused on the two main parties, the KMT and the DPP, another debate reflects on the emergence of minor/small parties and their possible impact on the evolution of Taiwanese politics. However, this debate itself neglects pioneering and experimental parties that have registered recently, like the China Production Party (中國生產黨), the Chinese New Resident Party (中華新住民當政黨) and the Taiwan New Republican Party (台灣新住民共和黨). They claim to represent the interests of an increasingly significant segment of Taiwanese society, namely New Residents, individuals who migrated to Taiwan due to labour and marriage. What is surprising, and maybe worrisome for many Taiwanese, is the fact that these parties were set up by marriage migrants of Chinese origin. Therefore they are not just about New Residents, but they also are about Chinese spouses, cross-Strait families, and, ultimately, cross-Strait unification.
The emergence of these political organisations has been explained in light of political trends since President Ma has been in office. Most readers may be well aware of the fact that various political parties, with a manifesto based on promoting cross-Strait cooperation and peaceful unification, have registered since 2008. This also includes the China Production Party, the Chinese New Resident Party and the Taiwan New Republican Party. Many people have been wondering whether the CCP is trying to influence elections and the future of the island through these political parties. There is no doubt that there is a connection between the parties set up by Chinese spouses and the PRC. As a matter of fact, all these organisations have had various exchanges with political and economic actors in China. This is documented in their websites too. They also have welcomed Chinese delegations to Taiwan, particularly the visit of Zhang Zhijun during the summer 2014.
Yet, as a researcher who has been monitoring Chinese spouses’ collective actions via civil society organisations and informal networks for nearly a decade, I believe that it is important to understand these political parties in light of a number of social and political changes in Taiwan.
Firstly, in the last decade the number of migrants, and particularly Chinese spouses, who acquired political rights reached a significant level. In October 2016, out of 329,215 individuals from the PRC married to Taiwanese citizens, 122,269 had acquired Taiwanese citizenship and can thus vote in the coming elections. These individuals constitute the potential electorate for these newly formed parties. Yet, the party leaders I talked to, had a more optimistic view. According to them, these parties represent New Residents, not only Chinese spouses, but marriage migrants of other nationalities with Taiwanese citizenship. Such an appeal would double the size of this potential electorate. Moreover, for each marriage migrant, we should also consider their Taiwanese spouse, their adult children and other family members and friends who may support their cause and/or share pro-unification ideals. Therefore the potential electorate could exceed 600,000 individuals. Also, these figures will constantly grow in the coming years, with other immigrants acquiring citizenship rights and their children reaching voting age.
Secondly, we should consider the unfair treatment meted out to Chinese spouses and their families since the phenomenon started to become visible in the early 1990s. Particularly, when the DPP was in power (2000-2008), media stigmatisation, social prejudice, and legal discrimination became unbearable for these women. A political concern, related to safeguarding the sovereignty of the nation, lies behind this unfair treatment. Thus, Chinese spouses, seen as possible allies of the Communist Party, enemies of Taiwan, threats to national security, sovereignty and identity, have been transformed into political subjects. Collective and public actions have been organised by civil society groups in Taiwan with the aim of changing the situation. Since 2008, significant improvements were introduced by the KMT (partly motivated by the aim to safeguard a quota of its voters). Yet, despite recent achievements, Chinese spouses are still subjected to different legal treatment compared to other international marriage migrants. Thus the emergence of these political parties should be understood in light of this long-term discrimination and marginalisation, a neglect of the desires and needs of this group by the main parties, a politicisation of their daily lives and intentions, and a process of gradual acquisition, by marriage migrants, of new means to change this unfair condition.
Still in an experimental phase, these parties may have a minimal impact on the upcoming elections. Only the China Production Party nominated a candidate for the next elections. Interestingly this candidate is male and is competing in one of the Taiwanese aboriginal constituencies. The main idea behind this choice is to bring together underprivileged social groups, aboriginals and New Residents, in order to increase their negotiation power. By crossing ethnic and national boundaries, Chinese spouses may be able to further increase their supporters. Consequently, new trajectories and possibilities may emerge from these collaborations.
In such a vibrant atmosphere, the significance and evolution of these parties should be further assessed in the coming years. They could end up disappearing in a short time, or, conversely, reinforcing their presence during future elections, especially at the administrative level in those districts where New Residents and their supporters are highly concentrated. In addition, the future of these parties may depend on their ability to adjust to the new political arena that will be defined by the January elections. Certainly, the presence of these parties in Taiwan is an important sign of the level of democracy as well as the degree of migrants’ participation and inclusion in Taiwanese political life.
Lara Momesso is a Post-doctoral Researcher in the Centre for European and International Studies Research at the University of Portsmouth.