Written by Ben Goren and Michael Turton.

In his latest piece for this Blog, Thinking Taiwan Editor-in-chief J. Michael Cole argues that Beijing faces not one but two forces for independence in Taiwan: Taidu (臺獨), who support de jure independence for Taiwan, and ‘Huadu’ (華獨), supporters of maintaining a ‘status-quo’ of de facto Taiwanese independence, under the rubric of the Republic of China, for as long as China threatens to annex Taiwan by force. Cole claims that both Taidu (Taiwan independence nationalists) and Huadu (ROC independence nationalists) now comprise the vast majority of people in Taiwan and thus, he argues, Taiwanese President-elect Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) should attempt to secure the overlapping interests of both groups if she wants to achieve national unity and present a united front against Beijing’s pressure.

Although the piece is creative, it posits a false dichotomy based on a misunderstanding of the etymology of the term ‘Huadu’.  Although the term has become more popular in recent years, it originated as a dismissive phrase coined by Taidu supporters to refer to other Taiwanese who they see as weak-willed appeasers of the ongoing ROC colonial occupation of Taiwan. Outside of this tiny subset of active citizens who are politically engaged on the issue of Taiwan’s independence, the term Huadu remains largely unknown.

Cole argues that Huadu supporters tend to associate with the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) and the People First Party (PFP). This is incorrect. Even if the term was repurposed to describe these people, Huadu would still be a very loose way to describe individuals who feel that the current status quo as the ROC is an acceptable short-run compromise. Note that Taidu calls for independence are simultaneously calls for abolition of the ROC.

Huadu and Taidu are two flavors of the same thing: independence from China. The difference lies in the substance of each phenomenon. Taidu is an identifiable political cleavage whereas Huadu is a label conferred by others. The only evidence of Huadu’s existence surfaces intermittently in polls that ask whether Taiwanese want independence, the status-quo, or annexation. Those polls provide too little information on the identity of respondents to conclude that those who favour the status-quo have a unique and consciously shared political identity.

Cole talks of the “the values and liberal-democratic practices that are now intrinsic to the form of nationalism that has developed in Taiwan over the decades” without defining the content or context of that nationalism. In fact that context is Taiwanese nationalism, and liberal democratic practices are a core component of its identity. They are not core components of KMT identities. The KMT under President Ma Ying-jeou put great effort into reviving the ethnic component of Chinese nationalist identity in Taiwan, since it underlies the KMT’s Han Chinese nationalism. Taiwan and China are therefore not so neatly divided into civic verse ethnic variants of nationalism as they can both be found in each nation. Neither the KMT nor its satellite parties are ‘Huadu’ because Huadu would be a weak form of independence, which they utterly reject. Huadu could also be a way of being Taiwanese, and the core of the KMT sees itself as Chinese.

Cole’s description of how former President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) “probably catered too much to the Taidu crowd, while President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) has centred his efforts on the huadu segment within Taiwanese society and alienated Taidu supporters” is problematic. Ma’s ideological rigidity was typified by his curriculum “reforms” (which Cole extensively and brilliantly reported on). His obsession with a program of ‘re-sinifying’ Taiwan  was one of the factors that swung public opinion sharply against him. Moreover, there is no “huadu segment within Taiwanese society”, that Ma could talk to, because Huadu is not a formal idea or ideological program which people are out there supporting, like “unification” or “independence”. Ma’s message followed traditional KMT themes: the future is China, if the DPP wins there will be war, and similar. Indeed, it was Ma’s (and the KMT’s) inability to appeal to middle of the road voters, who might be the presumed Huadu crowd, that led to the KMT’s blowout losses in 2014 and 2016.

In the end, it is more accurate to think of Huadu not as some kind of meaningful or identifiable political cleavage, but as a misappropriation and inflation of a very specific and limited term. There are no “two camps” because Huadu is not a camp. Everyone who is “Huadu”, as Cole correctly observes, is also Taidu. If tomorrow Beijing said it no longer objected to Taiwan independence, this nebulous Huadu crowd would wave good bye to the ROC without a second thought.

Ben Goren and Michael Turton own Letters from Taiwan and The View from Taiwan respectively.