A Marxist Review of Tsai Ing-wen’s Speech in New York City

by Parson Young

Photo Credit: Presidential Office/Public Domain

DPP CHAIRPERSON and presidential nominee Tsai Ing-wen’s recent visit to the US has been hailed as a success by the general Taiwanese Left. Many are excited especially by Tsai’s liaison with multiple high profile American politicians, including Deputy Secretary of State Anthony Blinken, Representative Ted Lieu, and Senators Jack Reed and John McCain, viewing these engagements as a sign of US endorsement to Tsai’s presidential campaign. Her twelve-day tour in the US concluded with a speech addressing a crowd of over a thousand Taiwanese immigrants, expatriates, and Taiwanese Americans.

In her thirty minute long speech in New York City, which was attended by over a thousand, Tsai spoke of her admiration to New York City as a “city where dreams come true,” her willingness to work with the rising Third Party movements in Taiwan, and a growing “new Asian value of democracy” that is championed by Taiwan. Granted that this particular speech is not designed for a disposition of policies, Tsai’s speech still lacked any concrete substance into what makes her a suitable candidate for presidency. This article will explore her speech as an example of the core emptiness of bourgeois liberal ideology in Taiwanese political discourse.

The Buzzword Hypnosis

POLITICAL PARTIES often have a fear of offering concrete proposals and fondness for using interchangeable buzzwords that somehow strengthens one’s candidacy. This is certainly true with the DPP in general, and Tsai’s speech in New York in particular. Tsai’s speech was essentially a hodgepodge of ego-stroking nostalgia for Taiwan’s long road towards liberal democracy, strained appeals to “democratic values” and vague promises of “improvements of welfare.” The most concrete aspect of her speech was the DPP’s willingness to work with newly formed third parties, and there was no further elaboration on this policy except a reference to how the DPP acceded the race for mayor of Taipei to Independent candidate Ko Wen-Je last year. There were no tangible suggestions for how to ameliorate income inequality, broken labor benefits system, increasing dependence on Chinese capital, and other topics that the people of Taiwan eagerly needs answers for. Even on the important issue of relations with China, Tsai avoided addressing this problem in her speech, and only vaguely promised to “maintain status quo” in her prior visit to Washington D.C.

PhotoCreditWang Chueh-wei:Want China TimesTsai speaking in New York on June 6th. Photo credit: Wang Hsueh-Wei/Want China Times

Tsai’s extensively vague political posture is a common practice not only in Taiwan, but also in bourgeois politics in general globally. Electoral campaigns everywhere abhors answering questions directly, instead disguising the candidates with token tributes to vague social values such as patriotism, “democracy,” “justice,” and words of that sort. Any partisan differences are merely cosmetic. In reality, these are just smoke bombs for whatever betrayals they’ve planned against their well-intentioned constituents after they get into office. These politicians base themselves on the crisis ridden capitalist system, a system which can not deliver any a decent living for the vast majority, therefore it better for them to say as little as possible.

Is It So Hard to Care about Labor Rights?

THROUGHOUT THE entire speech Tsai only spoke of “improving labor welfare” once, off handedly. For someone who is running for President, Tsai’s reluctance to engage 59% of Taiwan’s employed population is certainly a grave mistake to make. However, we might remember Tsai’s previous gaffe on commenting that Taiwanese workers “take too many holidays,” on which KMT repeatedly attacked her on (although to be sure, the outright bourgeois KMT cares even less about the Taiwanese workers than the DPP). Besides, with the recent fiasco of South Korean Hydis factory workers, who came to Taiwan to protest the Taiwanese bourgeois He Shou-Chuan for his role in arbitrarily shutting down factories in South Korea, only to be met with Taiwanese police brutality, Tsai has been silent on the matter.

All these events insinuate a trend that DPP does not sufficiently care for labor rights, and thus is not a viable alternative for the Taiwanese workers to support. It is hardly surprising, as the DPP has had a long history of relying on tycoon benefactors, such as Evergreen Group chairman Chang Yung-fa and Far Eastern Group chairman Douglas Hsu. It is a bourgeois “Left” party that the bosses can count on. It is time for the workers of Taiwan to form their own political party, and when it does, it will be a more powerful political force than any of the newly emerging third parties.

Bowing to US Imperialism

AS TAIWANESE, we’ve been educated to accept being an American client state in East Asia, with all the ridiculous costs that this implies. From being forced to purchase overpriced and outdated American weaponry, to having our elections being overwhelmingly influenced by opinions of the White House, the people of Taiwan should be fed up with having a democracy with tied hands by now. However, during this trip, Tsai’s “success” as hailed by Left media was purely based on just the people she got to meet. What she talked about with those American politicians remains hidden from the public, besides her commitment to “maintain the status quo.” What a pitiful status this is for the 99% of Taiwan!

Economically, while we remain in the dark concerning Tsai’s stance with regards to the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB), we do know that Tsai is eager to join the American side of the neoliberal imperialist game, as she repeatedly expressed support for Taiwan’s entry to the US-led Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). This expansive yet secretly negotiated free trade agreement not only expands neoliberal trades to East Asia in the spirit of NAFTA (which was proven to be disastrous for the working class of all the countries involved), it also sought to export the US’s increasingly tight control over internet freedom to all the signee countries in the name of intellectual property rights. Tsai’s advocacy for Taiwan’s involvement in TPP clearly does not have the Taiwanese working class in mind.

We Deserve Better

THE OUTBREAK and massive success of the Sunflower Movement last year is a rock solid testament of the people’s anger against our impotent political system. The student’s takeover of the Legislative Yuan should be an abundantly clear message to both the KMT and the DPP that the people will no longer tolerate their shenanigans. We expect the arrogant KMT to never admit that they are wrong, but has the DPP learned anything? It is apparent to this author that Tsai and the DPP’s habitual use of empty political language and continued hesitance to offer concrete policies strongly shows that the DPP is still not an option for the working class of Taiwan.

Tsai’s wrap up speech in New York City is perhaps the epitome of the DPP electoral strategy: to lavishly praising the Taiwanese people while offering no tangible policies. Trite phrases of Taiwan being a “cosmopolitan” and “democratic” were invoked incessantly, while telling us nothing about how she intends to defend these aspects of Taiwanese society. In a short English portion of her speech, Tsai spoke of a “new Asian value” coming out of Taiwan, a value of “peaceful democracy.” How she is going to maintain this was never explained, and her assertion to maintain the status quo hints at a strategy to sacrifice our democracy in placating peace with imperialist China. Moreover, how can there be peace when our own workers are being oppressed daily while our national bourgeois ramps up the exploitation abroad, so much that South Korean workers of Hydis even flew over to our country to protest the bosses? How can there be peace when Taiwan is also experiencing rising inequality, real estate hike, youth unemployment, diminishing labor rights, all of which are virulent symptoms of the crisis of global capitalism? Is her lack of answer to these questions really the best alternative to the KMT we can get?

After decades of fighting against authoritarianism, we deserve better than a “democracy” that forces us to choose between the bad and the worse. The only true alternative is for the Taiwanese working class, the most powerful force of any society, to step out and form a Mass Party of Labor. Workers built and run our society, they also have the power to fundamentally change it for the better. The leaders of all 5825 unions of Taiwan should rally together and form an All Taiwan Federal Union (not to be confused with the ancient, KMT installed Chinese Federation of Labor). [1] This federation could call on all workers, youth and others who are sick and tired of being routinely betrayed by Taiwanese politicians and their big business backers to form a new mass party that represents the workers in Taiwan. Only then will we get a powerful political force that fights the oppressors on our behalf. Only then will a better society be possible.


[1] Kenny Lin, “簡單聊聊台灣的工會組織現況”,  <http://on.fb.me/1GFEkiP>

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