Daniel Han Kuo-yu is playing on familiar but dated fears:
The Thailand Trade and Economic Office in Taipei in a statement on Monday last week said that the new rule also applies to British, Chinese and French passport holders, and would be extended to more nations.
“They look down on us,” Han said at a rally in Taipei. “Southeast Asian countries are no longer taking Taiwan seriously because of its poor economic performance, diplomatic difficulties and domestic problems.”
Although the Thai government has since postponed the implementation of the rule, it should be taken as a sign that Taiwan is “quickly going downhill,” Han said.
The Jan. 11 elections present a life-or-death choice for the Republic of China, he said, adding that the nation would face four years of “misery” if President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) of the Democratic Progressive Party is re-elected.
At a separate rally in Taipei, Han reiterated that neighboring nations no longer consider Taiwan as deserving of their attention.
With the Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement (ECFA) expected to expire next year and Taiwan’s entry into the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) seeming unlikely, the nation’s future is shrouded in uncertainty, he said.
His wife, Lee Chia-fen (李佳芬), has met with their overseas supporters in Malaysia and Indonesia who told her “in tears” that they were saddened to see Taiwan decline, Han said.
“The world is forgetting Taiwan and Taiwan is forgetting the world,” he said.
Taiwanese TV channels do not broadcast world news, only political talk shows, as they are cheaper to produce and commentators “simply say what they want based on their political leaning,” Han said.
If elected, he would promote English-language education at elementary schools and launch a program to send university students abroad for a year using government funds.
Being forgotten by the world is an old-standing fear, one that goes back possibly as far as the war against the incoming Japanese colonialists in 1895, when the Qing Empire signed away Taiwan “in perpetuity”. Han’s reference is likely to much more events, the drip-drip loss of diplomatic partners since the 1950s, the loss of UN seat on the security council and the inability of Taiwan to join many regional and international institutions and trade blocs. He’s also playing on another fear: Of losing face and being disrespected in front of other Southeast Asian nations. Notice his phrasing: “They look down on us,” Han said. That Han, who has on various occasions referred to Filipinos as “Marias”–a pejorative term, especially for Filipina housekeepers and caretakers–used the “looking down” terminology suggests he might be playing on the fear of people who some look down on as looking down on them instead: a major loss of face. There is some history here. For a long time Filipinos were the second richest people in Asia (after Japan), and looked down on Taiwanese as poor and backward. When Taiwan’s economy took off, the newly rich businessmen who fanned out across Southeast Asia and China initially had a terrible reputation for very ostentatiously showing off their newfound wealth, and flaunting their wealth. Han’s core audience is of the generation that produced many of those businessmen, and remember when Taiwan was poor.
Younger Taiwanese don’t remember, or often don’t know, this part of Taiwan’s history–they’ve grown up during an era when Taiwanese are fairly well respected and liked, or at least not disliked, throughout the region. They’re rightfully proud of Taiwan’s achievements and ability to punch well above its weight as a small nation. They are much more cosmopolitan and aware of the outside world, and lack the fears of their older counterparts. This is one of the many cultural and generational disconnects between Han’s campaign and core support base, and the younger generations, who have largely eschewed or outright disdains Han.
Image: Daniel Han’s Facebook page