Looming China fosters Taiwan identity in independence heartland

Tue Oct 25, 2011 2:05am EDT
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By Ben Blanchard

KAOHSIUNG, Taiwan (Reuters) - Tsai Chin-sheng's voice rises with emotion when asked whether he feels Taiwanese or Chinese. Then he utters the response that Beijing fears most.

"Of course I'm pure Taiwanese. I'm not Chinese. We are not a province of China. We are our own country," Tsai said in thickly accented Mandarin through teeth stained red from chewing betel nut, a popular stimulant.

"We have democracy and human rights here. What the hell does China have to offer?" added Tsai, an enthusiastic supporter of Taiwan's Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), which hopes to unseat the China-friendly Nationalists in presidential elections on January 14.

"Maybe the Chinese tourists who come here now can learn a thing or two from us and apply it when they go home," said the businessman, a resident of southern Taiwan's balmy port city of Kaohsiung, a DPP stronghold and pro-independence hotbed.

China claims Taiwan as its own, to be taken back by force if necessary, though the two have been ruled separately since defeated Nationalist forces fled to the island in 1949 at the end of a civil war with the Communists.

Decades of dictatorship and repression followed by a gusty uptaking of democracy have engendered not only pride at Taiwan's generally smooth transition to rule by the ballot box, but also a growing feeling of distance and difference from China.

Many Taiwanese look with nervousness, if not fear, at China, where the ruling Communist Party remains unmoved by calls for political liberalization.

Taiwan's free-wheeling press covers the island's politics in a critical way unthinkable for China's stodgy state-controlled media, and giving ink to Chinese dissidents and unrest in the mainland that would never make it past Beijing's censors.   Continued...

<p>Supporters of Taiwan's Opposition Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) hold placards while waiting for DPP vice presidential candidate Su Jia-chyuan to arrive in Dajia city in Taichung, central Taiwan October 12, 2011. REUTERS/Pichi Chuang</p>