Seeing past Taiwan’s identity politics: a review of ‘The Great Exodus’ for Global Asia

The following article appeared in the December issue of Global Asia magazine:

Many China watchers see it as only a matter of time before Xi Jinping makes his move against Taiwan. The Hong Kong crackdown, the coming Biden presidency and the distraction of the Covid-19 pandemic, not to mention Xi’s own statements on the matter: It all signals curtains for Taiwan’s democracy.

This doom-and-gloom prognosis ignores several periods in contemporary cross-strait history that were equally — if not more — ominous. Accompanied by an ostentatious military threat, the Third Taiwan Strait Crisis of 1995 to 1996 was the most obvious of these; but the 2004 presidential election was imbued with perhaps an even greater sense of menace. Tensions had been simmering for months as Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) incumbent Chen Shui-bian sought re-election. Led by Lien Chan, the opposition Chinese Nationalist Party (Kuomintang, or KMT) had accused the president of exacerbating ethnic divisions through identity-based rabble-rousing. In speeches by KMT politicians and party campaign materials, Chen was frequently compared to Hitler (and also, incongruously, to Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden.)

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