Thousands March in Taiwan Over Independence, 'Bullying' From Beijing

china-taiwan-rally-oct-2018-1000.jpg Demonstrators gather outside the headquarters of the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) headquarters in Taipei, Oct. 20, 2018.

Thousands of people took to the streets on the democratic island of Taiwan at the weekend to call for a referendum on independence, and to protest Beijing's continuing program of diplomatic isolation ahead of local elections next month.

The protest came as President Tsai Ing-wen struggles to maintain her commitment to a peaceful status quo in the face of growing saber-rattling from Beijing, and growing support for formal statehood at home.

Waving placards that read "We want a referendum!" and "Oppose Annexation!" in a reference to Beijing's growing political influence on the island, the demonstrators gathered outside the headquarters of the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) headquarters in Taipei.

"We want to tell China to stop bullying Taiwan," Alliance leader Kuo Pei-horng, 63, told the crowd. "Taiwanese people want to be their own masters."

The Chinese Communist Party has never ruled Taiwan, which has been administered by the remnants of the KMT's Republic of China since it fled to the island after losing a civil war with Mao Zedong's communists in 1949.

But Beijing sees the island as part of "One China" awaiting "reunification," and has put pressure on its diplomatic partners to isolate Taipei on the international stage.

Recent polls show that the majority of Taiwan's 23 million population identify as Taiwanese rather than Chinese, and that there is broad popular support for continued self-rule. But Beijing has threatened to invade, should the island seek formal nationhood.

A vote on independence would require an amendment to current laws, which bar referendums on changing the constitution or sovereign territory, and President Tsai would be unlikely to allow such an amendment for fear of sparking armed confrontation with China.

Ruling party ban

The DPP forbade its members from taking part in the weekend rally, while municipal authorities limited the size of the demonstration by denying it traffic management resources, sources told RFA.

Yang Tsung-li, spokesman for march organizers the Formosa Alliance, hit out at the DPP over the ban.

"The DPP has written it down in black and white that the future of Taiwan must be determined by the people through a referendum," Yang told RFA.

"Why have the activities of the civil society and the Formosa Alliance ... become the target of party discipline? This is unbelievable."

DPP deputy secretary-general Hsu Chi-ching said a legal amendment allowing the president to allow referendums in situations where the island's sovereignty or national security is under threat has only been on the statute books for less than a year.

"Why are they in such a hurry to deal with this matter?" Hsu said. "I think we should respect the fact that Taiwan is a country with freedom of speech, and that everyone is allowed to express themselves, but there is no need to make such accusations."

Independence campaigner Chen Nan-tien said he would continue to talk to the DPP and persuade them not to ban their activists and members from participating in the independence campaign.

DPP rally

Meanwhile, some 10,000 people turned out for an official DPP rally in the southern city of Kaohsiung.

Carrying placards of Winnie-the-Pooh—a satirical reference to Chinese president Xi Jinping banned in China—some marchers sought to highlight the opposition nationalist Kuomintang's links with the Chinese Communist Party in Beijing, and oppose Beijing's eventual goal of "liberating" Taiwan.

Kaohsiung mayor Chen Chi-mai told the crowd that the proliferation of Taiwan-owned businesses in China had led to rising unemployment and financial difficulties in Taiwan, and said they may now be returning in the face of an escalating trade war between Beijing and Washington.

Kaohsiung city council chairwoman Kang Yu-cheng said China was using secret financial funds and fake social media and internet accounts to try and influence elections in Taiwan, and called on local people to unite to protect the island's freedoms, democracy and human rights.

Reported by Hsia Hsiao-hwa for RFA's Mandarin Service, and by Chung Kuang-cheng for the Mandarin Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.


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