I had an amazing opportunity to visit the Republic of China (ROC) or Taiwan last month with seven other young New Zealand Future Leaders.
Before I went, my husband and I trawled a number of Auckland bookshops so that I could understand Taiwanese political history.
It was almost impossible to find a good text anywhere. I therefore took a cursory look at Wikipedia and went on my trip with an open mind.
I had a vague understanding that there was a complex and difficult history between Taiwan and Mainland China but there ended my knowledge about this beautiful island nation.
There were 36 youngsters in the group from Australia, New Zealand and South Korea.
We enjoyed 10 days of visits to a range of tourist attractions and cultural experiences as well as two lectures each day organised by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade and ‘Turnkey Association,’ a trade organisation.
I was exposed to the living conditions of a country of 26 million people.
I heard the beautiful Mandarin language being spoken and saw it on all the signs.
I ate food and shopped at four different night markets, took in a Fine Arts Museum, and visited a village dedicated to the production of ceramics.
I watched Chinese opera at the ‘TaipeiEye,’ and ‘The Assassin’ by Taiwanese director Hsiao-hsien Hou who won the Best Director Award for this movie at the 2015 Cannes Film Festival.
These are the ruling Kuomintang Party (KMT) and the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP). As a Labour Party representative, I could most relate to the DPP in terms of the way they operate, structure themselves and campaign.
However, a major difference between the two parties in ROC and the major parties in New Zealand, is that the Taiwanese parties distinguish themselves based on their view of Taiwanese nationalism rather than where they may be on the left-right political spectrum as is the case in New Zealand.
The KMT being in Government appeared to have more of a maturity and pragmatism about their organisation.
DPP ahead now
Their difficulty, in my opinion, is in capturing the hearts and minds of youth, returning expatriates, and future visionaries. Current polling for the 2016 presidential election has DPP’s candidate Dr Tsai Ing-wen, looking set to win but no-one’s counting their chickens before they hatch. Whichever party wins, the new President is likely to be a woman. As a Helen Clark fan girl from way back, this is great news to me!
I was only in Taipei for 10 days. As such, I could barely scratch the surface of the depth of history experienced by, and told in the varied stories of its inhabitants.
When I tried to find out what some of the stories were, I got a glimpse of the depth of pain and struggle many Taiwanese people carry with them.
A girl we met at the DPP headquarters talked about her father spending four years in prison because he spoke against the ruling party in the 1980s and was persecuted.
We also caught snippets of the story of the Sunflower Student Movement- students storming Taiwan’s Legislative Yuan as recently as March 2014 to protest trade deals with the People’s Republic of China (PRC) that they perceived as detrimental to ROC.
I still do not understand all these issues entirely and how they come together, but one other thing I did learn is that the Taiwanese have as much pride in Taiwan as we do in New Zealand when a rugby final comes on.
They only want what we in New Zealand take for granted on the world stage is the right to participate. They mean no harm to anyone and on-the-whole, they want an amicable, cooperative relationship with the People’s Republic of China (Mainland China).
Cross-strait relations do not appear to be too bad at the moment.
However, I need to learn more about the relationship between ROC and PRC.
Being part of this delegation and visiting Taiwan has whetted my appetite and I want to learn a lot more about politics in ROC and PRC.
If you have the opportunity to be part of a similar delegation or to visit that part of the world, I would highly recommend it.
Gina is the Women’s Vice President of the New Zealand Labour Party. She participated in ‘Study Camp for Future Leaders’ held in Taiwan last month.