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  • Reply to Bruce Jacobs
  • Mikael Mattlin

When I wrote the book, I was much aware that the book’s argument would be controversial and not well received by everybody, given that Taiwan’s democratization and its separate identity are highly politicized and divisive issues. Bruce Jacobs begins his evaluation by noting that I am “not the first observer to perceive that Taiwan has a highly politicized atmosphere.” This is true, as I also indicated in the book. All the more astonishing then that there is such a dearth of scholarly studies that tackle the issue head-on. To the best of my knowledge, there is no other English-language work that deals with politicization in Taiwan as a comprehensive phenomenon, save for a few articles that discuss politicization in a particular issue area. This casual dismissal by the reviewer sets the tone for the rest of the review that plays up every supposed failing of the book.

Most of Jacobs’s criticism revolves around differences in interpretation and my alleged lack of understanding. For example, the reviewer believes that I do not understand that the American political system now also is intensely politicized. Obviously, as a political scientist, I am well aware of this. However, the point precisely was that maybe one misses something about Taiwanese politics if that standard and point of comparison are taken. Taiwan’s politicization stands out much more when looking from a northern European perspective than from an American perspective. Intellectual inquiry often begins when one notices an interesting discrepancy or anomaly. [End Page 375]

The reviewer argues that Chen Shui-bian, according to some uncited polls, actually had very high popular support during the nuclear plant controversy in 2000–2001, despite receiving only 39.3 percent of the vote. Opinion polls are notoriously unreliable (and often partisan) in Taiwan, and so it is hard to respond to this without knowing more about which polls are referred to. The reviewer also thinks the Council of Grand Justices (CGJ) ruling in 2001 was an important compromise. I interpret the inconclusive CGJ ruling differently, as having set the stage for further political confrontation, given that the ruling ushered in a period that saw some of the worst partisan bickering.

Jacobs takes the low-key 2012 presidential and legislative elections as evidence that Taiwan has become considerably less politicized in recent years. While I agree that politicization has lessened since the Kuomintang (KMT) returned to power in 2008, this fact does not undermine the argument. In fact, I repeatedly stress that the underlying structural politicization grew intense because the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) in 2000–2008 for the first time was in a position to break the KMT’s structural hold of the political system, and the old power elite fought back. When this bid failed and the KMT regained control of all levers of power, politicization predictably lessened. Were the DPP to regain power again, we would see the real test of whether politicization has been overcome.

The most puzzling of Jacobs’s criticism is his contention that I betray my lack of knowledge by my depiction of the kind of party the DPP was upon its establishment. Jacobs argues that I totally ignore the demands for democracy during the dangwai period. Granted, I do not talk nearly as much about the dangwai period as Jacobs himself does in his recent book Democratizing Taiwan, as this period was not the focus of my book. However, I fail to see how that negates my description of the DPP as having a somewhat similar origin to the early KMT. Just as the DPP was not born out of thin air, neither was the KMT, as both had been succeeded by other similar groupings and calls for political change before. Both new parties crystallized long-running efforts by a small group of ideological believers to alter the political system, both movements called for change of the old authoritarian system and a move toward some form of democracy, and both were proponents of nationalism. The reviewer ignores some of the necessary context. In my book, this party characterization was juxtaposed to political parties that have been established in order “to seek...