This is a year of elections in East Asia. On March 20 Taiwan held a presidential election, and Chen Shui-bian just barely managed to win reelection with a 0.2% victory margin. A day later Malaysians voted for members of their parliament, and Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi’s ruling coalition, Barisan Nasional, won a smashing victory. On April 5 Indonesia staged a parliamentary election, and President Megawati’s ruling Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle fell to second place, relinquishing the top spot to Golkar, the ruling party of the Suharto era (1967–98). On April 15 the South Koreans went to the polls in a National Assembly election, and the new Uri Party of President Roh Moo-hyun, which before the vote had held only 49 of the 273 seats (18%), emerged triumphantly with 152 of the new total of 299 seats (51%). On May 10 the Philippines also held a presidential election; the vote-counting process was slow, but in late June incumbent President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo was proclaimed the winner. Next on the schedule are a presidential election in Indonesia and a House of Councillors election in Japan, both to take place in July.
What can this electoral activity tell us about the political trends in the East Asian region? The two essays in this section, one by Kimura Kan on the situation in South Korea and the other by Wakabayashi Masahiro on developments in Taiwan, throw light on this question. Both take note of the rise of a new form of nationalism. Since Kimura wrote his article before the latest Korean election, let us take a minute to review the election results before looking at this question of nationalism.
The South Korean opposition Grand National Party took a drastic step in its bid to turn the April election to its advantage: it decided to push for the impeachment of President Roh. This ploy backfired with the voters, however, who made the new Uri Party the nation’s largest overnight. In an article published in the July issue of Ronza, South Korean journalist Kim Choong-seek summed up the election’s significance in four points: First, the Roh administration had previously suffered from the limitations of a minority position in the legislature, but henceforth it should become more stable. Second, the election marks a changing of the guard in the political elite. As symbolized by the failure of former Prime Minister Kim Jong-pil to secure a seat, the era of rule by the “three Kims” (the other two being former presidents Kim Young-Sam and Kim Dae-jung) has become a thing of the past. Third, the people of South Korea rejected a return to the old establishment, represented by the Grand National Party. And fourth, the voters in the country’s “3-8-6” generation–a label coined in the late 1990s for people in their thirties who went to university in the 1980s and were born in the 1960s–once again asserted their political clout.
The rise of this 3-8-6 generation has important implications for the future evolution of South Korean nationalism. Its members went through their formative years during the high-growth period, when the nation was under the authoritarian rule of President Park Chung-hee (1963–79). They have no memory of Japan’s colonial rule or the Korean War of 1950–53, but they did experience the protest against the old order by the student movement of the 1980s. As a result, they have raised questions about the old generation’s obsession with economic growth above all else; they are not inclined to defer to the authority of academic or region-based cliques or to bow before elder statesmen; and they reject the old generation’s style of nationalism. As this generation makes its will felt, what will the new Korean nationalism look like, and what role will the country assume in the international community? Such are the matters Kimura treats in his essay.
Nationalism is also a pivotal concern in Taiwan. There has been no fundamental change in the opposing political stances adopted by the governments facing off across the Taiwan Strait. Although military conflict has been averted, the Republic of China on Taiwan and the People’s Republic of China on the mainland each continues to use “China” as its name. In his article, Wakabayashi calls the framework supporting this standoff the “1972 setup.” The conditions for its existence have, however, begun to change, he suggests.
One change is the broadening and deepening of the economic bonds between Taiwan and China. Among the 22 million Taiwanese, these days there are more than 1 million residing on the mainland. Another is the rise of a Taiwanese nationalism in favor of independence, and now that President Chen has won reelection, probably its influence will swell. So what will the future hold in store? In South Korea, as we have seen, the 3-8-6 generation is moving to take matters into its own hands. In Taiwan as well, it may well be the counterparts of this generation, the younger Taiwanese now making their voices heard, who hold the key to the form Taiwanese nationalism takes and the political course the island follows over the longer term. (Shiraishi Takashi, Professor, Kyoto University)