Recovery from “Betrayal”: Local Anti-Nuclear Movements and Party Politics in Taiwan via APJ Japan Focus

Shuge Wei

This article investigates the history and contemporary development of the local anti-nuclear experience in Gongliao district, Taiwan. It traces villagers’ intricate relations with political parties, their frustration with the decision making process, and efforts to sustain local anti-nuclear momentum at a time when the anti-nuclear movement was in decline. By exploring local villagers’ three decades of anti-nuclear efforts, this article focuses on their change of tactics, networks and ideologies, and explains how these changes had happened. It argues that local anti-nuclear activists played an important role in transforming an anti-nuclear movement from a party-led activity to an issue-based protest independent of party control. The transformation was facilitated by the deepening of a place-based consciousness among local activists.

The Chinese lunar New Year was still months away, but the residents of Gongliao district, who for years had fought plans to construct a fourth nuclear power plant in their neighbourhood, were in a festive mood. On 27 October 2000, the Minister of the Executive Yuan announced that the newly-elected government led by the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) would suspend construction of the plant. Villagers popped bottles of champagne and set off fireworks to celebrate the historical moment. The leader of the locally organized Yanliao Anti-nuclear Self-help Association, ChenChing-tang, wept for joy at the news. Unable to find words to express his gratitude, village head Chao Kuo-tong promised to erect copper statues of the DPP top leaders next to the gods and goddesses inside the local Mazu temple to commemorate their “moral politics.”1 However, no one would expect that this very joyful moment was to be the tipping point of the anti-nuclear movement in Taiwan and the local anti-nuclear villagers’ relationship with the DPP. As it transformed from an opposition to a ruling party, the DPP increasingly focused on political stability rather than reform. Despite its pro-environmental profile before the election, it began to dilute its former commitment to environmental protection to make overtures to the business community. Facing pressure from its political competitor-the Kuomintang (the Nationalist Party, KMT)-and from domestic and international corporations, the party soon abandoned plans to cease construction of the nuclear power plant. The reversal subjected the anti-nuclear movement to a precipitous decline.2

Revival of the Anti-Nuclear Movement

The Fukushima nuclear disaster in 2011 sounded a grim warning to Taiwanese society about the hazard of nuclear power. Living on an island that also sits in a seismic area, the Taiwanese strongly related Japan’s disaster to their own concerns for the safety of nuclear power. “What if the Fukushima nuclear disaster occurred in Taiwan” became a question that kept haunting the imagination of the Taiwanese. On 9 March 2013, over 220,000 people throughout the island marched in the streets protesting the government’s development of nuclear energy in the largest anti-nuclear demonstration in Taiwan.84 Yet the Fukushima Incident only changed people’s perception on what to protest, not how to do it.Post-Fukushima protests have many distinctive features developed during the dormant period of the movement. First, the DPP lost leadership in the anti-nuclear movement. While DPP leaders tried to relaunch the party’s visibility in anti-nuclear demonstrations immediately after the Fukushima Incident, younger generations of activists evinced distaste for DPP’s presence and coined the slogan “NPP4 is a joint venture of both the green and blue camp” in protest.85 (see Figure 5)86 During the 9 March demonstration in 2013, DPP members were instructed by Su Tseng-chang, chairman of the party, not to show the party flag, possibly under pressure from NGO leaders who opposed subordinating the anti-nuclear movement to partisan struggles. Indeed, anti-nuclear groups were no longer allies of political parties. They considered themselves part of the “citizen movement,” transcending division of blue and green camps. Independent NGOs, particularly the GCAA, became the new leaders of the movement.

Second, more and more artists and celebrities in entertainment circles joined post-Fukushima anti-nuclear activities. Their engagement turned the protests, which once focused on suffering, rage, and self-sacrifice, into a cultural carnival of youth. Protests in the form of pop concerts, poster design competitions and a petition of popular stars have replaced the traditional street demonstrations and sit-ins. The element of fun and leisure which used to be excluded or marginalized in the anti-nuclear movements has become an indispensable part to attract the participation of younger generations who would otherwise be put off by conventional street protests. Compared to the old generation of anti-nuclear protesters, artists emphasize the power of “softness” and emotions in political combat.

These distinctive features were not a sudden invention after Fukushima but were formulated during the so-called dormant period in the first decade of the twentieth first century. Ming-sho Ho, in assessing why Taiwan generated the strongest anti-nuclear sentiment in East Asia after the Fukushima Incident, argued that the outreach of activists after 2001, the rising social protests after Ma Ying-jeou took office in 2008, and the DPP’s inability to lead the movement attributed to the revival of the anti-nuclear movement.87 Yet the locals’ anti-nuclear experience and their new way of framing anti-nuclear actions should not be neglected. Their decades-long anti-nuclear journey provided the urban activists with a new perspective and language to repackage the movement. During this process, the local village also transformed from a marginal locale to the centre of the movement. Local space constituted a source of authority and authenticity for the anti-nuclear cause. GCAA’s long-term engagement with locals provided it the credibility to play a leading role in the new wave of the movement. As Tsui maintained, “no one has ever questioned our [GCAA] anti-nuclear intentions, because we have been through the most difficult days with the local people.”88 The network between locals, urban artists and university clubs formed during the last decade also constituted the social basis of the current anti-nuclear movements.

As a result of sustained public protests, the Ma Ying-jeou government, in April 2014, decided to seal off the 4NPP’s first reactor and halt construction of the second one, which was ninety per cent complete. The future of the power plant will be decided by a national referendum

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