Sunday, October 7, 2007

Independent Taiwan?

I love news stories that last for one day, or even half a day then disappear. I assume that government or money interests are successful in suppressing the information, even though that never works in the long run.

One such story that flashed by was on 9/27/07, when Taiwan's ruling Democratic Progressive Party passed a resolution asserting separate identity from China.

Taiwan has been occupied since at least 1600, first by Melanesians, then Dutch, Spanish, Japanese, and Chinese people. It was a named province of China since 1885 but was lost to the Japanese ten years after that. Japan ruled Taiwan from 1895 to the end of the Second World War, when in 1945 the victorious Allies gave it back to China. When the communists took over China in 1949, the defeated Nationalists retreated to Taiwan, where they ruled for 40 years. Only in 2000 was the first non-Nationalist president of Taiwan elected.

The U.S. and most other western governments recognized Taiwan as “The Republic of China” snubbing the legitimacy of the communists on the mainland. Billions of dollars of U.S. aid poured into the ROC. But in 1971 the United Nations finally recognized “Red” China as “the” China, replacing Taiwan, which was unceremoniously bumped out of the organization. In 1979 the U.S. officially recognized the Peoples Republic of China as the “real” china, communist though it was.

When I visited “Formosa” (the Portuguese name for the main island), in 1979, I accidentally ruined my U.S. passport by getting a “Republic of China” visa stamp in it. It was not possible to gain entry into the PRC with that stamp in my passport, since the Chinese did not recognize the ROC as an entity that had the authority to give passport visas. Thus, my passport was “illegal” from the Chinese point of view.

In order to visit Shanghai and Beijing, I had to get a temporary, duplicate, “clean” passport from the U.S. embassy in Tokyo. Then I was allowed to enter China, with one of the first groups of American tourists ever to do so. Never mind that it made no sense that an American was coming to China with a passport empty of visa stamps. How did I get to China if I had been nowhere else? But that little fiction was good enough for the Chinese, who let me in.

Movement toward political independence in Taiwan gained momentum shortly after the US recognized the PRC. By 2000, Taiwan claimed to be a sovereign state “equal to” the PRC. The PRC responded by conducting missile tests around the island, prompting president Clinton to send U.S. military ships to “monitor” the situation, causing the missile tests to stop.

When the Taiwanese government asserted separate identity from China last week, the mainland was understandably not pleased but reacted with clenched teeth.

A top Chinese official restated the PRC’s policy of “zero tolerance” for any kind of Taiwan Independence. He urged “all Chinese” to realize the country’s reunification (AP newswire, from Xinhua Agency, 9/27/07). The official also noted, “We will not allow anybody to secede Taiwan from the People's Republic of China by any means," (same source). He noted that the Chinese central government will stick to the "one country, two systems" principle adopted in Hong Kong and Macao.

China’s claim to its Taiwan “province” is just as valid as Israel’s claim to its cultural island carved out of Palestine by the Allied victors. Yet many Americans, myself included, would love to see an independent Taiwan. Its secession seems like an economic and political fact-on-the-ground. If the democratic and capitalistic Taiwanese do not want to be ruled by the PRC, what advantage would it be to China to force them into submission?

If Texas declared independence from the United States (as it has actually done in the past), would the federal government allow that? Not a chance. Texas would be forced, militarily and economically to remain in the union. It must seem the same situation for Beijing looking at Taiwan.

But if Taiwan persists in its quest to attain independence, what will happen? My guess is that China will invade. There will be a nasty fight but Taiwan will lose, with much bloodshed. The US will do nothing, because legally, China would be within its rights, and economically, China is more important to us than Taiwan.

The Taiwan leaders are probably betting that they could get away with a declaration of independence prior to the 2008 Beijing Olympics, as China wouldn’t want to sully its moment on the world stage with a bloody invasion and the inevitable world criticism that would bring. But that view, while probably correct, is short-sighted. By 2009, when the Olympics are over, the Chinese would invade with impunity.

The Taiwanese might be calculating that in their brief springtime of freedom in 2008, they could form diplomatic and military alliances that would armor them against a Chinese attack in 2009. But what country would be stupid enough to walk into that trap? Alas, the U.S. has a strong record of diplomatic stupidity. I can only hope that behind the scenes planning for such stupidity is not the reason that news of this development is being kept so quiet.


  1. Not sure if Indonesians occupied Taiwan or not? The aborigines in Taiwan are of Melanesian stock though (not Han Chinese - who took over Taiwan 400 years ago).

    One issue is whether or not the 23 million Taiwanese will fight and die to defend their island like, say, the Israelis would and do defend Israel. Does not appear that the Taiwanese have that desire whereas the vast majority of the 1.4 billion Mainland Chinese would fight and die to take Taiwan back.

    Sad since Taiwan is quite democratic.

  2. If you think that it is sad because Taiwan is quite democratic and that Taiwan may be taken over by China in 2009 (I dearly hope NOT!!) Then please do something to stop the Chinese from invading Taiwan.