It is hard to argue that Taiwan, the Republic of China (Taiwan) is anything other than a separate, distinct country that should possess all the rights that every other country in the world enjoys. Certainly, every time I visit the country I am struck by the pride that its citizens manifest in being ‘Taiwanese’ rather than Chinese, which is a very significant element in the island’s everyday life.
Taiwan has its own democratically elected president which means that the reins of power change hands in a peaceful, regulated fashion according to the wishes of the people. It has its own laws and its own armed forces, its maritime borders, its own airspace, and yet, diplomatically, to the rest of the world the island does not exist.
Taiwan’s situation is a legacy of the Chinese civil war that resulted in the overthrow of the legitimate ROC government by Mao Zedong in 1949. The defeated ROC government subsequently fled to the Chinese province of Taiwan, then called Formosa, where it continued to claim for itself the government of all China.
Since then there have been, in effect, two Chinas, both claiming the same territory, but the likelihood of Taiwan invading and conquering Mainland China is ludicrous, and one would hope that China going to war with the world over Taiwan would be just as remote.
The dream world of the One China Policy clearly benefits the United States, China, Taiwan and ultimately the rest of the world, so turning our backs on reality and hiding our heads in the sand would seem to be the best option available for the moment.
In the 1970s, when America wanted to establish diplomatic ties with Mao’s Peoples Republic, they devised a “One-China policy” which was simply to acknowledge that both sides of the Taiwan Strait recognized the existence of only one China without clarifying which side had the right to rule that One-China which also included Taiwan. It was the most exquisite diplomacy. Both sides recognized the problem but they agreed to disagree about the solution, or rather, they agreed not to let their different views become a problem, except for one small detail: Taiwan would give up its seat in the United Nations to Mainland China and would thereafter forever be excluded from all international organisations except when participating under the guise of Chinese Taipei.
If America were to abandon its One-China policy, and acknowledge Taiwan’s independence, there is a risk that Communist China would attack the island and that America, feeling obliged to defend it, would be dragged into a war it never wanted, making World War Three inevitable. One interesting quirk in the One-China situation is that more than 2 million people from Taiwan, one-tenth of Taiwan’s population, live and work in Mainland China.
The overthrow of China’s last imperial dynasty, the Qing, and the founding of the Republic of China (ROC) was one of the most important events of the 20th century. However, the anniversary of the October 10th 1911 rebellion that sprang from the Xinhai Revolution, which ended 2,000 years of imperial rule and ushered the Chinese people into a modern era, sees little mention of the ROC, except in Taiwan, because those in power in Mainland China had little or nothing to do with this revolution and refuse to give credit to the Nationalist Kuomintang Party. The end of Imperial Rule was the biggest event in China’s 5,000-year history and a major change in the political system by establishing the first republic in Asia. After the ouster of Imperial Rule, the two sides fought a bloody civil war that ended with the Kuomintang fleeing to Taiwan in the late 1940s and re-establishing the republic there.
The One-China policy virtually rules out the possibility of Taiwanese independence and enables China to claim political legitimacy in the United Nations and other world bodies while rendering Taiwan an outsider, despite the country’s miraculous economic, political and social successes.
This week Taiwan celebrates the 106th birthday of the Republic of China, which may be a little difficult to understand as the nation established itself on Taiwan, then called Formosa, in 1949, but actually it makes some sort of sense when you consider that the Taiwanese date the birth of their nation as 1911 when the Nationalist Government last ruled all of China.
Happy Birthday, Taiwan. Celebrate your independence but, most of all, Enjoy Being Taiwan!