KMT Diaspora and Taiwan's Imagined Community

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Friday August 10, by Jerome F. Keating Ph.D.

With the November Nine-in-One elections a scant 4 months away, voters will have many questions to put to the candidates.

However, there is a national question that should be asked: "What is your position on and/or your interpretation of the 1992 Consensus?"

That might seem a strange question since voters traditionally ask about each candidate's platform, but there is merit here.

Everyone in Taiwan is familiar with the bogus term, "1992 consensus," invented by then Mainland Affairs Council chairman, Su Chi, in 2000.

It has been bandied about so repeatedly, that it has definitely become a household term, which makes it a good litmus test for anyone holding office for it reflects on each person's concept of the imagined community that makes up Taiwan.

The Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) position is that the "1992 consensus" was an agreement between the People's Republic of China (PRC) and the Republic of China (ROC) that there is "one China" with the PRC and ROC having different interpretations of what "China" means. Included in the KMT discourse, is that both it and the PRC also agree that Taiwan is part of that "one China."

Skip here the reality that the PRC has never accepted the KMT's position that there can be two interpretations. That fact, in itself, denies any consensus.

For the PRC, there is only one position. It is that there is one China under the PRC and Taiwan is a part of that one China.

Since there never was any consensus, this makes the question about the "1992 consensus" a clear way to separate the wheat from the chaff regarding the imagined community of Taiwan. It is a way for voters to find out just how Taiwan-centric a candidate is and much more.

No self-respecting Taiwanese would claim that the boundaries of their nation include any of the land in continental China even if it remains in the outdated Constitution brought over from China. To make that claim is tantamount to claiming that the KMT never lost the Chinese Civil War. This then leads to an examination of the true diaspora status of the KMT.

Review the timeline leading to the San Francisco Peace Treaty and Taiwan's limbo status. World War II ended in August 1945 with Japan's surrender. In China, the war between the KMT and Chinese Communist Party (CCP) continued until the victory of the CCP and establishment of the PRC in 1949 when the KMT fled to Taiwan.

In 1951, 48 nations signed the San Francisco Peace Treaty, which went into effect in 1952. In the treaty, Japan gave up all right to Taiwan, which it had gotten from the Qing Dynasty in the 1895 Treaty of Shimonoseki. The treaty never specified a recipient, leaving it open that the Taiwanese could be sovereigns under the UN's rules of self-determination.

Neither the KMT nor the CCP were invited to or participated in the signing. This means that the KMT in flight to Taiwan was a "colonizing diaspora," since the San Francisco Treaty never ceded Taiwan to the KMT or the ROC.

In this context of ambiguity and with the reality of Taiwan's democracy, it is appropriate to examine here the extended six point description of diaspora in a changing world presented by political scientist and professor emeritus William Safran in his 1991 article, "Diasporas in Modern Societies: Myths of Homeland and Return."

In the article, which predates the bogus "1992 consensus" Safran suggests how Walker Connor's traditional definition could be extended to fit other expatriate minority communities. He lists six potential shared characteristics that can be examined vis-à-vis the KMT.

"They (the diaspora) or their ancestors, have been dispersed from a specific original center to two or more peripheral or foreign regions," Safran wrote.

At the end of the Chinese Civil War, KMT members fled to Hong Kong, Taiwan, and the United States and several other places.

Second, these diaspora "retain a collective memory, vision, or myth about their original homeland—its physical location, history and achievements," he added.

Most streets and places in Taiwan were renamed to reflect that KMT's homeland. Ask any Taiwanese born after 1950 how they had to memorize Chinese, not Taiwanese history in school.

Third, the diaspora "believe that they are not—and perhaps cannot be—fully accepted by their host society and therefore feel partly alienated and insulated from it," Safran wrote.

The minority KMT members and their weapons quickly insulated themselves by taking over Taiwan and instituting martial law and a one-party state to rule over the majority Taiwanese.

Fourth, "they regard their ancestral homeland as their true, ideal home and as the place to which they or their descendants would or should return—when conditions are appropriate," he said.

This needs little explanation, as many KMT do not see Taiwan as their home but still hope to return to China. Some of course have already retired there.

Fifth, they "believe that they should collectively be committed to the maintenance or restoration of their original homeland and to its safety and prosperity," he wrote.

This in itself presents the KMT case for the "1992 consensus" and why it seeks re-unification.

Sixth, they "continue to relate, personally or vicariously, to that homeland in one way or another, and their ethno-communal consciousness and solidarity are importantly defined by the existence of such a relationship," Safran added.

Again, little explanation is needed as many KMT see themselves as belonging to China.

Safran said such diaspora need not fit all six criteria, but surprisingly many KMT members do.

However, this also presents the frame with which candidates in Taiwan must answer to their voters. Voters should know where each candidate stands vis-à-vis China. And this is what makes the "1992 consensus" a valid litmus test for candidates.

Support for such a consensus also raises the diaspora issue and has vast implications for moving more swiftly in executing the transitional justice and the return of state assets from those in the "colonial diaspora."