Taiwan's Democracy is its Freedom

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Tuesday February 26, by Jerome F. Keating Ph.D.

Begin with the fact that Taiwan is a de facto independent democratic nation. Taiwan could tout other facts and achievements. For example, its population is larger than about 70 percent of the nations in the UN to which it does not belong. Or that it has a higher GDP that 85 per cent of those UN nations that do not "officially" recognize it, yet over 148 give Taiwanese visa-free or visa-on-arrival entry and the Heritage Foundation ranks its economy as the 10th-freest in the world. However, most importantly, Taiwan is a de facto independent democracy.

This is the backdrop to the recent, strange hullabaloo over whether US House of Representatives Speaker, Nancy Pelosi, should invite President Tsai Ing-wen to address the US House and/or whether Taiwan should hold a referendum on declaring its existing de facto independence.

Amidst this hubbub, this democracy exists, not because Taiwan was given it, but because it won it through blood, sweat, and tears.

Taiwan's quest for self-rule dates back to the 1920s in the Japanese colonial era when citizens began seeking the right to elect their representative to the Japanese Diet. Some might even say it was earlier in the Manchu Qing era when Taiwan had an "uprising every three years and a revolution every five" but clearly it is seen in the Japanese era.

The people finally won that right to representation in the early 1940s only to lose it when World War II ended.

This quest for self-rule suffered when the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) fled to Taiwan after losing the Chinese Civil War. The KMT imposed one-party state rule and martial law in the name of "liberation."

It was at that time that Taiwanese expressions arose such as: "The Japanese were harsh but fair."

Whereas for the KMT, they said: "Pigs (the KMT) replaced dogs (the Japanese)."

Nonetheless, again, through blood, sweat, protests, and suffering, Taiwanese fought for martial law to be lifted, which happened in 1987, and won the democratic right to elect their own legislators in 1992 and president in 1996.

Throughout the past century, Taiwanese have sought and treasured the democratic right to self-determination. Ironically it is they, the Taiwanese, and not the KMT or the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) that actually achieved what Sun Yat-sen preached, namely, a government of the people, by the people and for the people.

However, some members of the KMT ("Pigs-1") now in the name of "unification," strive to surrender Taiwan's democracy to another one-party state, the CCP ("Pigs 2") claiming that in 1992 "Pigs-1" and "Pigs-2" reached a fabricated "consensus."

When striving for self-rule, Taiwanese were not a people to be discouraged. And with democracy achieved, they are not a nation to be cowed. Many practical reasons support this.

First, Taiwan is an island nation with a distance from China varying by about 130 to 220 km. For China to attack and hold this de facto independent nation, a large number of troops and ships would need to gather on its side of the Taiwan Strait. In today's age of satellites etc. that would easily be spotted in the early stages and Taiwan's defense would be doubly alert.

Second, Taiwan is a mountainous nation; its beaches provide scant landing space for any attacking force. It has been called the "unsinkable aircraft carrier" with good reason. This is why the US by-passed it and attacked Okinawa in World War II.

Third, Taiwan has its own army, air force and navy and is already clearly prepared to defend itself. This is unlike when the KMT, "Pigs-1," arrived from 1945 to 1949 and there were no opposing forces.

Given these reasons, obvious questions arise: What price would China be willing to pay to try and take the nation by force? What price would it be willing to pay to try and hold the island? What price would it be willing to pay to ensure that the already existing hatred for greedy "Pigs-2" continues?

As a mountainous island, Taiwan is well suited to guerilla warfare, especially with preparation. Furthermore, any attacking force would need a large occupying army to try to impose martial law once again.

With 23 million in this already full nation, China could not use "settler colonialism" to impose rule as it has in the wide and sparsely populated areas of Tibet and Xinjiang. Few realize that this is one of the reasons why "Pigs-1", the KMT, could not win out over the Taiwanese. They were out-numbered three or four to one, and it was only a matter of time before the public's Stockholm syndrome wore off.

This is the backdrop for many of the boilerplate responses to the questions of whether Taiwan President Tsai should speak to the US Congress and whether Taiwan should hold a referendum on its de facto independence.

The US sells Taiwan arms, and relies on its independence as a needed linchpin between the South and East China seas. Yet after more than 70 years, it still officially remains "undecided" on Taiwan's status. For this reason, any spokesperson for the American Institute in Taiwan (AIT) can be expected to echo the "do not rock the boat" mantra.

In the bizarre response category, Susan Shirk, of the University of California San Diego's School of Global Policy and Strategy goes back two decades with an "I told you so" comment saying that the US should have never let former president Lee Teng-hui visit his alma mater Cornell University—as if that has made any realistic difference.

On the other extreme, newly elected Kaohsiung Mayor, Han Kuo-yu ignores China's missiles and threats. As a member of "Pigs-1" he claims to understand "Pigs-2" and describes China relations as "two individuals madly in love."

Pro-unification quislings on Taiwan falsely dream that kowtowing to China will boost Taiwan's economy. Unfortunately the factories that moved to China from Taiwan are now moving to other cheaper southeast nations. And the Mainland Affairs Council has said that Chinese degrees are losing value and cachet.

In China, the Taiwan question is needed as a continuous distraction from internal problems and a slowing economy. The CCP must hide from its minions that Taiwan actually achieved Sun's government of the people, by the people and for the people.

It also must hide the fact that it did not keep its 20-year promise of free elections to Hong Kong and that it has "education internment camps" for Uighurs in Xinjiang etc.

Also in China, African swine fever is rampant and poses a threat to regional health and economies. Anyone with a memory recalls how in 2003 the SARS epidemic came from an "allegedly caring" China.

The bottom line in all this is that while other nations will pursue their self-interests, Taiwan will not sacrifice its de facto independence to such.

So, if China attempts to occupy Taiwan, Taiwan can borrow a page from the Republic of Ireland, which showed how a population of fewer than 5 million fought from a much more disadvantageous position to gain independence, and how the British "Black and Tans" imposition of martial law only helped foster hatred.

In this turmoil, as the US finally realizes how China's efforts to control the South China Sea are only the beginning, it might be time for the US to no longer be "undecided" on Taiwan. Tsai could share Taiwan's message of peace with the US Congress.

If China ever achieves Sun Yat-sen's dream of government of the people, by the people and for the people, then Taiwan and China can talk.

Until then, in response to China's bullying and threats, Taiwan's best answer is to borrow the refrain "no one can take my freedom away," from the popular 1970s song Una Paloma Blanca (The White Dove).

Taiwan desires to be a white dove of peace, but that line "no one can take my freedom away," needs to be repeated over and over again so that all nations realize that while Taiwan is on the side of peace, its bottom line is always its freedom.

History and time are on the side of Taiwanese.