Why Taiwan Must Have a New Flag

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Tuesday August 25, by Jerome F. Keating Ph.D.

Taiwan is a de facto independent nation; if anyone doubts it, they can check the requirements in the Montevideo Convention—but it needs a new Constitution. The framing and promulgation would take effort and thought, so what should be done?

The first step is to examine why Taiwan’s existing constitution does not fit. It was constructed in another place (China) at another time (1947) and for another country—the Republic of China (ROC). It was a dream held by another people and one that never quite survived China’s civil war.

However, some of the adherents of that dream still use it to stake a claim not only for Taiwan but also wishfully for China.

The Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) lost the Chinese Civil War in 1949, but some remaining party members fled to Taiwan where they imposed their “loser’s constitution” on Taiwanese.

Three years later, the 1952 San Francisco Peace Treaty should have sorted out the mess, but it did not. As a result, Taiwan was caught in a time warp and the KMT diaspora built a bogus one-party state. (I have extensively covered the inadequacies of that 1952 treaty in opinion pieces.)

Time eventually caught up with the ROC; it took a severe hit on the international stage in 1971 when the followers of Chiang Kai-shek—not the Taiwanese—were expelled from the UN. A more fatal blow was dealt by the US in 1979, when it moved its embassy from Taipei to Beijing—a and finally began using the name Taiwan instead of the “ROC.”

Unfortunately, the “ROC” name remained with Taiwan, although more like stale and moldy cheese along with the out-moded ROC Constitution. These are the shackles that Taiwan has had to deal with for the past 75 years, but particularly since becoming a full-fledged democracy in 1996.

Constitutions do take time to rewrite, change and revise, so what should Taiwan’s democracy do in the interim? A good first step would be to create a new national flag.

Flags features are not permanent. Nations can and do change them with regularity amidst the ongoing realities of their “imagined communities.” There is nothing sacred about flags. They should represent change and change accordingly.

In the past two decades as Taiwan has enjoyed its democracy, about 20 or more other nations have either altered their flags or acquired new ones.

However, Taiwan remains in its time warp, saddled with a flag that dates back to a vintage 1928 China. It was a time when Taiwan was a colony of the Japanese Empire and the KMT was seeking to define itself.

Denmark has one of the oldest flags among existing nations and the US has changed its flag more frequently than any other nation. In the US, the flag is changed every time a new state joins its union—US citizens don’t even vote on it.

Some Taiwanese have said that because of the ambiguity of the San Francisco Peace Treaty, Taiwan could become the 51st state of the US, but that “star” should be left for the political technocrats to debate.

Taiwan needs a flag that represents the nation—all of Taiwan, not just the KMT diaspora that fled across the Taiwan Strait with past baggage.

Canada has one of the best examples of a flag change. It went from past Union Jack and Red Ensign flags to become its current famous and iconic red maple leaf flag in 1965.

Then Canadian prime minister Lester Pearson was responsible for that change even though his preferred choice was not chosen; he insisted that the Canadian flag should have no link to the British Empire and be free of British imagery. If Canada could break with its past, Taiwan certainly can

Taiwanese must ask some basic questions about their flag. What is its purpose? How does it represent all the people of Taiwan and their history? Why should the flag of those who lost the Chinese Civil War represent the many who never participated in that war and wanted self-determination?

Taiwan’s existing flag is described in Article 6 of the outdated Constitution.

Some will say: “Oh, but you should not touch the constitution.”

However, it has been amended and changed so many times that those who made it in 1947 could easily ask: “What happened and where are Tibet and Mongolia?”

Anyone who still has any doubts about changing the outdated constitution, it was received and established by the now-defunct National Assembly. How many can remember the National Assembly, define it or list its duties? Now the constitutional Examination Yuan and Control Yuan are destined for extinction.

What Taiwanese wants a flag that perpetuates the 228 Massacre? Who wants a flag that represents those who imposed the White Terror and martial law on Taiwan for four decades? Is it not time to put all that to an end?

Taiwan needs a flag that represents the democratic imagined community that is emerging here. It needs a flag that represents all of Taiwan’s political parties and as many contributing movements such as the Wild Lilies student movement in 1990, the 2008 Wild Strawberries movement, and the 2014 Sunflowers. It should also represent those who suffered for democracy on Green Island and at other prisons.

What about Taiwan’s Aborigines who influenced the great Austronesian migrations? Should its flag not represent them?

A contest could be held in which citizens put forth their ideas as to what type of flag best represents this new imagined and democratic community. Who could object to such a contest—or a new flag?

Certainly some old guard KMT—whose dream of controlling China has gone with the wind—would object. Their out-of-touch flag still gives them the fictitious right to claim that they are “high class Mainlanders” stuck in Taiwan.

Regarding the US, could it object? Washington refuses to use the name “ROC” and has replaced it with “Taiwan.” Would America be so hypocritical as to object?

And as for the Chinese Communist Party, would it object because the KMT flag represents the enemy that it defeated? Or would Beijing, contrary to the San Francisco Peace Treaty, somehow try to argue that this justifies its false claim to Taiwan?

Would any other nations object as if they had a right to interfere with the choices of the Taiwanese citizenry? If Taiwan’s flag changed, these nations might be forced to finally come to terms with the difference between the “one China” principle and a “one China” policy?

Many flags have flown over Taiwan; it is time for Taiwan’s citizens to stake their justifiable claim to the new reality that is here. Let their creative juices flow.

Former president Lee Teng-hui spoke of the “new Taiwanese.”

Former president Ma Ying-jeou tried to co-opt that phrase and twist its meaning for his own purposes—his cross-strait Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement and his party were soundly defeated afterwards—a new Taiwanese spirit does exist and it needs a flag that best represents its struggle for and achievement of democracy.

Taiwan also needs a new Constitution and a new name, but a journey of a thousand miles begins with the first step—and the first step could easily be that of a new flag.

The rest would flow much more easily after that and Taiwan’s new imagined community would find its proper direction and momentum.

Reality beckons. Taiwan needs that new flag. It needs a flag that represents its unique and real history and captures the true Taiwanese spirit.