Deconstructing the Taiwan Question

  Previous  |  Next  

Monday, September 19, by Jerome F. Keating Ph.D.

The People’s Republic of China (PRC) has no legitimate claim to Taiwan despite the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) constant harping on it.

The CCP used US Speaker of the House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan as pretext to demonstrate that it could reach the island with its missiles, as well as present its innocuous white paper on “The Taiwan Question.”

The Taiwan question has been around for a long time. It comes up whenever any power, colonial or otherwise, has ambitions on the island nation and needs a formula, even terra nulius to justify its actions. Thus the CCP’s “question” needs its own deconstructing.

The Taiwan question was on my mind when writing five books on Taiwan over the past two decades. It particularly came up in my philosophical work, The Paradigms that Guide Our Lives and Drive Our Souls, (reviewed by the Taipei Times on March 23, 2017).

Among the numerous sources, I drew on for that work, two stood out. First was historian Mircea Eliade’s Cosmosand History, the Myth of the Eternal Return. Second, was Eric Hoffer’s contrasting work, The True Believer, Thoughts on the Nature of Mass Movements.  

Eliade and Hoffer’s ideas relate to Benedict Anderson’s concept of “imagined communities,” which is used to help define modern nations. In them, the degree to which, participants do or do not possess a “shared image” of their community more accurately defines nationhood. And so Tibetans, Uighurs, and Mongolians for example have difficulty feeling that they are “sons and daughters of China.”

Eliade recounts that in ancient thought, man achieved his sense of meaning and the sacred by partaking in the cosmic rhythms that are expressed through myths. Ironically, this is what the CCP seeks to tap into despite being part of modern Marxist linear thought. While Marxism flows from a Hegelian dialectic, the majority of those that the CCP wishes to control are mired in a past belief of how ”China” has mystically existed for 5000 years.

The essence of that belief is found in the classic opening lines of The Romance of the Three Kingdoms: “The empire long divided must unite, long united, must divide. Thus it has ever been.” While that novel deals with the faltering end of the Han Dynasty, it was written when “China” was recovering after having been swallowed by the Mongol Empire.

Most Chinese need to think in terms of empire to find identity and self-worth; they therefore easily become “true believers.” As Hoffer puts it, they need a cause outside themselves for identity and value.

The “true believer’s” chief passion and frustration is to belong to something bigger than oneself; which is what gives meaning to life and defines enemies.

Hoffer writes: “Passionate hatred can give meaning and purpose to an empty life.”

In turn, the CCP points out to Chinese that they need hatred to avenge their “century of humiliation” by outside powers. They ignore that in that century, China was swallowed by a Manchu empire as was Tibet, Xinjiang, and Mongolia. The real humiliation was that all subjects within that empire had to wear the despised Manchu queue.

The ruling members of the CCP, do not need to believe all this. What is important is that they know how to manipulate the “true believers” who are the proverbial frogs in a well.

Axioms such as “Taiwan has been part of China since time immemorial” or “Taiwan is an inalienable part of China,” are thus the basic pablum for China’s “true believers.”

Former CCP chairman Mao Zedong was a master at such manipulation. He could both denounce the “four olds” of the past to eliminate competitors while at the same time motivate his Red Guard to believe that they were making their contribution to “5000 years of history.”

The Taiwan question is part of the CCP’s larger geopolitical strategy. If it controlled Taiwan, it would control the passage between the South and East China Seas and have immediate access to the Pacific Ocean.

Here are some basic questions to ask when deconstructing the CCP’s hegemonic ambitions.

Why did Mongolia escape the mythic trap of the CCP? It has a longer “real time” history of being part of “China’s motherland” than Taiwan.

If Mongolia had nuclear weapons, it could rewrite modern history more to its own liking. However why does Marxist Russia (formerly USSR) support this large buffer zone between it and Marxist China?

In any discussion on Taiwan with “true believers,” the Cairo and Potsdam Declarations, (1943 and 1945 respectively) inevitably comes up. 

Treaties trump declarations. Why is the 1952 San Francisco Peace Treaty that officially ended the Pacific War always ignored?

In it, Japan surrendered sovereignty over Taiwan and Penghu but did not name a recipient. This left the fate of Taiwan in the hands of the US, the chief victor; its official position to this day remains “undecided.”

If “true believers” claim that Japan “stole” Taiwan from the Manchu empire by the 1895 Treaty of Shimonoseki, why are the Manchus not blamed for “stealing” Tibet from the Tibetans, Xinjiang from the Uighurs, Mongolia from the Mongolians and China from the Chinese as they conquered those lands to create their empire?

It becomes a matter of perspective. In the CCP’s twisted logic, these have all mystically become “China” because this latecomer controls the “re-education camps” for those who are not true believers.

Taiwan has its own imagined community, its own defining history and myths. The flags of eight nations have flown over parts of Taiwan; Japan was the first nation to control and rule the whole of Taiwan proper.

Taiwan has become a de facto independent democratic nation. It easily fits the defining norms of modern nationhood by the Montevideo Convention on the Rights and Duties of States where formal recognition by other nations is not even a necessary requirement.