The Quebec analogy is the wrong one for Taiwan
The declaration by Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper — which has since received the support of both the separatist Bloc Quebecois and Quebec's Liberal government — to the effect that the province of Quebec should be granted distinctive nationhood within Canada surely will have enlivened those who tend to draw parallels with the situation of Taiwan vis-a-vis the People's Republic of China.
Some commentators, such as Chen I-chung of the Academia Sinica, have in the past turned to the issue of Quebec separatism in the hope of finding some illumination — or perhaps even a template — by which to solve Taiwan's predicament (see "Pragmatic path is the best solution," Taipei Times, Opinion, Feb. 24, page 8). Others might even dream that Harper's declaration could encourage Beijing to act in kind toward Taiwan.
The problem with this view is that it is based on flawed analogies and parallels. Other than the fact that Quebec and Taiwan both do not have official status as countries — Quebec is a province in a federal system and Taiwan is in the limbo between official statehood and international (or at least US) protectorate — the two entities have too little in common to be helpful to each other.
The reason why Taiwan finds legitimacy and a modicum of international support for independence and legal statehood lies in the fact that the other option — reunification with China — implies all sorts of risks in terms of human rights, liberties and so on. Still today, one hears about newspapers and blogs being closed, AIDS activists being arrested and entire minorities being repressed in China. Moreover, the idea of reunification with China is enforced through international isolation of Taiwan as well as the threat of military action, a form of compelling that certainly does not bode well for Taiwan regardless of its decision.
The situation in Quebec could not be more different. No minorities are being repressed (other than the aboriginals, if we really needed to find one) and never was the threat of military action used to prevent separatism — not even when former prime minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau committed the faux pasof declaring Martial Law in October 1970. Francophones are free to express themselves in their language and were even twice granted the chance to vote, through referenda, on independence, with both instances resulting in failure. Moreover, Quebec is located in a country that is the envy of most in terms of human rights, security and the economy. It enjoys an enviable social safety net, relatively cheap education, a booming economy and one of the few truly successful multiethnic societal fabrics in the world. Homosexuals can get married legally and other than for its troops deployed in Afghanistan, no Canadian faces a threat to his security.
In many ways, Quebec's desire for separatism — and the specter of yet another costly referendum being held now that Harper's declaration has reawakened the hopes for a distinct nation — is effrontery; one can think of many poor, war-torn countries that could make a legitimate claim for separatism or some form of political independence, Darfur in Sudan being but one example. But Quebec is nothing more than the pipe-dream of an affluent minority within a minority — the odd 50 percent within the province who think they are being repressed simply because they claim to have a different culture from that which prevails in North America. It is the aspiration of the whiney well-fed who cannot distinguish between language and culture and who fail to realize that culture knows no borders and heeds no laws.
With his comments, Harper is evidently trying to improve his position with voters in the province of Quebec ahead of possible elections next spring. Already, Michael Ignatieff, the onle leading contender for the leadership of the Liberal Party, has flirted with Quebecers on the idea of distinctiveness, an out-of-character crass exploitation of an emotional non-issue to win votes. By playing that game, Harper is reopening a Pandora's Box which had better remain closed. Harper hasn't given independence to Quebec, nor, what with all its caveats, was his declaration the departure that it has been painted as. He was simply playing politics.
One can hardly imagine Communist Party officials wagging the carrots of independence and independence at Taiwan in order to gain votes — oh, that's right; one doesn't get to vote in China.
No hundreds of short-range missiles are pointed at Quebec, and Ottawa will never threaten Quebec City or Montreal with invasion should it attempt yet again to change the status quo. Ottawa is not stopping Quebec from making its place on the international scene, nor is it arresting journalists on the pretense that they were spying for the other side. Taiwan is justified in seeking independence and recognition because the alternative is either war or a grave diminution in the rights and liberties of its citizens. Quebec is located in one of the freest, wealthiest and most advanced societies in the world. By remaining in Canada, no fundamental right of Quebecers will be impinged upon. Once and for all, Taiwanese should look elsewhere for parallels.