Friday, September 24, 2010

Six decades of made-up politics

Aside from the business and geopolitical imperatives that stem from the international community’s desire to interact with the People’s Republic of China (PRC), another reason why Taiwan remains in political isolation is that its history and domestic conditions are misunderstood, not only globally, but also in China and by many of the foreign correspondents who cover Taiwan.

Routine references to Taiwan and China “splitting” after the Chinese civil war, for example, or the mention that Taiwan and China have been ruled separately for “more than six decades,” are not only misleading — they are wrong. Beyond failing to get the facts right (disunited entities cannot split, and Taiwan was ruled separately for at least 11 decades, counting Japanese rule), these facile insertions tend to reinforce the view that Taiwan and China are one and the same — or rather, that one ought to be subsumed into the other.

These generalizations also fail to take into account the political fabric of Taiwanese society, which rather than being the monolith it is often portrayed as (a mistake that has equal implications when it comes to coverage of China), is far more complex and diversified.

Ironically, the external view of Taiwanese politics tends to attribute to the 23 million people in Taiwan the position of a tiny minority on the island. This has been the true since Chiang Kai-shek’s (蔣介石) Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) forces fled to Taiwan after their defeat by the communists in 1949. Soon afterwards, this government-in-exile imposed itself on Taiwanese and arrogated upon itself the right to rule the 7.39 million people who lived in Taiwan at the time, 1.37 million, or 18.55 percent, of whom were refugees from China.

This op-ed, published today in the Taipei Times, continues here.


Brian Schack said...

An excellent article as usual, Michael, and one that should be required reading for all news services and foreign affairs personnel.

On the other hand, that such an article should be necessary at all is a continuing source of amazement to me. Why is that Ma Ying-jeou, who presumably sees himeself as the rightful ruler of all of China, including Mongolia, even though he has never set foot there nor received a single vote there, is seen as pragmatic, yet Chen Shui-bian, who saw China and Taiwan as separate countries, was viewed as a trouble-maker? Since when did the nations of the world find reality so disturbing?

Darren said...

Come on you guys. What's with all the incredulity? If Taiwan no longer has the power to back up a move for independence, of course people are going to be uncomfortable. No one wants a war.

J. Michael Cole 寇謐將 said...

Darren: There's a major flaw in your argument, and I think that's why you see things differently. You write: "If Taiwan no longer has the power to back up a move for independence" — it's already independent, so there is no need to "move towards" it. What's at stake here is a persistent attempt by an external element — China — and fifth columnists (ironically, elected by Taiwanese voters) to take that away. Hence recent developments making people "unconfortable," as you put it.

Darren said...


I agree with you completely that Taiwan is a functioning, separate country. The key factor is whether or not the Taiwanese government is under the control of some other government. Taiwan has it's own government accountable to it's own ruling class and voters. It operates independently of the PRC.

I just mean "independence" as everyone fully giving up claims to the mainland, and asserting, officially, that Taiwan is a seperate Nation from the PRC, and sticking with this assertion.

This is what might cause war, or other evil consequences.

As for 'Incredulity', I just mean it shouldn't be a suprise that the US and other leading countries don't view cross straits relations as having to do with the will of the people, or the actual existence of separate government.

Also, you're not saying that people who support reunification are all fifth columnists and external elements, are you? That would seem to dismiss arguments for reunification by discrediting the person who believes in them.

You know, I think we keep coming back to questions that are unresolved in the logic of nation states, like who defines 'independence?' Is it President, a perecentage of voters, or just everybody in general.

Anyways, I'm learning a lot about Taiwanese politics. Thank you.