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(Updated Tuesday, Apr 1, 2008, 05:07:57 PM)

he most pressing Asian foreign policy issue currently faced by the U.S. is the Taiwan question. The email we receive in reaction to our articles relating to this issue suggests that it's an emotional one for many of our readers. Perhaps one reason for the emotion is the fact that the issue isn't amenable to an easy or simple solution.
     The first historical mention of Taiwan appears to have been when Portugese traders found it to be a resting place on their journey to Japan and named it Isla Formosa. Beijing's claim to Taiwan dates back to the 16th century when a Chinese general fought off the Portugese to claim the island for the emperor. In 1897 the expansion-minded Japanese annexed it after defeating China in a war on the Corean peninsula. China briefly reestablished sovereignty over Taiwan following Japan's defeat in August of 1945.
     At the time the official government of China, as recognized by most nations of the world, was under the control of the Kuomingtang headed by Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek. He was engaged in a desperate war against Mao Tse-tung's peasant army. Despite billions of dollars of aid by the U.S. based mainly on intensely partisan reporting by Henry Luce's Time/Life empire, the spectacularly corrupt Chiang lost that war and fled to Taiwan with 2.5 million followers.
     He established the present government of Taiwan on December 7, 1949 and proclaimed it the sole legitimate government of all China. Mao made the same claim. The claims competed until 1971 when it became clear to most of the world that Mao's was more persuasive. Taiwan was kicked out of the UN. The Beijing government took its place as a permanent member of the UN Security Council, a seat given in recognition of China's role in fighting Japan in World War II.
     Mired in its own misguided war in Vietnam, and intensely fearful of anything red, the U.S. was one of the last nations to recognize the legitimacy of Mao's government. In 1972 Richard Nixon made his historic journey to Beijing. In 1976 the U.S. took the next step by recognizing the People's Republic as China's sole legitimate government. It began pursuing the "One China, One Taiwan" policy under which official diplomatic contacts were exclusively with Beijing but continued to sell billions of dollars a year of fighter jets, helicopters, tanks and missiles to Taiwan to help defend against a possible Chinese effort to refunify by force.
     In 1997 President Clinton declared a "strategic partnership" with Beijing over intense Republican objections. It was an astute recognition of the fact that China's 1.2 billion people must be accorded a central place in U.S. foreign policy. But the historic, moral and economic ties that bind the U.S. to Taiwan's 23 million people stand squarely in the way of cutting off arms sales and renouncing the pact under which the U.S. obliged itself to come to Taiwan's defense in the event of attack by China. That U.S. pledge and continuing arms sales continue to inflame Beijing to periodic bursts of violent anti-U.S. rhetoric.
     Taiwan has been a domocracy since 1989 when it legalized opposition parties. It held its first democratic presidential elections in 1990. Lee Teng-hui handily won to keep the presidency which he had originally gained in 1988. Lee won again in 1996. Since 1997 he began efforts to warm up relations with Beijing by agreeing to enter into negotiations under a "One-China" framework with an eye toward eventual reunification. Beijing's leaders continued their highly successful campaign of pressuring diplomatic partners into severing ties with Taiwan. China even raised hell when Lee made a semi-surreptitious trip to New York in 1997. Since then China has scared neighborning nations like the Philippines into not allowing Lee to enter. As of 1999 Taiwan's diplomatic allies number about 18 out of about 220 nations on earth. All are tiny, impoverished Central American, African and Pacific Island nations that appreciate Taiwan's generous aid packages. Pago Pago is considered a major ally.
     Feisty Lee Teng-hui launched his own guerilla offensive in July, 1999 by declaring over German radio that Taiwan was in fact a separate state and would negotiate with Beijing on an equal footing. That sent Beijing into a tizzy. It fired off bombastic threats to take Taiwan by force and to annhilate the U.S. Navy if it intervenes. On October 18 during his British visit Chinese President Jiang Zemin assumed a softer, more relaxed tone in telling a London newspaper that China would be peacefully reunited with Taiwan under a one-nation two-systems formula by the middle of the next century. One might have expected Lee to have been relieved by that statement. Instead, he brushed it aside as "a hoax". China should try instead to set a timetable for its democratization as that was the only way to ensure reunification, sneered Lee's Mainland Affairs Council chairman Su Chi. Most polls show that a clear majority of Taiwanese prefer to maintain the status quo indefinitely rather than moving toward unification.
     Beijing's reunification mandate appears based on the idea that in winning the mainland, the Chinese people had rejected the "criminal" Kuomingtang and its right to rule any part of China. It also sees Taiwan as a galling symbol of the division wrought and preserved by western imperialists -- namely, the U.S. -- seeking to enjoy global hegemony at the expense of Chinese dignity.
     Meanwhile the U.S. remains on the hook to defend Taiwan and sell it arms though doing so keeps its relations with a quarter of humanity rocky and on edge. Under its current policy the U.S. is the asbestos firewall that keeps friction between the two sides of the Taiwan Strait from igniting into war.
     Should the U.S. continue alienating Beijing to help Taiwan protect its independence or improve relations with China by pressuring Taiwan to reunite?

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"Should the U.S. continue alienating Beijing to help Taiwan protect
its independence or improve relations with China by pressuring Taiwan
to reunite?"

The question ignores the very determinant of the triangle: Taiwan's decision. If the majority of Taiwanese want a sovereign Taiwan nation, then the US should support it. If the majority of Taiwanese want to surrender themselves to China, then the US should support it too. The truth, as the question itself infers, is that the Taiwanese want an independent nation (and therefore the US has to "pressure" Taiwan to "reunite"). China and Taiwan have always been, as Lee Teng-hui pointed out, two states. Taiwanese travel with ROC passports, spend ROC currency, serve ROC army, pay tax to ROC government, and elect ROC president and legislators. Anyone who brings up the idea of "reunite" between PRC and Taiwan is talking nonsense. How can two states "reunite" when they have never belonged to each other? Any attempt for China to absorb Taiwan is called invasion, period. More than ten years after his invasion of Kuwait was miserably defeated by the world wide coalition, Saddam Hussein still calls Kuwait "Iraq's historic territory." See some similarity here? China really needs to pay more attention to improving her people's lives and human rights rather than constantly thinks about invading other countries.
Viva Taiwan    Wednesday, October 31, 2001 at 10:27:04 (PST)
Taiwan was part of Japan by the time Sun Yat-sen's revolution finally happened in 1911. In other words there were no pigtails by then.

Dr Sun lived on Taiwan (and blended in fine without his pigtail) and got support from Japan.
Pingpu Aborigine    Wednesday, October 31, 2001 at 07:58:04 (PST)
I want to say that being Taiwanese is not based on bloodlines, but where your heart is. Even that being the case, the Holo Taiwanese are actually a mixed breed. (No, we are not denying part of our roots are Chinese). We have the Yueh genes of the Fujianese, perhaps a small amount of northern Han, but on top of that we also have Pingpu (plains) Taiwanese aborigine blood.

But, again, our identity is not based on bloodlines. In the same light, Mainland Chinese claim to Taiwan can't be based on bloodlines or culture. No one is denying that the Taiwanese have partial Chinese blood and the current culture is predominately Chinese. But, indeed, there are still other cultures in Taiwan and other heritages in Taiwan that musst not be denied. Here's an e-mail I received which states things fairly eloquently:

Dear all,
I agree with Mr. ___ that culture in Taiwan is overwhelmingly Chinese. I think it is a wrong direction of trying to formulate a Taiwanese culture by denying the Chinese one, which is evidently rooted in current Taiwan. I heard a theory before that Taiwan is an Oceanic culture, as opposed to the Continental culture from China. We in Taiwan have such Oceanic culture in that it absorbed various cultures from those who have occupied Taiwan and mixed
them into one that is distinctive Taiwanese. This, in my opinion, should be the approach to an unique Taiwan culture: promoting every culture that has landed on this island in its hundreds years of recorded history.
Instead of attacking Chinese culture in Taiwan, we should simply promote other cultures in Taiwan. When others gain their shares, the currently dominating
Chinese culture will naturally be demoted to the appropriate fraction it deserves. The fact of Taiwan is that this is an island repeatedly occupied by foreign powers and that the residents in this island never have any real control over politics, let alone
culture, until now. To think of a culture for Taiwan based on the definition of culture such as Chinese, English, Korean, Japanese, etc is not only infeasible, but also entrapping. It traps us into the kind of
"only the elongated and distinctive one like Chinese can be called culture" mentality. Though having only been living in the US for 8 years, I have been to several events celebrating the heritage of this country, most of them with the re-enactments of
colonial history in which people dressed in English uniforms and outfits, while some with the Civil war re-enactments. I doubt the Americans can give us a very good definition of a "American culture" other than Hollywood and Coca Cola. Though they know this country started out very English and are hardly reluctant to celebrate it, the Americans certainly know who they are today. Recently I read on the news that there are going to be "ethnic colleges" (my translation, "Min Tsu Shue Yuan" that is) established in Taiwan. This is an encouraging start to promote other cultures in Taiwan.
Not Denying Chinese Culture, But Celebrating Taiwanese Hybrid Identity    Wednesday, October 31, 2001 at 07:54:32 (PST)
Hello everyone

As a proud Taiwanese son in law I would like to contribute few comments to this discussion.
1- Taiwan belongs to the Taiwanese people, who exercise their sovereignity by electing their own President;
2- if someone is tempted to think that Chinese = Taiwanese merely on the grounds of a common ancestry and cultural heritage, then what about stating that American = British = Canadian = Australian = Irish = New Zealander?
3- if chinese people really love their own country, instead of advocating the distruction of a democratic country like Taiwan why don't they struggle to make China a better country, free from poverty, squalor and abuse of power from corrupt and unaccountable officials?


George Dukes
Rep of Ireland
George Dukes    Wednesday, October 31, 2001 at 06:40:23 (PST)

What's wrong with "wearing them pigtail hair knots?" If you don't consider Ching to be Chinese, then how did Taiwan become part of China? After all, the only time when there was a "unified" Taiwan and China was in Ching.

To AC dropout,

You wrote a lot about your own personal opinions, but not much to substantiate it at all.
You said you cannot give "yes" to the two questions you asked, but did not say why. You said you have not seen any convincing well-thought out approach. Well, someone can also say exactly the opposite. (And the quote of "lower/middle class citizens" is really a low blow. I hold a PhD from an elite US college, but I don't think that's relevant to the subject.)

All I can say about your post is: It will really be a fool to base the future and lives of the people of Taiwan on your own unsubstantiated personal opinion.

P.S. The rape of your aunt is a tragedy, but that proves nothing. There were also people raped by KMT soldiers.

Dan    Tuesday, October 30, 2001 at 14:05:53 (PST)
AC Dropout,

You need to read Tan's post more clearly- it did not say how great Japan's occupation on Taiwan was. It did say there were improvements in Taiwan's infrastructure during their reign, but not necessarily a blissful time. Don't get so defensive when somebody criticize the KMT or China, though Taiwan now is far from perfect, the KMT and China are equally imperfect.
Read Tan Post Again    Tuesday, October 30, 2001 at 12:09:41 (PST)
On the same line to AC Drop and to the Sun Yat sen worshipper- I have yet to see you guys present credible arguments that Taiwan should become part of China.

Like I've argued earlier-how is it that becoming part of China make Taiwan better off economically? You make it sound as if Taiwan needs to beg to become part of China. You've not made any convincing argument that Taiwan is better off being part of China. Sure, Taiwan benefits from trading with China or putting factories there. You make it sound that Taiwan's economy will completely collapse if it becomes a sovereign nation because it is a smaller society. Singapore is a much smaller society than Taiwan-they invest in parts of China including in Suzhou, China. Do they benefit from the investments- do they need to become part of China to survive? Res ipsa loquitur (the thing speaks for itself) Sovereignity of Taiwan does not mean Taiwan will be cut off from the rest of the world (that's where I think some of you are getting at). You question the competency of the leadership of Taiwan. How would Taiwan under Chinese leadership be any better? Do you really and honestly think the leaders in Beijing are more competent??? I have yet to see you come up with any convincing argument.

There goes your arrogance again (AC Dropout) leading people to believe you are a democracy and world affairs specialist and we are neophytes. Intelligent and well-informed people can differ.

To George, the Sun Yat Sen worshipper- no one is trying to dis his contributions to CHINA, but what does that have to do with Taiwan becoming part of China? The fact: the KMT never really represented the best for Taiwan- they had their own political agenda to take over China again.

Though waishengren means from outside the province- that's just a general term (for lack of better word) to describe the post 1949 immigrants to Taiwan. That is not an admission that Taiwan is a province of China.

If you want a more lively discussion go to yahoo and look up the taiwanfocus yahoo club.
No Credible Argument That Taiwan Should Go To China    Tuesday, October 30, 2001 at 11:47:06 (PST)
some clarifications:

When you Taiwanese refer to the recent mainlander Taiwanese as "waishenren" (other province people), it is an admission that you guys view Taiwan as also one the provinces. Right?

Dr. Sun Yat-sen was not only the founding father of KMT. He founded China's modern era (with overseas funding from Chinese Americans). If it wasn't for him, we Chinese would still be wearing them pigtail hair knots and kowtowing to the Ching emperors. It took a strong hearted man from the deep south, a Cantonese to bring China into touch with modernity. He is the George Washington for all Chinese people. He is our founding father.
George    Monday, October 29, 2001 at 20:25:51 (PST)

I'll remember to tell my aunt how great the Japanese were when the occupied Taiwan. She a product of a Japanese rape during the occupation period.

The last person to tell me how great the Japanese were during the occuplation was another Taiwanese classmate of mine when I was studying at DongHai University in TaiZhong. He went on and on about how the Taiwan railroad system, which is still used in Taiwan, and how the KMT never built anything that lasted that long.

Looking back I see similarities in American history. The transcontinental railroad in the USA was built with the help of Asian immigrants (chinese if I remember correctly). "Chinaman's Chance" is the term used to describe the chances of a chinaman surviving in a basket as he was lowered to place TNT charges in the sear faced mountains when they built the railroad in the west coast. But since the railroad was a benefit to the USA, I will just forget the other atrocity USA commited on asian immigrants throughout its history.

Being a Taiwan/USA citizen, my family owning/residing on land in Taiwan for over 200 years, and my ABC children who are also now Taiwan citizen. I often ask myself "Does Taiwan have the strength to become an independent nation against China?," "Does Taiwan Native Leadship have to ability to lead Taiwan to a more prosperous future given China current rise?"

Unfortunately, I cannot give an unconditional "Yes" to those questions.

Democracy, Self-determination, and ethnicity are terms I see on this discussion board. In Taiwan, when I have discussion about this topic it is "cultural and economic incompatibility" that dominates the conversation.

I have yet to see any leader in Taiwan give a convincing well thought out approach independence of Taiwan. Most DDP rallies I have seen were target at farmers, lower/middle class citizens and reminding them of all the atrocity of the KMT to get support.

I can go hold my own and debate about all the great western minds on "Demoncracy." However, that is acedemic. To base the future and lives of the people of Taiwan on acedemics is follie at best.
AC dropout    Monday, October 29, 2001 at 14:42:49 (PST)