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U.S. Press Perpetuates Taiwan Myths - Janszen

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  • U.S. Press Perpetuates Taiwan Myths - Janszen

    U.S. Press Perpetuates Taiwan Myths

    by Eric Janszen

    (This article first appeared on the AlwaysOn Network, May 2005)

    "Sovereign Nation" not "Renegade Province"

    There really is a chance of a Sino-US war over Taiwan, which may ebb and flow month to month but nonetheless remains quite real...The reasons are simple. First, China is serious about being willing to risk war to prevent Taiwan's secession. Second, although many in China as well as Europe cannot quite believe it, the US is just as serious about defending Taiwan. And third, even though American military power remains far superior to that of China, the Chinese do not need to equal US power to make any war over nearby Taiwan very challenging for American forces. Given the right catalyst from Taipei, therefore, US deterrence of China could fail and the world's first true war between nuclear weapons states could ensue."
    The risk of war over Taiwan is real, by Michael O’Hanlon,
    Financial Times, May 1, 2005

    Myths about Taiwan are gaining currency in the U.S. through continuous repetition by the U.S. press corps. The story above is a notable exception. The discussion is framed in Orwellian doublespeak, such as "reunification," that refers to the threat of subjugation—by force—of the democratic nation of Taiwan by totalitarian China. The Taiwanese people need a well informed U.S. citizenry so U.S. leaders will not have to make tough choices in a political vacuum when tensions reach a critical level. China's deadline for subjugation arrives in 2008. We're running out of time.

    My wife was born in Taiwan and immigrated to the U.S. fifteen years ago. Her father is Chinese; her mother Taiwanese. Having family in Taiwan has given me reason to visit more than a dozen times over the past 15 years. I've also visited Taiwan several times on business. I've talked to dozens of Taiwanese and Chinese in Taiwan and heard their views. This past year I was fortunate to meet the articulate and charming Mayor of Taipei, Ma Ying-jeou, considered the strongest opposition candidate in the next presidential election. I've talked to a few officials engaged in Taiwan's economic development. From these contacts, I'm able to debunk a few myths.

    Myth: Taiwan is not an independent nation but a renegade province of China.

    Fact: During most of Taiwan’s thousand-plus year history, the Taiwanese people have been occupied and governed by foreign powers. The longest running occupations were Dutch, Japanese, Chinese, and American. China ruled the nation for eight years starting in 1886. After losing the Sino-Japanese war, China ceded Taiwan "in perpetuity" to the Japanese in 1895. In 1945 at the end of WWII—a full sixty years later—China reclaimed Taiwan.

    From 1945 to 1954, China's sovereignty over Taiwan was codified by various declarations, treaties, and agreements, including the Cairo Declaration, the Potsdam Declaration, and the Japanese Imperial Rescript, among others. From the standpoint of international law, scholars can claim that Taiwan is Chinese territory. But then, from a legal standpoint, Taiwan was once Japanese, Dutch, and American territory. In this, Taiwan shares something in common with pre-revolutionary America, when British, French, and Spanish rulers made claims.

    The question is not China's legal claim over Taiwan. The question is, when will the people of Taiwan get the same right to self-determination as any other sovereign nation with a democratically elected government? Is Taiwan destined to suffer forever under foreign rule?

    Myth: The Taiwanese are Chinese.

    Fact: More than 85% of Taiwan's population of 23 million is Taiwanese, not Chinese. Most of the Chinese in Taiwan today came to the country with Chang Kai-Chek's Kuomintang (KMT) army in 1949, or are their descendants. The Taiwanese, on the other hand, developed as a separate culture on the island for hundreds of years. More importantly, the Taiwanese overcame 60 years of harsh Japanese rule to grow into a prosperous, democratic, capitalist nation without any assistance from Communist China. Conversely, Taiwanese capital investment in China has been critical to China's growth. Most Taiwanese speak Taiwanese as their first language, distinct from any of the Chinese dialects spoken in China or the national language of China, Mandarin. Mandarin has been taught to Taiwanese in school since the Chinese KMT took over in 1949 and is spoken by the Taiwanese at school and at work. Many older Taiwanese speak Japanese, the language taught in school by Taiwan's previous occupiers.

    Myth: In relation to China, Taiwan today is like Hong Kong ten years ago.

    Fact: China ceded Taiwan to Japan in the 1895 Treaty of Shimonoseki following China's defeat by Japan. Hong Kong, on the other hand, was leased to Great Britain by China in 1898 for 99 years. When the lease expired July 1, 1997, China gained legal authority over Hong Kong. The people of Hong Kong are Chinese. There is no parallel between Taiwan's and Hong Kong's relationship to China. A more accurate analog is between America and Great Britain in the 1770s.

    Myth: Taiwan broke away from China in 1949.

    Fact: Chang Kai-Chek's Kuomintang (KMT) army retreated to Taiwan from Mao's army on the mainland in 1949. The KMT, once established in Taiwan, declared itself the government of China, with sovereignty over mainland China. The KMT dropped this claim in 1991. At the time the KMT arrived in Taiwan in 1949, the Taiwanese were suffering under harsh Japanese rule. Chang Kai-Chek's army allied with the Taiwanese resistance fighters to defeat the Japanese occupiers. After defeating the Japanese, the KMT ruled the nation for several decades.

    But the Chinese KMT got off to a rough start as Taiwan's rulers with the murder of an estimated 20,000 civilians in 1947 in a pogrom that the Taiwanese have not forgotten. KMT rule ended with the first democratic elections in 1996. That was the year the Taiwanese people, with their democratically elected Taiwanese leader Chen Shui-bian, at last gained political control over their nation, ending hundreds of years of foreign rule. After fighting Chinese, Japanese, and European occupiers for centuries, Taiwan and its people could enjoy the freedom of democratic self-governance that all citizens of sovereign nations have the right to exercise.

    Myth: Most Taiwanese want to reunite with China.

    Fact: The latest polls show a majority of Taiwanese do not want to cede their first-world democratic nation to what they perceive as a backward, violent, totalitarian state. Indeed China, outside the show cities of Shanghai and Beijing, is a third-world country.

    Taiwan's three major political parties can be distinguished by their position on ceding Taiwan to China. The Taiwanese Democratic Progressive Party stands for full independence. Older generation Chinese support the KMT's desire to see the nation cede to China. The New Party, comprised primarily of the Chinese children of the KMT, is also in favor of ceding. However, all parties are bound by one common belief: all take a firm position against CCP rule over Taiwan and for a continuance of national democratic rule. As long as China continues its crackdown on democratic political groups in China, the people of Taiwan—both Taiwanese and Chinese alike—will abhor political subjugation by China.

    My wife grew up watching I Love Lucy reruns and listening to Led Zeppelin, and she learned to drive a car as a teenager, just like most Americans her age did, while thousands of her contemporaries in Communist China were dying in Mao's Cultural Revolution. She jokes about Chinese drivers, the ones who grew up on the poverty stricken Communist mainland, and so did not learn to drive until they reached middle age, when cars finally became affordable to a tiny fraction of the Chinese population. (If you wonder why so many Chinese drivers are bad drivers, keep in mind you wouldn't drive well either if you didn't learn until you were 40.) Go visit Taiwan, and when in the company of Taiwanese, you'll mostly feel like you're hanging out with Asian Americans.

    From the Taiwanese perspective, their country has been occupied by foreign powers for centuries. The Taiwanese are Taiwanese, not Chinese, or Dutch, or Japanese—or American, for that matter. Taiwan is Taiwan, not part of China, Japan, the Netherlands, or the United States. China was the most recent foreign power to invade, occupy, and impose its will on the Taiwanese people, but this does not make Taiwan part of China. Taiwan has survived invasions and occupations. And after a dramatic transition from KMT military rule to democracy in 1996, which enabled it to move from poverty to prosperity on its own, Taiwan is ready to stand by itself and join the rest of the world as the independent, democratic, capitalist nation that it is in all but name.

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    Last edited by EJ; 05-19-07, 10:11 AM.