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SPEAKING FREELY
Native Taiwanese son doubtful of reunification
By Lin Zhong-Phon

Speaking Freely is an Asia Times Online feature that allows guest writers to have their say. Please click here if you are interested in contributing.

First, a little background about myself. I am a native son of Taiwan, one of the "Taiwanese natives" whose ancestors migrated from China to Taiwan 360 years ago, in 1644 to be exact. I have hardly ever participated in any political event in my life. But I do enjoy reading political news and editorials. Recently, because of the forthcoming election this Saturday, March 20, in Taiwan, discussions of the Taiwan independence issue and the referendum on Chinese missiles are flooding the news media. So I decided to put in my two cents' worth.

Reunification should be a unification of the people, not just the integration of the territory. But for the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) leaders, reunification has meant only one thing, to protect the integrity of the territory. And from the malicious ways the CCP had been threatening us, it was becoming quite clear that they were not trying to embrace us as brothers and sisters. What they really wanted basically was for us to capitulate and accept the CCP as our overlord. And if we refused, they were willing and ready to use force (most likely preceded by a rain of missiles) to take the island "back" - that is, with or without the Taiwanese people on it.

The Republic of China (ROC), the government of Taiwan, was the official government of China before the People's Republic of China (PRC) came into existence. The CCP won the civil war on the mainland and forced Chiang Kai-shek's Kuomintang (KMT), the Nationalist Party, to flee to Taiwan in 1949. It was only until the last decade or so, when the military balance was shifting in China's favor, that the CCP decided to drum up the war cry and demand the immediate return of Taiwan to its "rightful" owner in order to "preserve the integrity of the territory".

The major reason the CCP was pursuing reunification so urgently could be national pride. But according to Macabe Keliher (Who cares about Taiwan? Not the Chinese, December 24, '03), the majority of the Chinese people weren't ready to sacrifice all their economic gains just to liberate Taiwan. Another possible reason was that the Taiwan issue "forced" the CCP to increase military spending when it could have used the funds to improve China's economy (see Avoiding another no-win war, February 10).

However, this was just a lame excuse. It is more like the narcissistic whining of an elementary-school bully who was telling the geek, "I have been beating you up so bad every day, now my hands begin to hurt. And it's all your fault. Boohoo!"

China bullies Taiwan, other countries
Come on! All they - the CCP - have to do is to stop beating up the little guy. Taiwan has officially renounced its hostility toward China for more than a decade. Yet China continues its hostility and aggression toward Taiwan on the political and diplomatic fronts. The CCP used its growing influence to bully other countries to cut their ties with Taiwan. It is relentlessly pursuing the isolation of Taiwan in order to choke off its breathing room so that Taiwan would have to face the two ultimate choices: surrender or die.

To put it in a different context, the CCP claimed to own the deed to Taiwan. After all, the communists stole it from the KMT fair and square 55 years ago. And now they wanted the island "back" and they wanted it fast. (Does the term?"claim-jumper" ring a bell, anyone?) It seems to me that such a claim was based more on the "law of the jungle" than anything else. Sovereignty claims are usually based on the recognition of/by the international communities. (Translation: the recognition of/by the major world powers.)

That was how China lost Outer Mongolia to the Soviet Union after World War II. And that is how the CCP has staked its claim on Taiwan now. And since China is a member of the major-world-power club today, Beijing naturally has the support of the fellow club members. There seemed to be very little Taiwan could say or do about it.

However, if the CCP had actually used force to take over Taiwan, it would have been a war with no winner. The CCP would have committed a heinous crime against humanity. It would have crossed the line of basic human decency. And it would have lost the support of many major world powers, and risked a severe intervention that might have even led to regime change in China. At the very least, the ensuing global condemnation and boycott would have pushed the Chinese economy backward 20-30 years. It would most likely have resulted in chaos and discontent everywhere in China. It might even have ignited the revolutionary flame and precipitated a regime change from within.

The proposal: A political con game?
The CCP had been proposing the "one country, two systems" model as its reunification policy. It even claimed that as long as Taiwan accepted the "one China" principle, everything else could be discussed. What was there to be discussed when the CCP always insisted that there is only one China and the CCP is the only government of China? "One country, two systems" practically means "one China with two regimes, an overlord regime and a proxy regime". It basically means the conditional surrender of Taiwan.

Since the overlord regime was a one-party dictatorship, the proxy regime would have to be one of the same. A democracy just wouldn't fit in at all. Lee Teng-hui had incurred the wrath of the CCP leaders ever since he transformed Taiwan from a one-party dictatorship into a local democracy. His reforms seriously compromised the reunification plan of the CCP. Democracy simply could not exist in a country of one-party dictatorship. Taiwan's market-based capitalistic economy might be able to survive and even prosper, as was showcased in modern China, but democracy would most definitely fall victim to the iron fist of the overlord regime.

Ever since Hong Kong reverted to China's sovereignty in 1997, the CCP has been hoping to use it as a showcase to convince the Taiwanese people to accept the "one country, two systems" model. Now almost seven years have passed and what the CCP has been showing off in Hong Kong is making us even more convinced that it's not going to work.

The people of Hong Kong have suffered serious setbacks to their political freedoms. Their freedom of speech had been under heavy shackles. Recently, the CCP even warned them that the longing for democracy and human rights was considered anti-patriotic, obviously indicating that such views might even carry some adverse consequences.

China: Activism may delay Hong Kong democracy
Two weeks ago, Martin Lee, a pro-democracy legislator and a founder of the Democratic Party in Hong Kong, went to the United States to meet senators and officials in the administration of President George W Bush. China's vice commerce minister, An Min, told Hong Kong journalists in Beijing that Lee was a traitor and that his father was an anti-communist. The state-run China Daily in Hong Kong even attacked Lee in a long editorial, calling him "a running dog of colonialists, begging support from foreign forces".

It went on to say that Lee's appearance before the US Senate might delay democracy in Hong Kong, instead of promoting and hastening its arrival. (Did they - the state-run media - mean they downgraded it - democracy - from "not in your life" to "not in your children's lives"?)

According to Lee, this was the tactic used by the CCP during the horrible days of the 1966-76 Cultural Revolution. But if you ask me, I would say it was just the standard procedure of the communists' iron-fist policy.

The former British governor of Hong Kong, Christopher Patten, also annoyed the CCP immensely when he initiated the democratic process of electing the next chief executive of Hong Kong before he handed it back to China in 1997. However, what he did was too little and too late, and it didn't cause too much of a problem for the CCP. When Hong Kong reverted to China, the CCP regained the jurisdiction of the territory. The chief executive, whether elected or appointed, is now an official of the PRC. His duty is to execute the policies and orders of the central government, the CCP.

On the other hand, the government of Taiwan, the ROC, existed long before the PRC was established. Taiwan is not a colony governed by a foreign regime. The PRC has never had any jurisdiction over Taiwan. A democratic system was built into the constitution of Taiwan that dictated that the president is elected to carry out the mandate of the Taiwanese people. It (a democratic system) would most likely be in conflict with the policy of the CCP if the Beijing party ever became the overlord regime of Taiwan.

A one-party-dictatorship KMT proxy regime would be able to ignore the mandate of the people. But an elected government of Taiwan, whether a Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) or a KMT regime, would have a serious dilemma, especially if the mandate were validated through a referendum. It certainly would pose a serious problem for the "one country, two systems" model. If the government of Taiwan were to accept such a model, it would be tantamount to selling out the Taiwanese people, surrendering their political freedom to the CCP in exchange for the servitude position as a proxy regime.

Transforming the civil war into a class struggle
The CCP regime flatly refused to renounce its hostility and aggression against Taiwan. So, even though the two sides of the Strait are moving closer and closer together economically, they are drifting further and further apart politically. The CCP leaders obviously understood the situation quite well. That's why they are so afraid of a harmless referendum. They knew they didn't have the support of the people, so they knew they wouldn't like the result of a referendum - any referendum. But instead of addressing the problem, they were determined to use intimidation and isolation to force a surrender, and then continued to use fear and intimidation to govern Taiwan through a proxy regime.

With its 40 years of previous experience, the KMT seems a perfect candidate for this job. (Who would have thought that the experience of governing by fear could be one of the job requirements?) I tend to believe that the KMT leaders were not involved in this plan, but the CCP leaders sure are willing to bet on them, and are using fear and intimidation (what else?) to try to help them win the presidency. And they were planning on turning back the clock and using their iron fist to reinstate the KMT as the one-party dictatorship regime again.

It just goes to show how backward the communists' political thinking is. It was in 1979 when Deng Xiaoping came up with the policy of "peaceful political accommodation with the KMT in Taiwan". By transforming the civil war into a class struggle, a victory can be attained easily and peacefully. By aligning itself with the ruling KMT regime, the CCP automatically brings the Taiwanese people and the island under its control. Now, 25 years later, the CCP still clings to the same policy, refusing to accept the fact that the political landscape has changed drastically.

History had proved again and again that a one-party (or, a party of one) dictatorship regime would eventually fall by the wayside. Such regimes usually put the survival of their tight grip on power ahead of the interests and survival of the country. For example, during World War II, Chiang Kai-shek's KMT regime would rather fight the communists to secure its power than to fight the Japanese to save the country. As a result, some of Chiang's troops and generals mutinied in 1936 (the Xi'an incident). The mutineers ended up joining the CCP because they realized that the survival of the country should come first.

Mao's campaigns devastated the people
Many years later, the Great Helmsman himself, Chairman Mao Zedong, initiated a series of mass movements: the Hundred Flowers Campaign, the Great Leap Forward, and the Cultural Revolution. Mao would plunge the Chinese people into the deepest despair, not to mention the millions of lives lost, just to reaffirm that he still had absolute power over everyone else. Even though his regime didn't fall, it left the Chinese economy in a shambles and laid waste to an entire generation of the Chinese people, who were pursuing the counterproductive "eternal revolution" with misguided zeal while destroying the country's culture and economy.

It is commendable that the CCP was able to put the people's interests first by formulating a policy for a booming economy. But such a policy change will most definitely require institutional and ideological change, too. Political reforms usually go hand in hand with economic reforms, and once you get the wheels rolling, no one can turn it back. Eventually, the elite class of the newly rich will demand a share in political power. And the CCP will have to face two difficult choices: crush them with military forces and intimidate them into submission, or gracefully ease the transition to a new democracy.

It wasn't surprising that the CCP opted for?the first method and crushed the rebellion in Tiananmen Square in 1989. (And I thought it was just the children of the elite class of the CCP, joined by the workers and the peasants, trying to put up a peaceful demonstration for democracy.)

Judging from the success of the crackdown on Tiananmen Square protesters (and the Falungong), the CCP must be very proud of the effectiveness of its iron-fist policy. The CCP could easily intimidate the people into submission. So it was rather out of character (a crying bully with an iron fist?) when it proclaimed that the CCP regime wouldn't be able to survive if it were to allow Taiwan to be separated. It was really just a pompous excuse to justify its aggression against Taiwan.

On the contrary, it is far more likely that the CCP regime couldn't survive the international intervention and condemnation if it tried to take over Taiwan by force.

Taiwan concerns: Real or faked?
In the last century, Taiwanese natives twice suffered the indignity of being second-class citizens. First, the Japanese occupied Taiwan for 50 years. Then came Chiang Kai-shek, whose KMT regime turned out to be just another occupation force but far worse than the Japanese. The KMT used fear and murder to govern Taiwan for almost 30 years, and it used the monopoly system to hog all resources and commerce. It was a period known to historians as the "white terror" that started with the 2-28 (February 28, 1947) incident. I am not going to elaborate on that, but those who are interested in the details should search the Internet using those two key words.

It took almost 40 years before the KMT regime finally relented (thanks to former presidents Chiang Ching-kuo and Lee Teng-hui) and accepted the Taiwanese natives as brother and sisters. Now the CCP, with a history of oppressing its own people, wants to become our overlord. Can we safely assume that there won't be another 40 years of being second-class citizens that might even be topped off with 30 years of "Red Terror"?

With all the talk about reunification and accommodation, the CCP seemed to be unwilling and unable to address the one real concern of the Taiwanese people: the fear of a tyrannical overlord regime. The CCP simply refused to tolerate any demand for democracy or voice of dissent in their jurisdiction, as was showcased in Hong Kong. And by continuing to intimidate us, the CCP only exacerbated the problem and strengthened the resolve of the Taiwanese people to resist.

In 1995, when Quebec held a referendum for independence, the Canadian government was able to let go and allow the people to decide. If it had threatened to use force, as China did to Taiwan, Quebec would probably have separated from Canada. While Quebec was able to have a referendum for independence even though it was just a province of Canada, Taiwan was threatened by many to drop the referendum because it would be considered "provoking" China and "justifying" its use of force.

Isn't that a double standard? If China had no problem with the Quebec referendum, didn't it set a legal precedent on international law? If so, it should allow the wayward province, as China likes to call Taiwan, to have a referendum.

A sad day when France bowed to China
Last month, President Jacques Chirac of France spoke out in support of the CCP, trying to help it intimidate the Taiwanese people. It was a sad day for democracy when France, one of the oldest democracies in the world, was willing to threaten the freedom of Taiwan in exchange for some economic gains. It was a sad day for world peace when Chirac was trying to persuade the European Union to lift the arms embargo imposed on China after the Tiananmen massacre while China was threatening with renewed urgency to use force against Taiwan. It was a sad day for the French people to witness their leader disgracing himself by knuckling under to China's "carrot and stick diplomacy" (see China may block Japan deals over shrine visits, February 27).

The only solace was that now the whole world probably better understands the predicament Taiwanese people are facing.

Taiwanese people, who include many mainlanders in what we call the New Taiwanese, talk about independence only because we don't want another tyrannical regime to become our overlord. And we are in fact, if not in name, independent since China never had any jurisdiction over us. But without the recognition of the major world powers, any talk about independence would never amount to any significant challenge to China's claim.

So were the CCP leaders really concerned that Taiwan might suddenly become independent if they just blinked their eyes for a second? Do they really need to make all the threat of using force just because a voice of dissent is coming out of Taiwan? Are they really so thick-headed that they actually believe that a little rhetoric from the leaders of Taiwan would cause irreparable damage to "the integrity of their territory"? No, most definitely not. These concerns are all bogus.

The CCP leaders are accustomed to fierce power struggles that allow only the brightest to get to the top. But they just can't shake off that "perpetual class struggle" mentality. They always have the need to crush any opposition with an iron fist before any dissenting voice can become strong enough to challenge their power. (Perhaps that's why they have managed to stay in power for so long.) They used the iron fist on their own people, they used it on their political rivals, and they have shown every intention to use it on the Taiwanese people. It's a good thing that most world powers still support the status quo and a peaceful resolution.

Status quo means no CCP iron fist
Under the status quo, the CCP has to refrain from using its iron fist on us. However, if a Taiwanese government were to accept the "one country, two systems" proposal, not only would we would lose our political freedom, but also the iron-fist crackdown on us would become an internal affair in which the other world powers would no longer be able to interfere or intercede. All the Taiwan DPP leaders would become the DPP "traitors". Can we in good conscience allow ourselves to become second-class citizens for the third time, and our leaders to become jailbirds again? (Many of them were victims of the White Terror.)

Perhaps the CCP thinks victory is so close that it refuses to give it up. But is it really that close? And what kind of price is it willing to pay for that victory? If China really wants to have the participation of the Taiwanese people in the reunification process, it needs to stop pursuing the civil-war victory and embrace us as brothers and sisters. It needs to stop trying to turn the old civil war into a new class struggle. It needs to show some good faith by removing the missiles. It needs to renounce hostility and stop intimidating us. It needs to forget about the rhetoric of independence and just treat us as equals.

It needs to remember that it was a civil war that separated us, and that the civil war was all about the rivalry of two equals, not a class struggle in which the ruling class needed to crush the proletarians with its iron fist.

If China could take all those steps, then all the decibels about independence would most definitely die out gradually. The CCP might even want to ask for a referendum every four years to see if the Taiwanese people are ready to embrace China, because it has known all along that, sooner or later, Taiwan will return to the embrace of its motherland. Why wouldn't Taiwanese people want to be part of China with its immense potential to be a great country? Why would we instead choose to be a small fish in the pond, to be constantly at the mercy of the big fish there? But how can we embrace the motherland if the people there want us to live under fear and intimidation for the longest time?

Notes:

  • In Part 8 of his series US-China: Quest for Peace (Avoiding another no-win war, Feb 10), Henry C K Liu wrote: "The lingering Taiwan problem also prevents domestic Chinese politics from focusing fully on China's development needs by distorting China's national priorities and in its allocation of scarce resources toward military expenditures."
  • For witness accounts of the White Terror and the Tiananmen Square killings, see http://www.uglychinese.org.
  • For a complete account of the 2-28 incident by professor Lee Shiao-feng, see http://www.taipeitimes.com/News/edit/archves/2004/02/28/2003100472.
    Lin Zhong-Phon is a "Taiwanese native" whose ancestors migrated from China to Taiwan in 1644. He is retired and can be contacted at phoenixinthewoods@asia.com.

    (Copyright 2004 Lin Zhong-Phon.)

    Speaking Freely is an Asia Times Online feature that allows guest writers to have their say. Please click here if you are interested in contributing.


  • Mar 18, 2004



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