Mon, Jul 28, 2003 - Page 8 News List

Taiwan and Wilsonian ideology

By Ching-chih Chen 陳清池

In their decades-long political struggle, the Taiwanese have made great strides in gaining freedom and democracy. The time has come now for their push to claim once and for all the full right of self-determination. The means to the end is, of course, referendums. The past offers a preview of the future.

In his 14-point address to the US Congress in January 1918, President Woodrow Wilson introduced the groundbreaking concept of self-determination. After World War I, the principle of self-determination was to become the guiding light for people under autocratic and alien rule.

The Allies' military victory over the Central Powers and the subsequent Versailles Peace Treaty, that was based very much on Wilson's 14 Points, led the defeat of Imperial Germany and the autocratic Austrian-Hungarian and Ottoman empires were broken up and most subjugated ethnic minority groups were allowed independence on the basis of self-determination in the next decade or two.

The principle and practice of self-determination have become so widely accepted as a fundamental right of all peoples that after World War II it was written into the charter of the UN. As a result, with the exception of a few cases most colonial powers fairly rapidly, one after another, ended their colonial rule and allowed independence to their former colonies.

The collapse of communism in Eastern Europe in late 1980s and the slackening of East-West Cold-War tensions prefigured the dismemberment of both the Soviet Union and Yugoslavia. Over ten former Soviet republics became independent, sovereign nation-states by the end of 1991. Compared with the relatively peaceful break-up of the Soviet Union, that of Yugoslavia was violent, but four breakaway republics, Macedonia, Slovenia, Croatia and Bosnia, did eventually become independent.

Finally, the UN has also played a role in making independence possible in a few cases. The most recent case is East Timor, which had been forcefully annexed by Indonesia in 1976. After over two decades of struggle for self-determination, the East Timorese were finally allowed on Aug. 30, 1999 to vote whether to remain as part of Indonesia or declare independence. In the UN-monitored plebiscite, more than 78 percent of those who cast their votes chose to break with Indonesia. On May 20, 2002, East Timor officially became the first new country of the 21st century.

As discussed, the century after 1918 is to a great extent a century of nation-states founded on the Wilsonian principle of self-determination. Now let's turn our attention to the case of Taiwan.

Taiwan was a Japanese colony from 1895, when China ceded the island to Japan, to 1945, when the defeated Japan surrendered to the Allies. From 1945 to 1952, Taiwan was a Japanese territory under the Allied military occupation. The former supreme commander of the Allied forces in the Pacific theater former general Douglas MacArthur, however, had assigned the task of actual occupation of Taiwan to the Chiang Kai-shek-led (蔣介石) army of the Republic of China. In October 1949, the People's Republic of China was founded while the leader of Republic of China Chiang fled to Taiwan with his supporters and began nearly forty years of an illegal martial law regime on Taiwan. Technically, Taiwan was still a Japanese territory until Japan formally renounced its sovereign right by virtue of the San Francisco Peace Treaty that Japan signed in 1951.

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