Wed, Jun 13, 2007 - Page 8 News List

Letters: Cantons, not counties

As transitional justice in Taiwan progresses, as statues of dictators are removed and monuments to their oppressive rule renamed, there is a whole other area of name rectification to be considered.

Having the historical distinction of being the former colony of more than one nation, Taiwan has inherited a difficulty in the naming of formal administrative divisions of national and local government.

During the time of the Chinese Nationalist Party's (KMT) military dictatorship, Taiwan had the burden of a provincial and national government governing the same territory -- functions and positions duplicated -- to project the fiction that the KMT governed all of China.

Now that Taiwan's "provincial government" has been removed, we have the strange situation in which there is a national government and then cities and designated "counties," which are by definition subdivisions of a non-existent regional government.

As with the name "Republic of China," the current names of administrative regions tend to confuse foreign countries.

Cities can readily make commercial and cultural agreements with other cities around the world and have done so.

But should Ilan County make an agreement with a US county (with populations sometimes smaller than Taiwanese townships) or a US state? Taiwan's counties, though not wholly analogous, are closer on the spectrum to the latter division.

In the US there are national, state and local tiers of government. The absence of the intermediate level in Taiwan would tend to make foreigners think that the national government is itself intermediate; that is, the province or confederated state of some "Greater China."

To address this problem while on the campaign trail last year, Vice President Annette Lu (呂秀蓮) suggested a name rectification campaign of sorts in which Taiwan would be divided into four provinces, each consisting of several counties.

But with Taiwan's size, all of this still seems to add an unnecessary layer of bureaucracy.

And the arbitrary addition of provinces in name only, which seem too small compared with those of other countries, would give the impression that Taiwan was "pretending" to have provinces, just like in the past the KMT regime "pretended" to govern China and "pretended" that Taiwan was just a province.

Besides, in the context of Taiwanese history, the idea of a province is just too reminiscent of the Chinese empire and colonialism in general.

Here is one alternate proposal: Taiwan should model its structure on Switzerland.

Change the "county" designation to "canton." In explanation, have books make the comparison thus: "Like Switzerland, Taiwan is made up of regional administrative divisions called cantons."

That one short phrase, "like Switzerland," could make a huge stride forward in how the world perceives Taiwan.

Like Switzerland, Taiwan is multilingual. Like Switzerland, Taiwan has had to maintain itself against aggressive and larger neighbors over the centuries.

Like Taiwan, Switzerland had to face a time of de facto independence from a large empire (beginning in 1499 from the Holy Roman Empire). Switzerland was finally recognized by other countries as independent in 1648 in the Treaty of Westphalia. Hopefully, unlike Switzerland, Taiwan will not have to wait that long.

Like the Swiss, Taiwanese would like nothing more than to be neutral, at peace with their neighbors and respected as a sovereign nation.

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