Twenty years after the lifting of martial law, Taiwan continues to struggle.
The nation has gradually transformed itself into a dynamic democracy. However, this new democracy faces many challenges.
The nation is under continuous threat from China, which aims close to 1,000 missiles at it.
China has even passed an "Anti-Secession" Law in an attempt to legalize the use of force against Taiwan for the purpose of unification. Taiwan's attempts to join international organizations such as the UN and the WHO have failed, largely because of China's objections.
All these obstacles can be traced back to an unsigned press communique, the Cairo Declaration of 1943, which has since been used by both the Republic of China (ROC) under dictator Chiang Kai-shek (
Under Chiang's rule, no one dared challenge the legality of his government on Taiwan. However, with the democratization of Taiwanese society, academics and researchers began to realize that Taiwanese had been duped by Chinese politicians.
Despite previous and subsequent press communiques, the highest level of international agreement governing the future status of Taiwan rests on the San Francisco Peace Treaty.
After the Qing Dynasty's defeat in the Sino-Japanese War, it signed the Treaty of Shimonoseki on April 17, 1895, wherein China ceded Taiwan and the Pescadores Islands (Penghu Islands) to Japan in perpetuity. As a result, when the ROC was founded in 1912, Taiwan was legally governed by Japan.
As a Japanese colonial territory, Taiwan was attacked by US warplanes during World War II.
Although, at the end of the war, Chiang's Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) troops were ordered by US General Douglas MacArthur to temporarily take control of Taiwan on behalf of the Allied forces, Taiwan's status was not addressed at the international treaty level until the signing of the San Francisco treaty on Sept. 8, 1951.
This treaty, which took effect on April 28, 1952, stipulates that Japan renounced all rights and titles toward Taiwan and Pescadores Islands.
But no receiver was ever designated.
The US knew of the situation in Taiwan, of the 228 Incident of 1947, in which some 25,000 Taiwanese were executed by KMT troops. The top US diplomat in Taiwan at the time, George Kerr, even wrote a book titled Formosa Betrayed to describe the situation.
However, US interest in stopping communism led to the decision to support Chiang and his government, and consequently the wish of Taiwanese for democracy and independence was ignored and delayed for some 40 years.
If UN had taken over the administration of Taiwan after the signing of the San Francisco treaty, Taiwanese would not have lived under the hardship of martial law imposed by Chiang's government.
Furthermore, Taiwan would have had no further involvement with the Chinese Civil War and the identity crisis it faces now would not have arisen in the first place.
Contrary to what US President George W. Bush said during a recent speech in Prague -- "As our relationships with South Korea and Taiwan during the Cold War prove, America can maintain a friendship and push a nation toward democracy at the same time" -- Taiwan's democracy came 40 years later because of US support for Chiang and his regime.
The credit for democratizing Taiwan, therefore, should be given to open-minded former president Lee Teng-hui (
Lee's gradual democratization of Taiwan solved only half of the nation's problems, but the other half -- people's wish for independence -- continues to be unresolved because of the US' decision to switch strategic partners from Chiang's regime to Beijing, followed by its reliance on a status-quo in the Taiwan Strait.
In the Shanghai Communique, the US acknowledges that all Chinese on either side of the Taiwan Strait maintain that there is but one China and that Taiwan is part of China. The US government does not challenge that position.
However, for the majority of Taiwanese who never identified themselves as Chinese, the Chinese on Taiwan's side as defined in the communique do not include them.
In fact, the Chinese on this side are but a small portion of Chiang's people who followed him in 1949 to take refuge in Taiwan.
In other words, most Taiwanese do not agree with the communique and its statement to the effect that Taiwan is part of China.
The communists' version of China is the PRC while the KMT's version of China is the ROC.
The communique was but a press release, convenient for establishing China-US relations, with each side adopting its own interpretation of the what the communique meant.
The PRC's view was that the US recognizes "one China" and that this China is the PRC, while the US's view is that they only acknowledge the view of the Chinese on both sides of the Strait.
There is no such thing in history as a government in exile that takes over a land that is its temporary refuge and then claims it as its own.
For example, if the Tibetan leadership were to set up a government-in-exile in, say, India, it could not claim any part of India as actually belonging to Tibet.
Following this logic, the ROC has no legal claim whatsoever over Taiwan. The PRC, which took over the UN seat from the ROC in 1971, also has no legal claim over Taiwan.
Since Taiwanese now enjoy freedom of expression, they should normalize their country by self-determination on their country's name.
Taiwan is a case of delayed justice and continuous betrayals. Past mistakes, therefore, must be corrected now.
Western countries that claim to support democracy and freedom must be much more assertive in their support for Taiwan's right to self-determination.
Their prevailing lip-service to the status quo fails to recognize that China's missiles are the destabilizing factor in the Taiwan Strait.
Furthermore, while these countries regularly hold their own referendums, their failure to support democratic referendums on Taiwan betrays their hypocrisy and cowardice.
The 20th anniversary of the lifting of martial law reminds us of how far Taiwan has come since the dark days of the KMT dictatorship.
However, it should also serve as a reminder that the fight for the rights of Taiwanese is not yet complete.
Alison Hsieh is a Europe researcher at the Formosan Association for Public Affairs.
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