The pro-unification media have been having a field day with Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) Chairperson Tsai Ing-wen’s (蔡英文) comment that Taiwan is the Republic of China. What they do not realize is that the DPP’s resolution on Taiwan’s future passed in 1999 clearly says that Taiwan, in accordance with the ROC Constitution, is currently called the Republic of China (ROC). Arguing about this all over again is merely a provocation against the solidarity of the green camp and insinuates that Taiwan is part of China.
Tsai said: “The government of the Republic of China today is in fact the government of Taiwan.”
The emphasis on “today” is quite significant here because if there is an ROC of today, then that means there was also an ROC of yesterday.
Over the past 100 years, the ROC has gone through three stages. Understanding these three stages is beneficial in solving Taiwanese national identity issues.
The first stage lasted from 1911 until 1949. This is what we might call the traditional ROC, or the “begonia” ROC — the pre-1949 ROC map including Mongolia is said to look like a begonia leaf. Of course, it also went through several phases during this stage, such as the inter--provincial autonomy movement, the Northern Expedition campaign to end the rule of warlords, the Second Sino--Japanese War (1937 to 1945) and the Chinese Civil War (1945-1949). During the time in which the ROC Constitution evolved from a temporary pact into a proper constitution, the ROC was always an authoritarian regime.
The second stage lasted from 1949 until Chiang Ching-kuo (蔣經國) died in 1988. In a speech in March 1950 at the Revolution Policy Research Center, Chiang Kai-shek (蔣介石) said that it was only a year since he stepped down as president, but that all of the provinces in mainland China had already fallen into the hands of the communists and lamented that the nation had reached its end. The nation that he refers to here is the ROC of the first stage, which had met its demise. The ROC government that fled to Taiwan became a nation in exile, at which point the second stage, “the ROC on Taiwan,” began.
The Korean War broke out in June that year and the US once again supported the KMT regime in Taiwan, thus providing the ROC of this era with quite a lot of sway in the international community and giving the impression that it had not quite died off yet. It was not until 1971, when the “representatives of Chiang Kai-shek” were kicked out of the UN, which was followed by China and the US exchanging liaison offices and later by the US severing diplomatic relations with the ROC, that the government began feeling the pain of its demise.
The third stage, which started in 1988, is still ongoing. In Taiwan, the ROC reformed the permanent so-called “10,000-year” legislature, ended the period of mobilization for the suppression of communist rebellion, amended the Constitution and so on. These changes allowed the gradual formation of Taiwan as the ROC and the ROC as Taiwan. This period of reforms finally reached its zenith in 1996 with the first popular presidential election in Taiwan’s history. This was the time that Taiwan entered the democratic era by recognizing that sovereignty rests with the people. From this point on, Taiwan was no longer ruled by a government-in-exile, although the nation still goes by the name of a foreign government. As a quiet revolution, the remnants of authoritarianism have still remained — including the Constitution.
When Tsai reiterated that Taiwan is the ROC, she faced up to the divided national identity and showed the tolerance of Taiwan’s democratic society. It was an attempt on her part to put to rest the anxieties of certain people in Taiwan, and she also put an end to the Chinese Nationalist Party’s (KMT) manipulation of the -unification-independence and ethnic issues. As a democratic nation, of course it must be left up to Taiwanese to decide whether the Constitution should be amended or rewritten.
Tsai is looking at the present, while President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) is stuck in the past — the past 100 years — and this is the fundamental difference between these two candidates. Whoever is elected president in the election next year will bring a different future to Taiwan than that of their rival.
Paul Lin is a political commentator.
Translated by Kyle Jeffcoat
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