As far as territory is concerned, there are those who say that the ROC owns Taiwan, Penghu, Kinmen and Matsu, those who would add China to this and there are still others who would also include Mongolia. There are, then, several versions of Taiwan, depending on both national identification and sovereign territory. In what way is Taiwan to ask the international community to accept its existence and give it the status of a country?
The main culprits for Taiwan’s predicament, and the confusion over its status today, are Chiang and his son and successor, former president Chiang Ching-kuo (蔣經國). The despotic rule of the island over which they presided consigned democracy in Taiwan to being hackled for four decades. Taiwanese were forced to remain silent through the Martial Law era and the White Terror, stifling language and history and taking away the population’s ability to form its own sense of right and wrong, its own sense of morality, its own values and its own sense of justice, to the extent that people no longer had the ability to turn the situation around. Even more tragic is that Taiwan has still not been able to establish itself as a country.
Given this, the US itself is also complicit in Taiwan’s plight, because of the support it consistently gave the two Chiangs. As such, it shoulders some of the moral responsibility. Ever since World War II, the US, that great bastion of global democracy, sat back and watched while Chiang and his son wreaked havoc on Taiwan, to the detriment of Taiwanese. The cumulative effect is worse than the damage done by dropping atomic bombs on Nagasaki and Hiroshima. For this alone, the US owes Taiwan fairness and justice, it owes Taiwanese assistance, it owes Taiwanese the right to self-determination.
Taiwan belongs to Taiwanese, not any other country. It certainly does not belong to China. If the 23 million people living on the island want to be Chinese, that does not mean they have to live in a world in which they are forced to forsake Taiwan and commit to China before they can be accepted as such. Taiwanese are an island people, they do not care how small Taiwan is, and they certainly do not harbor any ambition to grab territory from other countries.
Taiwan has been known for many years for its foreign exchange reserves and for having virtually eradicated illiteracy among its population, and yet it has not been able to wrest independence for itself in the post-war period.
Next time the opportunity to do so arises, it will not make the same mistake.
Today, even the South Pacific states of the Kingdom of Tonga and the Republic of Nauru are independent. Nobody is asking what Tonga or Nauru are? Yet 23 million Taiwanese are still asking themselves: What is Taiwan? Is this not the tragedy of being born Taiwanese?
Chang Kuo-tsai is a former deputy secretary-general of the Taiwan Association of University Professors and a retired associate professor of National Hsinchu University of Education.