Last month, as President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) was visiting Guatemala and Belize, the People’s Republic of China (PRC) announced that it was establishing diplomatic ties with the Gambia, which was previously one of Taiwan’s few diplomatic allies.
Ma has said that since he came to office in 2008, the PRC has maintained a “diplomatic truce” with the Republic of China (ROC) as a gesture of goodwill.
Why did China have a change of heart in the last months of Ma’s Beijing-friendly administration?
Some analysts said that it was a “warning” to president-elect Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文), who is to be sworn in on May 20 after her landslide victory in the Jan. 16 elections.
They said that if she does not adhere to the so-called “1992 consensus” and follow the “one China” principle, then Beijing would start poaching Taiwan’s diplomatic allies.
Young Taiwanese feel strongly about the nation’s international recognition and think that it should be accepted as a full and equal member of the international community.
However, would they lose sleep over the severing of ties with the Gambia? Not really. Not because it is a small African nation with an undemocratic government that in 2013 decided to break ties with Taiwan, but because people need to focus on what is really important for the nation, as it faces an existential threat from across the Taiwan Strait.
Taiwanese need to focus on two things: First, building a better, more free and democratic nation that would set an example for other nations in the region. Taiwan needs to have better, more transparent politics; not “black box” operations favored by Ma. It needs an accountable Legislative Yuan, not shady back-room dealings that are characteristic of the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT).
Second, Taiwan needs to improve its relations with other nations that share its democratic values.
The nation’s diplomatic ties are the legacy of a bygone era when the then-KMT government claimed to be the ruler of all of China, hence the ROC name.
Officially, the nation retains this name, but it is a matter of time before it disappears to make way for “Taiwan.” The world refers to Taiwan as “Taiwan” and young people of the nation consider themselves “Taiwanese.” This is the reality on the ground and the sooner people adapt to it, the better.
Young Taiwanese reject the international isolation imposed on the nation due to the legacy of the KMT, which came from China with Chiang Kai-shek (蔣介石) after World War II. Taiwan deserves a place in the international community and the PRC’s claims are as unfounded, unjust and unfair as the KMT’s old claims to rule all of China.
It is time to leave the Chinese Civil War behind and work toward a new, positive and constructive relationship across the Taiwan Strait, in which the two nations recognize each other as friendly neighbors. That is the only way they could have sustainable peace and security in the region.
As far as the Gambia and other allies are concerned: Taiwanese would welcome it if they would move toward dual recognition of both Taiwan and China.
Lilly Lee Min-chen, a National Taiwan University graduate, was a participant in 2014’s Sunflower movement.