The historic summit between US President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un in Singapore has sent a new political message to the world: That two nations extremely opposed to each other, the large democratic state of capitalism and the small authoritarian state of communism, are walking toward peace after ending more than half a century of hostility. This is expected to affect not only Northeast Asia, but also the world. Despite certain variables, they are still making the effort to make it work.
It seems like only yesterday when conflict between North and South Korea was on the verge of breaking out, and tension in Northeast Asia was as high as that of Middle East. In the twinkling of an eye, the two unpredictable national leaders signed a memorandum for peace while shaking hands with a smile.
Singapore has a population of only about 5.8 million, including Chinese, Malays and Indians. Different from the traditional Chinese society that many ethnic Chinese are used to, it projects the image of a modern nation. It is not a fully democratic state, as its “rule of law” is beyond people’s freedom. On the basis of a cultural view influenced by British colonial rule, the shared community of a multiethnic society was constructed in Singapore.
Taiwan is in a similar situation, but it is trapped by Chinese ideology that has remained unresolved to this day. Although it has a population of about 23 million, the conditions for a normal country have not taken shape, leaving its citizens in a state of anxiety.
The outbreak of the Korean War in the 1950s led to US assistance in defending Taiwan, which was ruled by the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) regime that took over Taiwan on behalf of the Allied Powers. Taiwan stayed safe during the Cold War while developing its economy based on the industrial infrastructure of Japanese colonial rule. However, it did not reaffirm Taiwan’s national status again. Since the Republic of China (ROC) was replaced by the People’s Republic of China (PRC) at the UN, the predicament of Taiwan’s national status has constantly existed. Even transfers of power have failed to solve the problem.
The KMT regime did not let Taiwanese recognize the country named the ROC through self-determination, nor did it let the ROC be reborn by making a new constitution. With the KMT’s party-state hijacker-like attitude, it denied all efforts to turn Taiwan into a new country. Since the ROC has been continuously entangled with the PRC, divergence in national identity has arisen. So a shared love for statehood does not exist, despite the democratization and liberalization of Taiwan.
North and South Korea are now walking toward peace together. Perhaps they are able to do so because both are UN member states. The ROC was expelled by the PRC from China. In the beginning, it was lucky to survive as a nation thanks to the Korean War, but its existence is today connected to Taiwan’s destiny. From anti-China in the past to pro-China, it has always wanted to hijack and threaten the people on the land that it occupies.
The KMT sometimes compares the ROC and PRC to North and South Korea. However, the KMT and the Chinese Communist Party are not two kingdoms separated by the Yangtze River in China, and such a metaphor is odd. The “status quo” has become some kind of shackle that suffocates Taiwan’s chance for a breakthrough and even rebirth. It is time to change the “status quo.”
If the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) refuses to change it, Taiwanese seeking to build a new nation might lose their passion for the DPP government and become anxious. The world is changing and Taiwan should break through the “status quo” as well.
Lee Min-yung is a poet.
Translated by Eddy Chang
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