228 crucial to Taiwan's political landscape

By Shen Chieh 沈潔  / 

Tue, Feb 27, 2007 - Page 8

To understand Taiwanese politics, it is necessary to comprehend the political earthquake set off by the 228 Incident. US president Richard Nixon said in 1972 that he did not know what the Taiwan independence movement was. Today, the US administration says it does not support measures by Taiwan to clearly distinguish itself from China. One reason for this is that they do not understand the history behind the scars left on the Taiwanese people by the 228 Incident.

To deal with this situation, the Brookings Institution organized a symposium last Thursday to discuss the political implications of 228 in the hopes of facilitating the understanding in US academic circles of "Taiwan consciousness" and demands for normalizing Taiwan's national status.

The 228 Incident marked the beginning of Taiwan's independence movement and it represents a crucial watershed in Taiwanese politics. The Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) was responsible for mass slaughter, and the US, which stood by and did nothing, must accept moral responsibility.

The KMT has shifted blame for the incident onto Chen Yi (陳儀), then executive administrator of Taiwan, and attempted to brush over 228 by saying that it was the result of a simple misunderstanding caused by the language barrier. It has no intention of acknowledging its responsibility.

The crackdown on tobacco smuggling was the spark that set off the incident, but the primary reason was the KMT's corruption, impotence and political and economic monopolies which had led to growing public outcry.

Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek (蔣介石) supported Chen by sending the troops that carried out the mass slaughter and it is no exaggeration to say Chiang was the main culprit. Since China was embroiled in a civil war, it was very unlikely that troops would have been dispatched to Taiwan if it wasn't on Chiang's order.

Even as his troops were slaughtering Taiwanese, Chiang voiced support for Chen's actions at a meeting of the KMT's Central Committee. When he finally ordered the execution of Chen a few years later, it was not because of 228, but because Chen was accused of allying himself with the Chinese Communist Party.

After the 228 Incident, Taiwanese intellectuals put four requests for assistance to the US consulate in Taipei. They asked that the US stop Chiang from deploying troops in Taiwan; that the consulate help reveal the truth of the incident to the world; that the US urge the UN to place Taiwan under UN trusteeship and help sever the political and economic relations between Taiwan and China until the realization of Taiwan independence; and that the US pressure Chiang to investigate and resolve the issue.

These intellectuals blamed the US for handing Taiwan to China. They hoped the US would help Taiwan seek UN intervention. The US consul, however, refused to intervene in "a conflict between two Chinese ethnic groups." The then US ambassador to China merely relayed a request to Chiang to dispatch officials to Taiwan to investigate the incident. The ambassador also submitted the US' report on the incident.

Former American Institute in Taiwan chairman Richard Bush believes the US should at least have stopped Chiang from sending troops to Taiwan and put pressure on Chen to negotiate with Taiwanese representatives. The US' decision to remain neutral created an even greater tragedy. It thus cannot avoid moral responsibility for the 228 Incident.

Sixty years later, the regime responsible for slaughtering Taiwanese has been eliminated by voters, and Taiwanese still hope that the US will recognize and protect this nascent democracy. The US missed an earlier opportunity by ignoring justice. It should do good now by giving Taiwanese belated justice.

Shen Chieh is a journalist based in the US.

Translated by Lin Ya-ti