Identity woes limit Taiwan's options

Lee shang-hsien 李尚賢  / 

Fri, Jul 20, 2007 - Page 8

I disagree with three points made in Chien Hsi-chieh's recent article ("A peaceful road to an independent state exists," July 13, page 8).

First, Chien's comparison with other breakaway states ignores the issue of historical grudges. In the examples Chien gives -- Norway becoming independent from Sweden, and Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia becoming independent from the Soviet Union -- there was no historical resentment between the original and the newly independent country, nor did the original country have any vital interests in the other. This is not the case between Taiwan and China.

Chinese junior-high textbooks have two pages dedicated to explaining the assets that were "stolen" from China by the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) when it fled to Taiwan in 1949. The text emphasizes that this "booty" became the foundation of Taiwan's prosperity. The Chinese Civil War has left a troubled legacy that continues in China today, in which all Taiwanese are said to belong to "Chiang Kai-shek's (蔣介石) band of thieves."

Today, China needs Taiwanese investment for the development of its economy, so the Chinese grudgingly accept. But this history is branded deep in the heart of every Chinese. Taiwanese businesspeople are cheated, robbed, extorted and have their assets confiscated, which the Chinese consider merely interest on the property that the KMT took from them. Just think -- with the entire population manipulated by the state-run education system, how could the Chinese ever with peaceful independence for Taiwan?

Second, the issue of Taiwan involves China's resource interests. Only if China governs Taiwan can it confidently and fearlessly contend with the US for resources in the Pacific. Taiwan is key to these areas, so China will make heavy sacrifices or completely destroy Taiwan if it must to achieve that end. Propaganda and military intimidation may be a tactical trick, but with nearly 1,000 missiles pointed at Taiwan, wishful thinking of "peaceful independence" is not very practical.

Third, there is the issue of cultural ideals. As Chien said, we need to have confidence in our own system in order to create a harmonious atmosphere in which old and new immigrants can identify with Taiwan. This warning seems all the more apt coming from one who joined last fall's red-clad anti-corruption protests.

Indeed, the biggest obstacle to Taiwanese independence is that internally there is no harmonious atmosphere or feeling of identification with the land.

Our government, education system and environment still persuade many Taiwanese to identify with China. The people of this land have always lacked self-confidence and dignity, and the word "independence" seems to be almost exclusively used by politicians.

I have always believed that peace relies on strength and this includes the non-violent defense mentioned by Chien. He is an old warrior of social movements and presumably has learned a great deal from his experiences. I hope he will once more raise his flags and appeal to all Taiwanese to identify with this land, and reform the nation's outdated and pedantic education. When I hear that call, I will heed it.

Lee Shang-hsien is director-general of the Taiwan Pik Hap Culture Association.

Translated by Anna Stiggelbout