When Taiwan entered the modern era, it was first a part of Japan and then came to be called a part of China.
After the nation developed into a democracy in the 1990s, the notion that Taiwan was already an independent country gradually came to dominate. The question then is: When and how did Taiwan become a country?
Chen Lung-chu (陳隆志) believes that after the lifting of martial law and the process of former president Lee Teng-hui’s (李登輝) democratic reforms, which included the complete re-election of the legislature and direct presidential elections, Taiwan “evolved” into an independent country.
The Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) accepted this analysis, as expressed to a considerable extent in the “Resolution on Taiwan’s Future” that the DPP’s Central Standing Committee approved in 1999.
Nonetheless, the question of when the country of Taiwan was born remains unanswered.
If Taiwan became an independent country during the 1990s, when the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) was in government, should we not then use the Republic of China (ROC) as our national title and respectfully refer to Lee as the nation’s founding father?
That is to say, those who believe in the theory that Taiwan is already an independent country cannot ignore the existence of the KMT and the ROC.
It also means they must reassess and re-explain the process beginning in 1949 that divided Taiwan and China into two political entities.
The KMT government was able to take control of Taiwan in 1945 because the US agreed to it and assisted it in doing so.
In 1950, Chiang Kai-shek (蔣介石) announced in Taipei that he would reassume the presidency from then-acting president Li Tsung-jen (李宗仁), and the US government congratulated him for doing so.
However, after the Korean War broke out, former US president Harry Truman announced that the status of Taiwan was “undetermined,” but also supported the KMT government’s right to represent China in the UN.
These positions were somewhat contradictory, and the outcome of these policies was the advent of a “divided nation” on both sides of the Taiwan Strait.
In a de jure sense we must pay attention to the dictates of the San Francisco Peace Treaty, which came into effect in 1952, but in a de facto sense what we need instead to pay attention to is the division of territory and government that started in 1949.
In January 1949, the US Department of State noticed that the Chinese navy and air force were establishing headquarters in Taiwan, and that the relatives and property of important Chinese officials were being withdrawn to Taiwan, showing that the Chinese government was in the process of setting Taiwan up as a fortress for use after withdrawing from China.
The US Department of State was in favor of ensuring that Taiwan would not fall to the Chinese Communists, but it also said: “The US should go to great lengths to avoid crude unilateral intervention.”
That same month, in the draft report by the US National Security Council on the position of the US with respect to Formosa, it was stated: “The Formosans are anti-Chinese, as well as anti-Japanese, and would welcome independence under the protection of the US or the UN. However, the indigenous population is without political experience, organization or strong leadership.”
Then, on March 3, 1949, then-US secretary of state Dean Acheson, speaking at the council, said: “In attempting to develop separatism in Formosa, we are up against the potential threat of irredentism spreading throughout the great expanses of continental China.”
“It is a cardinal point in our thinking that if our present policy is to have any hope of success in Formosa, we must carefully conceal our wish to separate the island from mainland control,” he added.
The above information comes from a section of 1949’s Foreign Relations of the United States report concerning the US’ Taiwan policy.
My friend, political commentator HoonTing (雲程) and his colleagues have put much effort into translating this material over the last couple of years, allowing it to be published in translation at last.
As a Taiwanese national identity grows increasingly stronger, while also facing ever-stronger doubts and challenges, these people should be thanked for their hard work.
After all, when reassessing and re-explaining what took place in 1949, we cannot just make things up out of thin air.
An appropriate analysis of Taiwan as a nation must be established that is based on historical data, as well as practical necessity.
Chen Yi-shen is former chairman of the Taiwan Association of University Professors.
Translated by Drew Cameron