In scientific research, when basic assumptions are proven wrong, we must move to new understandings that can underpin our research. Thus, humans originally believed the Earth to be flat and to be the center of the universe. When we discovered that the Earth was a sphere and that it revolved around the sun, our basic assumptions had to undergo fundamental changes. In the philosophy of science, this is called a “paradigm shift.”
The fossil record and Charles Darwin’s important work on evolution challenged the idea that God created everything about 6,000 years ago, requiring another paradigm shift before science could reflect our new understandings.
Most scientific developments occur within a single paradigm. In a non-scientific area, like foreign and international relations, such developments tend to be small, slow and protracted.
On the basis of extensive research about Taiwan’s past, I am today proposing that we need a new paradigm shift to explain modern Taiwan and its future.
I argue that Taiwan has three major historical eras. The first is up to the arrival of the Dutch colonial state in 1624.
Taiwan’s Austronesian peoples were never unified, but they had extensive trading networks with Southeast Asia dating back more than 2,500 years and they continued to trade with Southeast Asia and then with East Asia as well.
Archeological sites in what are now the Philippines, Indonesia, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam demonstrate that Taiwanese jade from Hualien reached all of these places.
Taiwan’s metallurgy also came from Southeast Asia as Taiwan’s indigenous peoples used a type of mold from Southeast Asia, which they constructed from Taiwanese sandstone.
Later, many important parts of a Japanese samurai warrior’s fighting outfit used deerskin from Taiwan. China was not relevant to Taiwanese trade until the very late Ming Dynasty and no Taiwanese jade has been discovered in sites in what is now China.
Furthermore, no evidence of Chinese metallurgy has been discovered in Taiwan. The Ming forbade foreign trade, and traders from China such as the Zheng (鄭) family were actually “pirate-merchants” who in no way represented the Ming state.
The second historical era, colonialism, spans 364 years from 1624 until 1988 with six separate colonial regimes: the Dutch (1624-1662); the Spanish, who ruled northern Taiwan simultaneously with the first part of Dutch rule in the south (1626-1642); the Zheng family (1662-1683); the Manchus (1683-1895); the Japanese (1895-1945); and the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) under Chiang Kai-shek (蔣介石) and his son, Chiang Ching-kuo (蔣經國), (1945-1988).
The third historical era is democratization.
A colonial regime is rule by a minority of outsiders in the interests of the outsiders, so colonial regimes have some special universal characteristics such as being racist dictatorships.
Two key facts about Taiwan’s colonialism stand out.
First, there were no permanent Chinese communities in Taiwan until the Dutch imported Chinese as laborers.
Second, Chinese who came during and after the Dutch period did not think of themselves as “Chinese.” Rather, they adopted a more local identity: Quanzhou, Zhangzhou or Hakka.
These local identities remained until the mid-19th century when their perspectives became “Taiwanese” rather than “Chinese.”
Everyone agrees that the Japanese regime in Taiwan was colonial. There are at least six strong similarities between the Japanese regime and the regime of Chiang Kai-shek and Chiang Ching-kuo.
First, both regimes considered the Taiwanese natives to be second-class citizens and both systematically discriminated against the Taiwanese. For example, under Chiang Kai-shek and Chiang Ching-kuo, both the Cabinet and the KMT’s Central Standing Committee always had a majority of Mainlanders, even though they accounted for less than 15 percent of the population.
Second, both regimes clamped down very hard at first, killing tens of thousands of Taiwanese. This occurred under Chiang Kai-shek after the 228 Incident in early 1947, when his armies systematically slaughtered tens of thousands of Taiwanese.
Third, both regimes continued to rely on oppression for about 25 years. Under Chiang Kai-shek, this was the White Terror.
Fourth, owing to international and domestic circumstances, both regimes “liberalized” after about a quarter-century. Under the Chiangs, this took place in the early 1970s.
Fifth, as both regimes came under pressure, they again stepped up repression. Under Chiang Ching-kuo, this repression followed the Kaohsiung Incident of Dec. 10, 1979, when the regime imprisoned many political activists.
Finally, both regimes tried to make Taiwanese speak their “national language” (國語), Japanese and Mandarin Chinese respectively, as part of their larger cultural attempts to make Taiwanese second-class Japanese and Chinese.
Thus, in summary, the KMT regime under the Chiangs was rule by outsiders in the interests of the outsiders. It was a dictatorship in which Taiwanese had no power and in which Taiwanese suffered massive and systematic discrimination.
If we look back at Taiwan’s history, there was only one short period when a Chinese regime (a so-called Han regime) ruled Taiwan from a base in China. This was the Chiang dictatorship from 1945 to 1949.
No other Chinese regime based in China ever ruled Taiwan. To say that Taiwan has been a part of China since “the beginning” is pure nonsense.
For academics, this point is now very clear. However, we still have to educate government leaders and bureaucrats in both Taiwan and in the world’s democratic powers about this very important historical fact.
How did the so-called “one China” policy come into being? The Chiang Kai-shek dictatorship declared that Taiwan had always been a part of China without any historical evidence. Mao Zedong (毛澤東) picked up on Chiang’s falsehood and he also declared that Taiwan had always been a part of China.
When the democratic nations of the world bargained with Chiang Kai-shek and Chiang Ching-kuo, and with Mao Zedong and his successor, Hua Guofeng (華國鋒), in the 1970s, they agreed to a “one China” policy. Of course, Taiwanese were never consulted, nor were historians.
The “one China” policy has the same historical validity as the old “flat Earth” perspective or the idea that God created all of the world’s creatures 6,000 years ago. In terms of Taiwan’s foreign and international relations, we clearly need a paradigm shift.
If Taiwan were to continue to emphasize its so-called “diplomatic allies,” the only result can be failure. The numbers can only go down and eventually the number will reach single digits or even zero. What can Taiwan do?
First, Taiwan should never break relations with a state that recognizes the People’s Republic of China. This is true even if the state has been insulting.
Second, on the basis of the “one China” policy being in the same category as a “flat Earth” understanding, Taiwan should work closely with the world’s democratic powers to have more formal relations with Taiwan, even as they maintain relations with China.
It is worth noting that, in fact, many countries such as the US and Australia already have de facto “one China, one Taiwan” policies, although they do not admit this. I believe it is now time to move forward on these new understandings.
International law supports Taiwan. Specialists in international law agree that the Convention on Rights and Duties of States signed in Montevideo on Dec. 26, 1933, is the key document on statehood.
According to Article 1 of the Convention on Rights and Duties of States, a state has “a) a permanent population; b) a defined territory; c) government; and d) capacity to enter into relations with the other states.”
Taiwan clearly and easily meets these requirements for statehood.
Furthermore, Article 3 emphasizes that “the political existence of the state is independent of recognition by the other states.”
This means, even if Taiwan has not one single country that recognizes it formally, Taiwan is still a state.
It is essential that Taiwan move from the current “one China” policy of recognizing either China or Taiwan to a situation in which states will feel comfortable recognizing both China and Taiwan.
China will, of course, oppose these actions. However, in accord with classical balance-of-power theory, a rising power will be met by a coalition of powers opposing it.
China has demonstrated that it is an expansionist power that breaks a whole host of international conventions quite willingly. As we can see, many democratic powers are now moving against China. This reaction against China can be used by Taiwan and the democratic powers to move international relations in ways I have suggested.
It is important to remember that Taiwan, like Australia, is a full-fledged member of the world’s “middle powers.”
Taiwan is not “tiny” or “small.” Its population exceeds more than three-quarters of the world’s nations. Its territory is larger than two-fifths of the world’s nations. It has a highly developed and prosperous economy, a substantial military and a fine educational system. Taiwan is an important middle power.
In summary, Taiwan and the world’s democratic powers need to move from such “flat Earth” understandings as “one China” including Taiwan to a new paradigm in which Taiwan is a nation-state without historical ties to China — other than that of the KMT’s colonial dictatorship. Such old concepts as “one China” have no use in examining modern Taiwan.
Second, Taiwan must work with the democratic powers to establish foreign relations on a new basis that does not make nations choose between Taiwan and China. Both are nations of the world and both should be recognized as such.
Bruce Jacobs is emeritus professor of Asian languages and studies at Monash University in Melbourne, Australia. This is an edited version of a speech he gave to a Boomerang Lunch at the Australian Office in Taipei on Friday last week.
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