We the undersigned scholars, former government and military officials, and other friends of Taiwan who have witnessed and admired Taiwan’s transition to democracy for many decades wish to express to the people of Taiwan our sense of urgency to maintain unity and continuity at this critical moment in Taiwan’s history.
It is obvious that during the past two years, the People’s Republic of China has left no stone unturned in its attempts to squeeze Taiwan’s international space, threaten it with a buildup of military power and make it appear as if Taiwan’s only future lies in integration with an authoritarian China.
This pressure culminated on Wednesday last week with a speech by Chinese President and Chinese Communist Party General Secretary Xi Jinping (習近平), telling the Taiwanese people that “the Taiwan question” was a Chinese internal affair, that unification under China’s “one country, two systems” principle was the only option for the future and Taiwan independence was a “dead end.”
In her response the same day, President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) emphasized that the vast majority of the Taiwanese people strongly rejected “one country, two systems” and that her government had never accepted the so-called “1992 consensus.”
She then reiterated her “Taiwan consensus” based on the “four musts,” elaborated in her New Year’s address the day before. These include that China must accept the reality of the existence of the Republic of China (Taiwan), and respect the commitment of the 23 million people of Taiwan to freedom and democracy.
As international scholars, writers and former officials we believe this is the right response. It is also illustrative of the stable and responsible leadership Tsai has displayed in the face of the mounting threat from communist China.
We applaud the courageous stance of the Taiwanese people in resisting Chinese pressures and protecting their own democratic system.
However, we express our concerns that Beijing’s latest subversive techniques of deception and disinformation could sow division and confusion in Taiwan’s body politic and create the kind of civil unrest that Beijing lists as one of the pretexts for using force against Taiwan — which would nevertheless constitute aggression in violation of the UN Charter.
In our view, Tsai is a most effective and knowledgeable statesperson. With her quiet demeanor and careful balancing she has not only significantly advanced Taiwan’s place in the international community, and elevated Taiwan’s profile on the international radar screen, but also stood firm in defending Taiwan’s hard-won freedom and democracy.
Just as Taiwan has made itself a democratic model for the region, Tsai has earned the respect of other nations for her courageous and composed response to the aggressive bullying of Taiwan’s powerful neighbor. We urge our own governments to make clear to Beijing that Taiwan does not stand alone.
Taiwan is at a crossroads as never before. It is under an existential threat by the People’s Republic of China. While we respect the reality that Taiwan, like all democratic polities, has a range of domestic issues that must be resolved, that democratic process should proceed in a manner that does not detract from the overall national unity in the face of the larger threat to Taiwan’s existence as a free and democratic nation.
If Taiwanese across the political spectrum fail to understand this threat, and go on with business as usual, this provides Beijing’s repressive leaders with an opportunity to divide Taiwanese society and increasingly make it an inevitability that Taiwan is incorporated into China.
This happened with East Turkestan in 1949, Tibet in 1950 to 1951, and Hong Kong in 1997. The repression and lack of freedom and democracy there should serve as a wake-up call for Taiwan.
We thus appeal to the people of Taiwan to maintain a clear vision for their future as a free and democratic nation that is a full and equal member in the international family of nations. The process may be slow and cumbersome, but it is essential to maintain unity and to be supportive of a democratically elected president who has demonstrated balance, flexibility and toughness.
These are the qualities Taiwan needs to navigate the stormy seas ahead towards a brighter and more secure future.
John J. Tkacik, International Assessment and Strategy Center, retired US foreign service officer, Alexandria, Virginia
Clive Ansley, international lawyer, Courtenay, British Columbia
Thomas Bartlett, Stanford University, Palo Alto, California
Joseph A. Bosco, Georgetown University (retired), formerly at the office of the secretary of defense, US Department of Defense, Washington
Kevin Carrico, Monash University, Melbourne, Australia
Frank Chiang, Fordham University Law School, New York
Peter Chow, City University of New York, New York
Jerome A. Cohen, New York University Law School, New York
Michael Danielsen, Taiwan Corner, Copenhagen, Denmark
June Teufel Dreyer, University of Miami, Coral Gables, Florida
Feng Chongyi, University of Technology, Sydney, Australia
Carl Ford, former US assistant secretary of state, National Park University, Park, Arkansas
Brock Freeman, American Citizens for Taiwan, Seattle, Washington
Michael Rand Hoare, School of Oriental and African Studies, London
Thomas G. Hughes, former chief of staff to the late US senator Claiborne Pell, Washington
Michael A. Hunzeker, George Mason University, Fairfax, Virginia
J. Bruce Jacobs, professor emeritus of Asian Languages and Studies, Monash University, Melbourne, Australia
Paul Jobin, Academia Sinica, Taiwan, and University of Paris Diderot, France
Richard C. Kagan, professor emeritus, Hamline University, St Paul, Minnesota
Michael Y.M. Kau, professor emeritus, Brown University, Providence, Rhode Island
Bruno Kaufmann, European Democracy Foundation, Switzerland
Sasa Istenic Kotar, University of Ljubljana, Slovenia
Paul Kovenock, US Department of State (retired), Washington
Andre Laliberte, University of Ottawa, Canada
Perry Link, professor emeritus of East Asian studies, Princeton University, New Jersey
Victor H. Mair, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
The Very Reverend Dr Bruce McLeod, former moderator, United Church of Canada
Wayne Pajunen, writer and former legislative aide, House of Commons, Ottawa
Timothy S. Rich, Western Kentucky University, Kentucky
Shawna Yang Ryan, University of Hawaii, Manoa, Hawaii
Michael Scanlon, Shih Chien University, Kaohsiung, Taiwan
David C. Schak, Griffith University, Queensland, Australia
James D. Seymour, Columbia University, New York City
Fang-long Shih, London School of Economics and Political Science, London
Michael Stainton, Taiwanese Human Rights Association of Canada, Toronto, Canada
William A. Stanton, former director of the American Institute in Taiwan, Taipei
Peter Tague, Georgetown University Law Center, Washington
Ross Terrill, Fairbank Center Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts
Arthur Waldron, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Gerrit van der Wees, George Mason University, Fairfax, Virginia
Jack F. Williams, professor emeritus, Michigan State University, East Lansing, Michigan
Yenna Wu, University of California, Riverside, California
Ambassador Stephen M. Young, US department of state (retired), Londonderry, New Hampshire
Gordon G. Chang, author of The Coming Collapse of China, New Jersey.
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