Taiwan is not an orphan nation in need of someone to adopt it. Taiwan is not a foundling nation wandering the streets of the world looking for a home. It is not even a poor waif of a nation unable to take care of itself in that same big, bad world.
Finally, Taiwan is certainly not terra nullius, a nationless land that is open and waiting to be explored and possessed by those who dare.
Taiwan is a mid-sized, democratic nation that by GDP, profitability, location and even microchip production punches far above its weight in its region and in international commerce. It is that simple.
To be sure, Taiwan was not always that way. It has a long documented history of colonization and exploitation by many nations before its independence. Battles were fought on and for it. While the only colonizer to control the whole island has been Japan, it did eventually surrender its sovereignty over Taiwan in the San Francisco Peace Treaty. That was in 1952 and it officially ended World War II. Neither the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) nor the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) were invited.
Later, because of the Cold War and China’s intervention in Korea, Taiwan remained occupied by the KMT in exile. Yet, after enduring decades of that occupation, Taiwanese finally broke free and forged the vibrant democracy that exists today.
That is Taiwan. So what is the problem? The problem comes from outside Taiwan.
Across the Taiwan Strait is China, a different nation run as one-party state. The CCP is in the process of trying to rewrite not only the narrative of its “heroic role” in China, but also in East Asia. Naturally, it is doing this for its own benefit and glorification.
Other nations are finally beginning to grasp the direction of this manipulation; they now also understand the extent to which China’s hegemonic ambitions are driving it. Still, that does not mean that they accept it or should accept it.
Metaphors of inheritance work best in parsing and explaining the issue.
Begin with China’s claims. Although Taiwan is its own nation, the CCP in its posturing claims that it has a right of inheritance over Taiwan, even though the CCP has never ruled Taiwan or even been there. The CCP is like a stranger in film noir, who shows up at the protagonist’s front door. With dodgy claims of lineage and long forgotten past sales, the stranger says that the home the protagonist lives in actually belongs to him, and he is ready to move in.
That is the challenge that the CCP presents to Taiwan. It is one that needs to be examined, questioned and rejected. Hard questions must be asked.
Just what are the credentials that the CCP alleges to possess that would give it the right to Taiwan? What legal basis does it have other than the gross desire of: “It is shiny and attractive, therefore I want it”? None have ever been presented.
Is the CCP trying to relate its right to the Manchu empire once controlling part of Taiwan before it surrendered it to Japan? Does it argue that since China was a part of that empire, then it somehow has a right to all of the empire once the empire crumbled?
The CCP did not even exist when the Manchu empire surrendered Taiwan to Japan, or even later when the Manchu empire fell apart.
Is the CCP trying to invoke an old skewed claim based on the Cairo Declaration? Some KMT members have tried that in the past. CCP leader Mao Zedong (毛澤東) was not even at the Cairo summit, and the declaration was a press release by the Allies to keep Chiang Kai-shek (蔣介石) and the KMT in the war against Japan.
As a press declaration it had no legal binding power. If it did, the KMT or even the CCP would have been invited to sign the San Francisco Peace Treaty, seven years after the war ended. They were not.
Is the CCP trying to stake its claim to Taiwan based on Chiang fleeing there after losing the Chinese Civil War in 1949? He did flee there, and from that base pretended to have a right to China and China’s seat in the UN.
UN Resolution 2758 revoked his representation in 1970 when it voted to remove “Chiang and his followers,” not Taiwan, from the UN seat. It handed the China seat over to the CCP, but made no judgement on Taiwan’s status.
So when Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平) says that the Taiwan question needs to be settled, he is correct. It does.
However, that settlement must reflect the reality that Taiwanese have the right to self-determination as was given to many colonized countries after World War II.
It is time for the UN to recognize the democracy that Taiwanese have forged.
Why is this important? Its significance is seen by flipping the inheritance metaphor and exposing the CCP’s bullying method of “dollar diplomacy,” also known as “extortion.”
For many nations, the CCP resembles the proverbial crotchety, obnoxious rich relation that one detests, but must put up with. One endures attending family functions with that relative simply because they are rich. Any absence or show of disdain would certainly endanger one’s chances of being rewarded with a hefty inheritance down the road.
To have a shot at this inheritance — read trade dividend or million-dollar projects — all a nation has to do is support the CCP’s private claims to Taiwan and deny Taiwan’s already de facto independent reality.
That is the atmosphere that the CCP continues to promote. It is basically diplomatic extortion that happens not only on the national level, but on the business level as well.
As the CCP rewrites history, the examples of those extorted are many. Take the sports world, for example. To gain revenue from the rich China market, the National Basketball Association easily bowed to supporting any and all of China’s expressed beliefs. Hollywood is another, as it easily changes the plots of films to accommodate Chinese bias.
This is not restricted to the sports and entertainment fields. Just recently, Douglas Hsu (徐旭東), the chairman of Taiwan-based Far Eastern Group, found that his businesses in China were fined more than US$74 million because of some “trumped up” contraventions. What those were does not matter; the intent focuses on the positions demanded of the company’s leadership.
What result was desired in the case? Since Far Eastern Group’s base is in Taiwan, Hsu had to make a public announcement that he does not support Taiwanese independence. It was a clear ham-fisted warning to Taiwan-based businesses and others as well. If you want to do business in China, you had better spout the party line.
That is the absurdity and the reason why it is time for hard questions to be directed at the CCP leadership over what the credentials of its “claims” to Taiwan are.
There is an old saying that you do not really know a person’s character or nature until you have to share an inheritance with them; those who have been through such circumstances understand it well. That is why the inheritance metaphors work so well in exposing China’s hegemonic greed.
Yet in all this bowing and scraping, the final surprise is that there are those who are willing to say that enough is enough. The minuscule nation of Lithuania has stood up to the giant China and is now in the process of being ostracized from “China family trade functions.”
What was Lithuania’s crime? It allowed the Taiwan trade office there to actually use “Taiwan” in its title. Lithuania is perhaps leading the way by saying: “Sooner or later, the nations of the world will have to tell the Chinese emperor that he has no clothes.”
Lithuania decided that it has had enough of the obnoxious relative, and any promise of a future inheritance is not worth the bother. Will others follow?
Jerome Keating is a writer based in Taipei.
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