Taiwan Communiqué No. 101, May 2002

Is President Chen Taiwanese or Chinese?

Mr. Li Thian-hok is a prominent member of the Taiwanese American community. This article first appeared in the Taipei Times on 29 April 2002. Reprinted with permission.

Confused identity
Confusion over national identity

On 1 April 2002, Taiwan papers quoted President Chen Shui-bian as indicating his desire to visit his hometown in China, the village of Kejiazhuang in coastal Fujian Province. "If there is an opportunity to go to the mainland, I would like to go to my old village in Fujian." Since Chen was born in Taiwan, the use of the word "hometown" in the CNN report by Willy Wo-Lap Lam was misleading. What Chen meant was obviously his ancestral village.

In his stopover in New York City last May, President Chen hosted a reception and dinner for over a hundred Taiwanese American community leaders from the mid-Atlantic states at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel and delivered a speech in Mandarin. To the dismay of many in the audience, Chen referred to the assemblage as we Chinese (Chonkuojen). A great majority of Taiwanese Americans have strong emotional attachment to their homeland and actually will feel offended if they are called Chinese Americans.

The wrong-headed integration policy

In his New Year's Eve 2000 message to the nation, President Chen said China and Taiwan share similar history, culture and ethnicity and therefore it is the policy of his administration to strive for cultural and economic integration with China, leading to eventual political integration with the People's Republic of China. The reasons given for the goal of integration with China betray Chen's fuzzy and confused thinking about Taiwan-China relations.

Taiwan's history is dissimilar from that of China. Taiwan has been ruled by the Dutch, Koxinga, the Qing dynasty (an alien regime which ruled China from 1644 to 1911) and Japan. Taiwan's history may be characterized as an incessant struggle for liberty against foreign rulers. Taiwan has also been separated from China through most of its history. In the last 100 years, Taiwan was ruled by a central Chinese government for only four years, from 1945 to 1949.

While it is true much of Taiwan's culture has its origin in China, Taiwan has also been exposed to the influence of other cultures, particularly that of Japan during the colonial period and through education and media exposure American and European cultures as well. Furthermore, shared culture is merely one factor in the shaping of a common national identity. Korea and Japan, for example, have both adopted many elements of Chinese culture such as Confucian ethics and Chinese characters. But such cultural influences have not deflected the Koreans or Japanese from their own distinct sense of nationhood.

Race is also overrated as a basis for national consciousness. China has been conquered and ruled by barbarian tribes many times and over long periods in its history. The so-called Han Chinese race is a myth created for political purposes. Besides, Taiwan has several distinct ethnic groups. Today's dominant Hoklo and Hakka groups are quite different from their counterparts in Southern China because of intermarriage with the aboriginal inhabitants since the 17th century. In any event, it is a feudal notion to equate race with nationality. Regardless of their ethnic origin or time of arrival, all citizens who love Taiwan and pledge allegiance to Taiwan should call themselves Taiwanese. Ethnicity should not be invoked in discussing the independence-unification issue.

Defining the word "Chinese"

So when President Chen says Taiwan should integrate with China because we are all Chinese sharing the same history, culture and ethnicity, he is on very flimsy ground. It is also unclear what Chen means by the word "Chinese," because the context is not defined. He could have meant that he is a Han Chinese, a descendant of the Yellow Emperor. Such belief, however, is an unscientific concept artificially created by political indoctrination. If Chen called himself a Chinese to express his affinity with Chinese culture, this is understandable but it may also indicate his paucity of knowledge about the unique features of Taiwan's own history, culture and value systems. In common usage, the word Chinese is frequently used to denote a person's allegiance to the nation of China, which is now understood by the international community as the People's Republic of China. This is why it is misleading and self-defeating for anyone who owes allegiance to Taiwan to call himself a Chinese!

The need for a Taiwanese national identity

Without a clear sense of Taiwanese national identity, it will be difficult for Taiwan to develop a consensus to defend its freedom, to preserve its de facto independence and to develop a viable, self-reliant economy, because businessmen would prefer to develop China's larger economy instead. It will be difficult to build a robust military force dedicated to the island's defense because bright youngsters cannot be motivated to join the armed forces. Without patriotism, morale in Taiwan's military will be low and the officers and troops cannot be sure how firm the political leadership will be in resisting Chinese military aggression when it comes.

Taiwan's president is not just the chief executive officer of the central government and commander in chief of the armed forces, he is also the political and spiritual leader who is charged with the responsibility to protect the life, liberty and property of the citizens from outside assault. President Chen should refrain from words and actions which will exacerbate the already dangerously confused sense of national identity among Taiwan's populace. He needs to enhance Taiwanese national consciousness by emphasizing the Taiwanese people's proud achievement in building a free market democracy out of the ashes of the Kuomintang autocracy and their common political and economic interests in maintaining a separate existence away from the destitute and repressive People's Republic of China.

Blind fear of China's growing military might and the pursuit of economic and political integration with Communist China will doom Taiwan to a bleak future of poverty, humiliation and servitude. In his speech to the Japanese Diet on 19 February 2002, U.S. President George W. Bush said: "America will remember our commitments to the people on Taiwan." In his State of the Union speech in January, President Bush promised that America will take the side of brave men and women who advocate democratic values.

Taiwan's future can be bright, although not without sacrifices, only if the government and citizens are brave enough to stand up for their freedom, human rights and dignity. No citizen can pledge allegiance to both Taiwan and the People's Republic, an adversary which openly threatens to forcefully crush Taiwan's democracy. So it is legitimate to ask President Chen: are you a Chinese or a Taiwanese?

Taiwan's security; US-Israel relations

By Holmes Liao, research fellow at the Taiwan Research Institute in Taipei. This article first appeared in the Jerusalem Post on 9 April 2002. Reprinted with permission.

Israel has reportedly agreed to pay China $300 million in compensation for canceling the sale of the Phalcom early warning aircraft in July 2000 after the United States demanded it rescind the agreement.

The US was concerned that China could use the warplane(s) against Taiwan's jet fighters in the event of a military conflict, into which the US could be drawn. A fleet of such Phalcom planes could adversely impact Taiwan's air superiority in the longer term. Chinese armed forces could also deploy similar Israeli technologies to control the islands and sea lanes of communication in the South and East China Seas _ a paramount security concern for the US Pacific allies.

To many Americans and Asians alike, China appears bent on challenging the US and establishing a muscular new position across a broad swath of Asia. The differences between US and China cover a wide range of issues: missile defense, proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, religious persecution, counter-terrorism, and Taiwan. Among these, the Taiwan issue remains the most likely potential flash point between the US and China.

Much like Israel, Taiwan's security is largely dependent on its relations with the United States - a country perceived by Beijing as being the primary obstacle to achieving its national objectives, especially the "sacred, historical mission" to unify Taiwan by force.

Since the end of the 1970s, Israel has developed close ties with China. In recent years, these ties have become particularly strong in the area of defense and US officials have repeatedly complained that Israel has not only shrugged off a welter of American criticism about its burgeoning defense relationship with China, but also missed the larger picture about potential conflict between Taiwan and China.

Israeli policymakers therefore should contemplate, from Washington's perspective, whether it would be shocking if an ally such as Israel were seeking profit from making China a more effective challenger of the US - both Taiwan's and Israel's leading patron. Israel may not care about the strategic environment that Taiwan faces, but Israel's transfer of military technologies to China flies directly in the face of US security interests in the Asia-Pacific region. Israeli survival has one dependable guarantor, and the powerful US-Israeli alliance is not without its moral dimension. After all, Taiwan, like Israel, is a democracy with a vigorous economy.

If Israel tips the military balance in East Asia, the American public may ask why the US should continue to ensure Israel's security in the Middle East. Israel is the world's sixth largest arms exporter; arms sales to China are among its most lucrative business. The military trade - amounting to more than $1.5 billion over the past decade - also paved the way for broader trade in other dual-use and hi-tech goods.

The financial gains from selling arms to China are not without risks, however. Israel is playing a dangerous game by opening a potential conduit for high-technology weaponry to find their way into the hands of its enemies. There have been reports that China has transferred missile technologies that can be used in developing weapons of mass destruction to countries such as Pakistan, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Iran, and Iraq. Such arms transfers may therefore not only jeopardize Israel's efforts to win US support, but also put Israeli soldiers at risk should a regional conflict erupt.

The failed Phalcom deal is a hard lesson for Israel. The US is not without double standards when it comes to arms export. Israel can't simply persuade itself that since West European countries are transferring military technologies to China, Israel is likewise free to conduct intensive military trade. Therefore, when treading the delicate geopolitical environment in East Asia, Israel ought to caution itself not to misinterpret Washington's occasional equivocal messages and run ahead of the world from time to time.

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