By Mei-chin Chen, editor, Taiwan Communiqué
Taiwan is at the crossroads, again. At stake is our future as a free and democratic nation. Two distinctly different views have emerged: one which continues to perceive Taiwan as an appendage of China, and is pushing for a linkage with the mainland.
This view is propagated by the three opposition parties, Kuomintang, People's First Party and New Party. They come from a background of the old Kuomintang, which came over from China in the 1940s and occupied Taiwan, leading to 38 years of martial law and lack of democracy in our island. For many years, they perpetuated the claim that they were the rightful rulers of all of China. This policy led Taiwan into the dead-end "One China' alley in which we now find ourselves.
The other view is the vision that Taiwan has a right to be a full and equal member of the international community. This view is based on the fact that we have our own Taiwanese identity, which finds its roots both in the aboriginal inhabitants as well as the waves of settlers who came over to Taiwan in the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries to escape wars, famines and poverty in China.
This second view is based on the principles of freedom, human rights, democracy and self-determination, which are enshrined in the Charter of the United Nations, and which constitute the basis for the existence of the many nations of Asia and Africa, which gained their independence in the years following World War II.
Because of a fluke accident of history the occupation of Taiwan by Chiang Kai-shek's armies fleeing from China the Taiwanese people were not able to join the international family of nations as an independent nation right away.
Chiang Kai-shek's Kuomintang regime perpetuated its claim to represent China as the "Republic of China." That became untenable in the early 1970s, when the PRC was accepted as the legitimate representative of China, and the old Kuomintang was left with diplomatic recognition of only some 30 small states in the Caribbean and Africa.
It is important to emphasize that UN Resolution 2758 of 1971 did not say anything about Taiwan: it only recognized the representatives of the PRC Government as the legitimate representatives of China to the United Nations, and expelled " forthwith the representatives of Chiang Kai-shek." The debate at the UN in 1971 was thus not about Taiwan's status, but about who was the rightful representative of China.
While over the past four decades, the Taiwanese have, through hard work and ingenuity, achieved one of the most prosperous economies of East Asia, and also brought about a full-fledged democracy, the diplomatic isolation has remained.
This is the legacy inherited by Mr. Chen Shui-bian's administration from its predecessor. How do we extract ourselves from this dilemma?
First, we need to rediscover our own identity. This needs to be an inclusive identity, open to new immigrants who feel an attachment to Taiwan, its existence and its future. But it needs to be a Taiwanese identity, rooted in this island, its history, geography and economy.
We also need to reemphasize our culture, literature, music, language and heritage. This can be rooted in the aborigine societies which are so rich in music and dance, but can also be rooted in the Ho'lo and Hakka-speaking societies, or even in the society of the immigrants who came after 1945.
The essence is that it needs to be focused on our existence here in Taiwan, and not dwell on past glory or harebrain future "unification" schemes, which would in all probability turn into nightmares.
Such an emphasis on our own identity needs to be translated into a new foreign and economic policy, which presses for Taiwan's acceptance in the international community as a full and equal member.
International recognition will not come if we are unclear about our own identity. It will only come if we clearly and persistently stress that our existence as a free and democratic Taiwan is a fact.
As President Chen has already done, we need to emphasize that peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait will only come if China accepts us as a friendly neighbor.
This article first appeared in the Taipei Times, December 21st 2000. Reprinted with permission.
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