Editorial: Is Taiwan the most dangerous place to live today?
Observers would find it almost paranoid schizophrenic that while missiles are aimed at each other across the strait, China is Taiwan’s biggest trade partner, both imports and exports.
Taiwan is an island of 36,000 square kilometers (approximately the size of Maine, USA, slightly smaller than Switzerland), about 150 kilometers off the southeastern coast of China. The majority of its population of 23,000,000 are Han Chinese. Only 2.5% or 600,000 are aboriginals. Cross racial marriages are not uncommon, however.
This editorial was written by G. Chow, an FPMag reader in Taiwan.
G. Chow was born and educated in Taiwan, studied in the US for 3 years, majored in computer science. For more than 30 years the author has worked in the Taiwan branches of American and European companies in various functions. A strong believer that democracy propagated and praised by many is not a good solution. We humans, by nature, everywhere alike, are gullible and easily manipulated. Democracy will sooner or later become a game that the smarter player, usually the trickier, dirtier and less ethical one, rather than the one with vision and capability, wins. It will eventually ruin the country. Socrates and Plato saw this more than 2000 years ago.
History (17th to 19th Century)
Before early 17th century, Taiwan was an unclaimed island with indigenous peoples. In 1624, the Dutch and the Spanish occupied different parts of Taiwan. By 1642, the Dutch expelled the Spanish and colonized the island until 1662. After months of war with the Chinese, the Dutch were driven off in 1662 and the Chinese took over Taiwan. Since then, many Han Chinese crossed the strait and settled in Taiwan. In the years that followed, Qing China started to govern the settlers and aborigines.
1st And 2nd Sino-Japanese Wars
The first Sino-Japanese war (1894-1895) was a war over the influence of Korea between the Qing dynasty of China and the emerging Empire of Japan. China suffered tragic losses in the war, and had to negotiate for a peace treaty. In 1895, China signed the “Treaty of Maguan” and ceded Taiwan and Liaodong peninsula (in Northeast China) to Japan, agreed to other commercial privileges, as well as 8 million tons of silver as war reparations. Japan colonized Taiwan from 1895 until 1945, end of WWII.
The ambition of Japan continued to soar after its victory of the 1st Sino-Japanese war. It started and won the war with the Russian Empire over Manchuria and Korea in 1905, had picked numerous skirmishes in China, until the 2nd Sino-Japanese war (1937-1945) broke out. During that period, Japan also invaded French Indochina, the Philippines and Indonesia, attacked Pearl Harbor and started WWII in 1941.
As the Qing dynasty in China was overturned in 1911 and replaced by the Republic of China (ROC), the 2nd Sino-Japanese war was between the ROC and the Empire Japan.
In 1945, Japan was defeated by the allied countries and unconditionally surrendered. The terms in the surrender statement included that Japan was reduced to its pre-1894 territory and stripped of its pre-war empire, as well as all its recent conquests. So after the WWII ended, Taiwan was return to ROC, who sent government officials, soldiers and engineers to Taiwan for post-war reconstruction.
Civil War in China (from 1945)
Peace did not come to the Chinese after the brutal and scorching 8-year war against Japan. The Chinese Communists soon started a civil war against the then ruling party, KMT, with the support of the Soviet Union and weapons confiscated from or left behind by the defeated Japanese. KMT lost battle after battle and finally retreated to Taiwan in 1949, four years after the victory against Japan, losing the mainland to the communists. Two million people followed KMT to Taiwan, including soldiers, government employees, teachers and civilians escaping the communists. The Chinese Communist Party (CCP), having occupied the entire Chinese mainland, established the People’s Republic of China (PRC) in 1949, and was ready to proceed to “liberate” Taiwan, taking out the last stronghold of its political opponent, KMT, for the control of the entire China.
The Korean War (1950-1953) between North and South Korea changed the fate of the seemingly doomed KMT and ROC in Taiwan. After the Korean armistice agreement, the United States policymakers shaped a policy of containment in East Asia together with South Korea and Japan against the potential spread of communism. So keeping Taiwan from the control of the Chinese communists became part of its strategy, which led to the signing of “Mutual Defense Treaty between the United States of America and the Republic of China” in 1955 (which expired 1980). With the help from the United States, ROC fared through the next critical decades and kept its people from the communist rule.
In 1971, the ROC’s permanent membership of the United Nations was replaced by PRC. The United States established official diplomatic relation with PRC in 1981.
ROC In Taiwan (since 1949)
Despite the defeat on the mainland in 1949, and the tough battles fought across the strait in the years that followed, it had been the will and plan of the KMT leader (Chiang Kai-Shek) to reorganize its military forces and reclaim the Chinese mainland from CCP some day. War preparations were in full swing in the 1950s and 60s. But somehow, any attempt of invasion or landing on the Chinese mainland was deterred and discouraged by the United States. To the enormous frustration of Chiang Kai-Shek, only defensive, no offensive weapons, were made available to ROC.
Maintaining a separated China was for the best interest of the United States then, as well as today. It was for the containment of the potential spread of the communism at that time. Today, it is for the containment of the potential competition from China.
Since 1949, more than 70 years in partial safety, then 30 years of peacesince 1971, the successors of Chiang gradually lost the ambition and will power to regain the previous territories and jurisdiction inherited from Qing dynasty in 1911. While keeping the country name, Republic of China, it has become content to retain sovereignty over just a small part of ROC, namely, Taiwan. The mindset fueled the ideology of an independent Taiwan separated from China, which had initiated from Japan after the end of its colonization of Taiwan.
Since the first general election in 1996, KMT, which had led the fierce war against the communists and fought to keep Taiwan from a PRC takeover, has lost its ruling power twice. KMT and DPP, the 2 major political parties, have demonstrated how democracy can be manipulated so effectively to tear up society, incite followers, rouse hostility among its people, and promote polarization in political beliefs, in addition to oscillating of policies, taking its toll on forming any social or political consensus.
DPP, the current ruling party, has successfully used China to its advantages, making it the scapegoat for any failure or problem, internal or international. Shortages of WHO approved covid-19 vaccines were blamed on China intervention, while it was in fact the result of a stealthy policy to block the import of international vaccines to profit a locally manufactured vaccine with unknown effect. Some DPP followers even believed that the drought last spring was created by China, using some mysterious technology to move all clouds from Taiwan. Accusing political opponents of collaborating with China is also very effective tactics. “China interference” is the best excuse for all incompetence and inability in governing, or ineptitude in policy making.
PRC in China (since 1949)
Across the strait, seventy-two years after PRC was founded, it has gone through a series of horrific and cruel political movements, createdcountless personal tragedies and ruined so many lives of Chinese on both sides of the strait. Then over the 40 years since 1980s, with its economic development and infrastructure construction booming, it has become more capitalistic than communistic. It is absurd that it still calls itself Chinese Communist Party, when it is obviously not practicing communism, nor socialism. However, authoritarian one-party rule is maintained.
Taiwan vs. China
Observers would find it almost paranoid schizophrenic that while missiles are aimed at each other across the strait, China is Taiwan’s biggest trade partner, both imports and exports. In 2020, 20% of imports and 43.8% of exports were with China, while Taiwan enjoyed a trade surplus of US$86.6 billion from China
Despite close business contacts, frequent cross-strait travelling, cultural exchanges, as well as cooperation in various fields and folk activities, PRC and ROC are mutually not recognized, each considers the other an “illegitimate regime”.
Since DPP’s victory in the 2016 general election, it has taken a strategy of instigating hostility and hatred between people across the strait, for its political gains. Using the backing of the United States, it has taken every opportunity to provoke and exasperate PRC so that all official communication channels are cut, causing tensions around Taiwan. Diplomats across the strait do nothing but talking smack at each other. DPP supporters are enjoying and excited by the bickering. They firmly believe that once PRC attacks Taiwan, the United States will come running for rescue and fight the Chinese for them.
Although ROC defense expenditure is 2.36% of GDP and 15.7% of total national budget, reaching a historical high, its war readiness today is in doubt. Most of the defense expenditure is spent on extremely expensive missiles and aircrafts from the United States. But wars are fought by people, and people from a divided society can not win a war. It is senseless to lose lives of soldiers and civilians over politicians with their own agenda.
PRC prefers a peaceful reunification but promises to resort to military forces if peaceful reunification is no longer possible. The PRC leader who allows Taiwan to be permanently separated will become a disgrace and a sinner in the Chinese history.
The strategic geographic position of Taiwan may be important factor, but for PRC, the issue of Taiwan today is no longer a power struggle of Mao against Chiang, or between the political parties of CCP and KMT. Over the years it has emerged as a sacred mission: a reunited China.
It is clearly an unfinished mission for Xi Jinping. It is and will be so for any PRC leader: a whole and reunified China. Any Chinese leader who wishes to leave a great name in Chinese history, this is his chance.
Although DPP argues that PRC has never ruled Taiwan, therefore it has no right to claim Taiwan as part of it. This is a true but misleading statement. Taiwan was never part of PRC thanks to KMT, but it is part of Republic of China since 1945 and part of Qing China before 1895. As long as PRC owns the sovereignty of China, it wants it complete, Taiwan included.
Despite some foreign commentators warned that a war may be imminent across the strait, recent surveys in Taiwan showed that half the people polled believed that there is enough goodwill between Taiwan and China, and did not think PRC would launch an attack in the near future. More than half were worried, though, because of the attitudes of the ruling party against China and the presence of the United States and its allies in the South China Sea.
A majority of those surveyed in Taiwan wished to maintain the status quo, separated from PRC, because the PRC political system seemed not to be trusted. However, whether they are willing to admit it to themselves or not, most cannot deny that reunification will come sooner or later. But hopefully later, when the social and political atmosphere in China changes for the better.
Politicians in Taiwan are supposed to work out a peaceful solution, rather than ruffle the feathers of PRC at every opportunity, counting on the interference of the United States.
Is Taiwan the most dangerous place?
Will it be where WWIII breaks out? It depends on how Taiwan plays with fire. And to what extent PRC will tolerate the “containment” measures taken by the United States, using Taiwan as a wild card in the arena of competition with China.
G. Chow, Guest Author
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