Taiwan's Democratization: A Summary

By Tien, Hung-Mao; Shiau, Chyuan-Jeng | World Affairs, Fall 1992 | Go to article overview

Taiwan's Democratization: A Summary


Tien, Hung-Mao, Shiau, Chyuan-Jeng, World Affairs


After 50 years of colonial rule by Japan, Taiwan was taken over by the Kuomintang (KMT) regime on Mainland China when the Second World War ended in 1945. Four years later, as China's civil war phased out, the defeated KMT forces retreated to Taiwan.

With the conquest of Shanghai by the Chinese communists in May 1949, a wartime economy was instituted in Taiwan. Martial law was promulgated on 20 May, and regulation policies on production, consumption, savings, trade, commodity circulation, and the like were pervasive. In order to consolidate state power and overcome the political and economic crises, the KMT started a series of political and administrative reforms. These harsh measures strengthened the ruling party's ability to control and mobilize party members, the military, the bureaucracy, the youth, the farmers, and the workers. A "hard authoritarianism" I was thus shaped. The KMT government dominated the politico-economic power structure and directed the operation of authoritarianism.

The 1950-53 Korean war brought U.S. aid back to Taiwan after a one-year interruption. With a view to preserving Taiwan as America's "cornerstone in the Pacific Rim" in the Containment Age, the United States provided substantial financial and technical assistance to help Taiwan develop its economy. It was perceived that the United States preferred allying with and supporting the authoritarian regime under Chiang Kai-Shek rather than encouraging democratization or liberalization.

With a view toward assuring national security and accelerating economic growth, the KMT government executed an import-substitution industrialization (ISI) policy in the early 1950s. U.S. aid obviously sustained the development of the ISI policy and supported the alteration of the policy to an export-oriented industrialization (EOI) policy in late 1950s when Taiwan sought to ameliorate its unfavorable balance of international payments. The ISI and EOI policies changed the Taiwan economy profoundly until the early 1970s. The product value of the private sector in manufacturing reached 86.2 percent of the total product value in 1973, when it had been only 40.3 percent in 1946. The private sector expanded 40.8 times from 1952 to 1973, and the public sector 7.4 times for the same period.

While Taiwan enjoyed its self-sustained development with a high growth rate from the early 1960s, however, significant international politico-economic challenges started to emerge before the end of the decade. In 1969, President Nixon announced his Guam doctrine to withdraw the U.S. military presence in Asia. In July 1971, he announced his forthcoming visit to the People's Republic of China (PRC), and in February 1972, he paid his visit. Japanese Premier Tanaka followed in October 1972, and normalized relations with the PRC. Under the Nixon impact, Taiwan retreated from the United Nations in 1971, and became one of the most isolated countries in the world after 1972. To make the matter worse, the oil crisis broke out in 1973. The concomitant political and economic crises forced the KMT government to implement an inward-looking political reform.

Under the rule of "hard authoritarianism," the human rights protection and the citizenship principle embodied in the constitution were frozen to some extent. For example, demonstration and strike were prohibited and the scope of political participation was confined to regular local elections. However, right after the Guam doctrine was announced in 1969, the KMT government held a supplementary national election (which had been suspended since 1947), with a view to winning its legitimacy. A series of diplomatic setbacks in the early 1970s prompted the intellectual and political opposition figures to demand further democratization and political reform.(2)

After Chiang Ching-Kuo came to power as premier in 1972, another supplementary national election was held. In addition, Chiang recruited or promoted some intellectuals and native Taiwanese to significant positions to enlarge his power base.

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