As Taiwan presidential elections approach Jan. 14, the US has
shown a preference for incumbent Ma Ying-jeou - who says he can work
with China. The US should set aside wishful thinking about
unification and respect the right of Taiwanese to decide their own
The Taiwan question is an issue that almost everyone - except the
23 million people in Taiwan - wishes would go away.
US officials generally hope that natural economic forces will
pull Taiwan and China inextricably together, and that the current
government in Taipei will engineer a deal with China that finally
answers the question of two countries, or one unified China.
It is not that simple on either side of the Taiwan Strait. There
is no evidence that the Taiwanese people want to unify with China,
nor that the Chinese will compromise on their position that
unification is the only acceptable outcome. The United States should
set aside wishful thinking and face that reality with policies that
respect the right of Taiwanese to decide their own future.
As Taiwan prepares for presidential elections Jan. 14, the Obama
administration, like its predecessors, has shown preference for the
candidate of the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) - incumbent Ma Ying-
jeou - who has cast himself as the man who can work best with China.
When challenger Tsai Ing-wen, candidate of the pro-Taiwan
Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), visited Washington in October, a
senior administration official told The Financial Times that she
"left us with distinct doubts about whether she is both willing and
able to continue the stability in cross-Strait relations." A denial
of that tilt has been unconvincing.
The elections in Taiwan, like the country's future writ large,
are for the Taiwanese to determine. The US should be prepared to
accept the outcome of any transparent, inclusive, democratic process
- whether that be formalization of Taiwan's de facto independence
from China, unification, or some commonwealth arrangement such as
the one that Canada - an independent nation - has with the United
The fact is, however, that most Taiwanese are prepared to live
with the status quo - full but undeclared independence. What riles
them is their continued national humiliation.
Their history is different from that of the "mainlander" Chinese
who moved to Taiwan after World War II and today still represent
only 10 to 15 percent of the population. Over the centuries, the
Taiwanese have been ruled by the Dutch, Spanish, French, the Qing
Dynasty of China, the Japanese, and - after the Cairo Declaration
assigned Taiwan to China during the war - the KMT party.
Not until 1987, when martial law was lifted, could the Taiwanese
even begin to engage in the basic activities of democracy and self-
We have followed Taiwan since the 1960s, having lived there for
15 years between us, ridden the trains and buses, and pedaled
bicycles around the country, albeit years apart.
The Taiwanese nation that we have witnessed is a dramatic example
of economic, political, and social evolution. Its people have built
the quintessential "economic miracle." As successes mounted, they
jettisoned the Nationalists' statist economic model, which fed
inefficiency and corruption, in favor of a vibrant, increasingly
socially responsible one.
In politics, the Taiwanese feel that, in addition to building a
democratic culture, they have worked hard to coexist with the
Chinese among them and across the Taiwan Strait. Except in isolated
incidents in the aftermath of the "2-28 Massacre" in 1947, in which
thousands of Taiwanese died, the mainlanders have never been
attacked or even harassed. The Taiwanese have voted for mainlanders,
including President Ma, when they campaigned on pro-Taiwan
This is the pattern for Taiwanese - humiliation to which they
respond with patience. …