The Fifty-First State: The Desire for Taiwan to Be a State of the United States

By Ng, Franklin | Chinese America: History and Perspectives, Annual 2013 | Go to article overview

The Fifty-First State: The Desire for Taiwan to Be a State of the United States


Ng, Franklin, Chinese America: History and Perspectives


Most Americans know that Alaska and Hawaii are states in the Union, although there can be occasional instances of those who "don't know much about history." (1) Some think of Hawaii in exotic terms as an island paradise, so they do not remember that it is an American state. Still others forget which are the forty-ninth and fiftieth states. (2) But almost all Americans might be surprised to hear that a number of Taiwanese and Taiwanese Americans want Taiwan to be the fifty-first state. In an August 13, 1949, issue of the Saturday Evening Post, Darrell Berrigan wrote an article entitled "Should We Grab Formosa?" A newspaperman, Berrigan was dismayed by the rampant corruption of the Chiang Kai-shek government, the ethnic strife between the native Taiwanese and the mainlanders on the island, and the many instances of defections to Communist China. As a result, he recommended that the United States take possession of Taiwan. He said, "The Communists, of course, claim that the U. S. is trying to take over the island. Propaganda like that makes the islanders [Taiwanese] very happy." (3)

While the idea that Taiwan should be an American possession was undoubtedly novel, few subscribed to that notion at first. However, in 1994 Taiwanese American David Chou started the 51 Club to promote American statehood for Taiwan. He organized a foundation called the Form USA Foundation, playing on Taiwan's earlier name of Formosa. Educated as a lawyer in the United States, he became a businessman in the toy industry. When he realized that neither the Nationalist government nor its opposition could solve the problem with China, he felt that gaining statehood was the only answer. He preferred an American state of Taiwan to President Lee Teng-hui's proposal of a "special state-to-state relationship" of equality between Taiwan and China. In Chou's view, Taiwan could not exist without the protection of the United States. (4) David Shu, another supporter of statehood, put it this way: "China is like a gangster. The United States is like a policeman. Every time the gangster tries to take the girl in his arms, she has to call the policeman to come save her." He added. "Our job is to get the girl married to the policeman. Then there is no danger, and the protection is permanent." (5) The comments by David Chou and David Shu may be startling at first, but upon reflection, they may not be so surprising, given the close relationship between Taiwanese students and the United States.

Taiwan, officially known as the Republic of China, has sent many students to study in the United States over the past six decades. Much of this is related to Taiwan's history during this period. At the end of World War II, China witnessed a civil war between its Nationalist government and the Chinese Communists. At the end of that conflict in 1949, the government forces retreated to Taiwan and established a capital at Taipei. The Chinese Communists created a new People's Republic of China with its capital in Beijing, and hoped to eventually unify Taiwan with the mainland. The United States, concerned about Communism in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, did not recognize the new regime. (6)

After Chinese Communist forces joined with North Koreans in the Korean War from 1950 to 1953, Washington did not extend diplomatic relations to the Beijing government. During the Cold War era, the United States viewed Taiwan as an important stronghold, an unsinkable aircraft carrier that cordoned off Chinese Communism. Along with Japan; the Southeast Asian Treaty Organization (SEATO); the Australia, New Zealand, and United States Security Treaty (ANZUS); and Okinawa, Taiwan was part of an alliance system to defend against Chinese and Soviet Communism. The United States provided foreign aid to Taiwan until 1965 and used Taiwan as a site from which to monitor the Chinese mainland. Its close defensive relationship with Taiwan also provided an opportunity for Taiwanese students to study in America. …

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