Taiwan Elections: US Must Show Respect for Self-Determination

By Neal Donnelly; Fulton Armstrong | The Christian Science Monitor, January 5, 2012 | Go to article overview

Taiwan Elections: US Must Show Respect for Self-Determination


Neal Donnelly; Fulton Armstrong, The Christian Science Monitor


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 future.

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 Kingdom.

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- determination.

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 platforms.

This is the pattern for Taiwanese - humiliation to which they respond with patience. …

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