Saturday was my birthday, and by tradition I usually celebrate it with family and friends, but yesterday I decided to participate in a historical event instead. Yesterday here in Taiwan a rally was held in protest against China’s anti-succession law which China passed last week as a way to declare they were willing to use any means necessary to “reacquire” their national territory that is Taiwan from the rebel factions that “hold it”.
Of course, this is utter bull.
To give a quick history lesson, Taiwan was originally a small piece of land off the coast of China which was settled by people from the pacific islands and the FuJian province of China. These independant people were conquered by the Dutch during their colonial phase and taken in turn by the Portugese (who named it “Formosa”, the “beautiful island”). After they’d had it for a while, it fell into the hands of China who considered it a pirate and disease infested island they had very little interest in. They used it as a place to send governors who were out of favor with the Chinese court and it was considered of minimal interest at best. So, when Japanese got colonial at the start of the Meiji period (1866) and began to threaten China, China more or less threw Taiwan at them as a bone to keep them at bay. The Japanese were the first to actually take serious interest in Taiwan and modernized the country, treating the Taiwanese like Japanese citizens. (Second class citizens, but above the dirt the Chinese had treated them like.) This is the reason that the Taiwanese, despite having been somewhat abused during WWII (Taiwanese women were sent to Indonesia as comfort women for Japanese troops.), actually don’t have any real hatred for the Japanese, unlike the people of mainland China or Korea.
Regardless, WWII came to an end, and at that time the Japanese renounced all colonial holdings, which included Taiwan, setting Taiwan free. Of course, this was just in time for the losing side of a Chinese civil war to show up and take refuge in Taiwan, turning the island into their last stand fortress and putting the whip to the local population. After 40 years of military dictatorship, however, the Taiwanese managed to win their freedom and the government became just another faction in a democratic state. They are a peaceful, industrious people who enjoy their freedom and work hard to maintain it because they know the difference. They have become a leader in technology, and most of the computer chips and parts in the world are made or partially produced right here. (Including the computer you are using to read this.)
Now, the problem comes that as far as China is concerned, because they were the former owners of Taiwan at one point (note, they also owned Vietnam, Mongolia and Korea during some points of history) they are still the rightful owners of this island. But, when one considers their claim one begins to wonder why they care so much about this island and not as much about Korea or Vietnam. (They’re not passing a Korean Succession Act anytime soon…) As far as I can tell based on what I have been told and read, there are three answers.
A) The Chinese civil war at the beginning of the 20th century was fought by the Communists and the Nationalists, and the Nationalist retreated here after the Communists won. Technically, as long as territory held by the Nationalists (known now as the KuoMingTang or KMT party) exists they haven’t really won the war. Taiwan is a glaring failure of their glorious empire to rule over the Chinese people and a matter of national pride.
This answer was the reason for the animosity they held for most of the 20th century, and the reason they have bullied the international community into paying lip service to the lie that there is only one Chinese government. There is only one Chinese government, but there is also a Taiwanese government. But, as the 21st century dawns, their motives have changed to more practical ones.
B) Taiwan lies in the middle of the shipping lanes that oversee most of the ship traffic in this part of the Pacific, and were China to control Taiwan they would effectively dominate Asia. It’s simply a key strategic point, and this is why the United States has it’s long-standing agreement to defend Taiwan. If Taiwan were lost, Korea and Japan would both be at China’s mercy as they’re reliant on resources that pass by Taiwan daily.
C) I have been told there may be large amounts of oil and mineral resources sitting under the oceans around Taiwan that are as yet untapped. China wants Taiwan for the same basic reasons the US wanted Iraq, the world’s oil supply is running low and they’re grabbing everything they can get their hands on. Right now, China is buying oil left right and center to meet their growing needs, but the more they have in their own territory the better. In 20-30 years or less oil will be more precious than gold and he who has the oil, wins.
Really, Taiwan is just a pawn in a game of power politics being played by the United States, Japan and China. But, the people here want the right to determine their own future, and I agree with them and their right to choose. That’s why I marched with them yesterday to declare that they want a peaceful future and the right to choose that future, be it as part of China or an independant state. (Which they started as, even if they haven’t spent much time being independant in history.) It was a new an exhillerating experience, and now I have some sense of how the protest marchers of the 1960’s in America must have felt as they stood strong against the government and asked for change. Ironically enough, the Taiwanese don’t want change, they are already a strong independant nation, they just want the rest of the world to stop letting China’s government bully them.