Around 400 years ago, a group of intrepid seafarers left their home country in search of freedom from a government they saw as overbearing. They sailed to a new land, and forged a new nation, often cooperating with the natives, and creating a bastion of freedom in a foreign land. Eventually, some desired self governance, and after time worked to achieve this. They became free of the yoke of their former motherland, establishing a new land where they would be free to practice their religions, self-govern, and pursue a future as something greater, independent of the behemothic and tyrannical monster they felt they were finally rid of.
This is the true story of not one, but two countries. The United States of America, and also the free nation of Taiwan.
Their histories vastly differ after these crucial points, but their ultimate fates ended in the same way. Both are now vibrant, cacophonous democracies, with freedom of religion and speech. The difference lies in how the rest of the world perceives them. The world accepts that the US, which shares a culture, a history, a language and a heritage with their former motherland, the UK, can be a free country. This is because the culture had shifted, and the new state had wanted to govern themselves. On the contrary, the world, and indeed many Taiwanese themselves, still don’t accept this premise as sufficient justification for their own independence.
It is claimed by some that Taiwan and China are one in the same people, and therefore should be governed together. Bloodline politics is as old as it is false, and America proves that a common heritage, language and culture does not necessarily bind a people together across the world. Sharing DNA does not justify a modern state. Two groups of the same people, should they desire different forms of government, can unequivocally be two separate self governing states without contradiction.
The United States proved to the world that a contemporary democracy, based on the principles of (increasingly) universal suffrage, while raucous and fractious, would also be ultimately prove stable, and it eventually would outlive the empires and monarchies of every other state of its period, without undergoing the major changes or revolutions that occurred in so many other places.
There are others that claim that simply China’s history binds the island to the fate of the communist autocracy that exists across the strait and wants to dominate the island. This has absolutely no logical basis. If history determines the owner of the land, then why not accede to Japanese control? Japanese colonial rule developed the island more than the previous 400 years of history combined. Or is it original inhabitation that gives sovereignty? One could take the argument further and argue instead give governance to the original inhabitants, by allowing Taiwanese aboriginal tribes rule the island, and expelling all the ethnic Chinese who can return to their homelands on the mainland. These latter ideas are as preposterous as they are extreme, but follow the same premise. The immaterialism of history in these proposals should serve as evidence that historical claims to land don’t dictate modern governance, and that the only reasonable form which would provide justice to all of Taiwan’s residents is representative democratic governance. The prerequisite for democracy in this case is de-facto independence. The only way to maintain defacto independence over the next century is international acceptance and support, and de-jure independence, especially as recognized by the United States.
It’s claimed by many Taiwanese and their allies, the unilateral declaration of independence is a threat to the continuity of Taiwan, and would threaten not only their economy, but human lives in a conflict. They would, like China, interminably postpone this declaration, as if the world was not aware of the truth, and as if China and it’s belligerent communist party and military don’t grow bolder by the day, while the US wavers in its support under successively tepid leaders.
China will not relinquish their aims for control, nor will their government soften over time, on the contrary: the opposite has taken place as the Chinese rhetoric has grown more bellicose, and their behavior more aggressive over the last decades.
Let it be clear: China seeks to dominate Taiwan. The fear of bloodshed, or even economic trouble obfuscates the truth, that China, if given the chance, will irrevocably obliterate the Taiwanese image, identity, and history, and sinicize it in the image of the communist party, and the predominant mainland culture. If the mainland government takes control, thousands, if not millions will die, under a purge, just as the Taiwanese KMT army of the 1950s themselves committed, murdering tens of thousands of dissidents. The Taiwanese and Hakka languages will be suppressed and banned from being taught, just as they were initially under the KMT. The difference in these cases is, the KMT ruled over a Taiwanese population that outnumbered them, and ended up living amongst them. The party itself softened, integrated, and accepted it had to become Taiwanese to rule it’s people. Contrarily, the CPC presides over 1,379,000,000 people. As a part of China, the island of Taiwan and its population would be swallowed in scale. It would be lost and forgotten, and it’s history, it’s independence, identity, all relegated to the dustbin of history, as the island becomes filled with high-rise apartments housing mainlanders, and loses its essence. It’s history and culture would be banned from being taught in school, and finally, and most importantly, any semblance of democracy, freedom of expression and unique Taiwanese identity would be slowly quenched like a dying flame.
There is no question of “Taiwan” continuing under the Chinese, Taiwan will cease to exist. It will become lower than Hong Kong, more likely just another Hainan (海南), another poor, forgotten island, a part of a massive China, and one that no one will remember. There will be no more choice, this will be the final one, and no more open governance, or freedom, other than purely economic. Taiwan will likely lie under the yoke of Xi Jinping and his dynastic descendants for generations, never again being ruled by one of its own people, or able to express itself as Taiwan.
The acceptance of this future is the tacit sale of one’s own country to the enemy, a bargain of one’s freedoms, of one’s very core identity, for some pitiful scraps of economic benefit.
The time for declaration of independence is whenever the Taiwanese people themselves see fit to declare themselves what they already know, that they are, a free, independent island, with a language, culture, and heritage that are in some small ways similar, but as should be clear to any independent observer, fundamentally different than what mainland China has become.
Above all, the desire to self govern, and to maintain a free and open democracy make independence compulsory; this is not a fate Taiwan would enjoy under foreign domination. Time isn’t on their side, and the costs may be steep, but as history has shown endlessly, some values, like freedom, are truly worth fighting for.
Staff writer: Ari B