Monday, April 18, 2011

End Game for Taiwan? Part 1: Taiwan's Painful Path to Freedom

     When delusion crashes headlong into reality, the result is always messy and painful. When people cling to delusion even after sixty years of colliding with painful and messy realities, the result is bizarre.
     The Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT), which ruled over Taiwan from 1945 until 2000, is all but certain to get kicked out of office again in the March 2012 presidential election. Respecting the outcomes of elections is not a KMT virtue. Many observers in Taiwan fear that, President Ma Ying-jeou (pictured at left) will make major moves to betray Taiwan to Taiwan's enemies in Beijing before he is removed from office.
     To better understand this situation and the KMT’s bizarre concept of reality, it’s necessary for me to give a quick review of Taiwan’s 51-year-long (1945-1996), painful path to freedom and limited government.
     At the end of the Second World War, General Douglas MacArthur ordered Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek to effect the military occupation of Taiwan, which was then a part of Japan. When Chiang did so, he proclaimed that Taiwan had been returned to China, and his Chinese Nationalist Party dubbed that date a Chinese holiday called “Retrocession Day.”
     That was the beginning of a dangerous delusion that now threatens the existence of Taiwan as a sovereign nation.
     By 1947, the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) had imposed martial law and the White Terror on the unfortunate people of Taiwan. Over the next 37 years—the longest period of martial law in world history—they would kill 30,000 Taiwanese. The KMT kleptocracy would also drive Taiwan’s vibrant economy into the toilet.
     That same year, Chiang presumed to impose his self-serving “constitution” on all of China, Tibet, East Turkistan, Hong Kong, all of Mongolia (including Outer Mongolia, which is independent of China even to this day), and somehow Taiwan. Chiang’s constitution claimed that the borders of China could not be changed except by constitutional amendment. Since, under international law, Taiwan was not a part of China, a conventional interpretation of that constitution would be that Taiwan could not become part of the Republic of China (ROC) except by constitutional amendment.
     What made Chiang’s constitution especially risible was that it presumed to rule areas that it did not rule and that it forbade Chiang to rule Taiwan, which was the only large land mass that Chiang did, in fact, rule. Thus, under Chiang’s constitution, the ROC did not exist except on the tiny island groupings of Jinmen and Ma-tsu.
     By 1949, the Republic of China was completely driven out of China and replaced by an even worse regime, the badly misnamed People’s Republic of China.
     In September 1951, Japan signed the San Francisco Treaty. As a term of that treaty, Japan gave up all claim to Taiwan without specifying which country, if any, would receive it. When Japan signed a similar treaty with the defunct Republic of China, Chiang’s representative insisted that Japan specifically grant Taiwan to the defunct ROC.
     Citing international law and common sense, the Japanese told Chiang’s henchman that Japan could not give what it no longer had. Ever since then, the KMT has made two risible and contradictory claims.
     One was the claim that the Japanese had really intended to give Taiwan to the ROC; therefore, the ROC had a legal claim to Taiwan. “ROC President” Ma Ying-jeou, who made that astonishing claim, holds a doctorate in jurisprudence from Harvard University.
     The other claim was that, Taiwan was “returned to the ROC” on the day that Chiang arrived.; thus, a treaty wasn’t necessary after all. In case you’re confused by that phrase “returned to China,” I’ll try to explain.
     After China lost the Sino-Japanese War of 1895, the Ch’ing Dynasty gave up Taiwan to Japan “in perpetuity.” In 1912, the Ch’ings abdicated, leaving the ROC in charge of China. Remember that part: Taiwan ceased to be a part of China even before the ROC existed. In spite of the fact that the ROC never ruled all of China and ceased to rule any of it (other than Jinmen and Ma-tzu) after 1949, the KMT (Chinese Nationalist Party) claims that they really do rule China. In this fantasy world, the PRC (which has obviously ruled China since 1949) doesn’t exist, and the ROC really is China.
     In December 1979, the United States government "de-recognized" Taiwan and stopped using tax dollars to prop up the Chiang regime.  Contrary to what one might expect, after the U.S. turned off the money spigot, Taiwan's economic miracle began.


     In 1987, martial law officially ended, but other repressive laws were put in place so that the KMT wouldn’t suffer post-partum depression. Lee Teng-hui, a native Taiwanese, (pictured at left) became vice president. Virtually all positions of power in Taiwan, though, remained in the hands of Chinese.
     In 1988, Chiang Ching-kuo, the son of Chiang Kai-shek died, and the unthinkable happened: Taiwan was suddenly under the control of Lee Teng-hui, who hated the KMT but had the wisdom to keep his mouth shut about it until he had gained the presidency.
     Under Lee, the constitution was amended to allow for elections. Lee was elected president in 1996.
     In 2000, another unthinkable event occurred: A three-way split resulted in the election of Chen Shui-bian, a native Taiwanese who was a member of the opposition party. For the first time since 1945, Taiwan’s presidency was no longer in the hands of the Chinese Nationalist Party, though the KMT retained control over the legislature.
     Unlike the United States, where the Democrats and Republicans resemble a sock-puppet show, in which one person’s hands manipulate both puppets, Taiwan really does have a two-party system.
     The pan-blue parties—that is, the KMT, a splinter group called the New Party, and a largely one-man show calling itself the People First Party—seemed to accept that it had shot itself in the foot. It spent the next four years blocking the new president’s efforts, even those that the KMT had championed when it occupied the presidency. Apart from these childish antics, the KMT bided its time until the 2004 election. It vowed not to make the same mistake twice.
     Then yet another unthinkable event occurred: Chen Sui-bian was re-elected by an outright majority.
     Chinese Nationalist Party supporters, who seemed to believe that Taiwan would always be theirs to rule and rob, rioted in the streets.  Some people might say that the rioters were trying to overthrow the government, but Taiwan’s libel laws (written and passed by the KMT) forbid such conclusions as this. For that reason, you won’t hear it from me. I do wonder, though, what KMT supporters were trying to do when they gave the appearance of storming the barricades around the Presidential Office Building.
     It’s hard to avoid the conclusion, though, that the Chinese Nationalist Party has a third-world concept of elections: that elections are only window dressing for self-styled and self-serving rulers who will rule or ruin.  It's getting harder to tell the Chinese Nationalist Party from the Chinese Communist Party.

(To be continued)

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