Taiwan has had a political identity crisis for at least half a century. China and Taiwan have been separately governed since 1949, yet, Taiwan is an island that faces the controlling arm from a mainland China. They have democratic ideals facing communist control. “Taiwan's identity crisis started with China's abandoning the island by ceding it to Japan in 1895 and the birth of Taiwan Independence Movement (TIM) at the beginning of the last century. Japan's returning it to Chinese sovereignty in 1945 and the subsequent 55-year rule of it by the Kuomintang did not quell the spread of separatism. Today it is reflected in the island's China-averse defense, economic, cultural and social policies.” (China Post) Further, China tries to thwart Taiwan’s appearance into the international community. "China's efforts to block Taiwan internationally have harmed Taiwan's national identity." (BBC) This paper will determine that Taiwan is a diaspora, a country living in Chinese exile, with only a local identity. China will never allow for a Taiwanese national identity, and neither the international community nor the people of Taiwan can do anything about it.

Identity Crisis

Beijing has claimed sovereignty over self-ruled Taiwan since the end of the Chinese civil war in 1949 and has vowed to bring the island back under mainland rule, by force if necessary.” (Reuters)

Unfortunately, there are political crises in two areas. Their domestic battle over being Taiwanese or Chinese (or both), as well as China’s policy of isolation and control. Both are causing Taiwanese to be marginalized. “The previous political order of one-party dominance has long faded into history.” (The Straits Times 2) They also have a young ruling leadership incapable of mustering more than a small following to do anything about the situation. “Taiwan's unprecedented woes are the result of the 'identity politics' that have gripped the island since the 2000 democratic transfer of power to a young political force with a relatively small following.” (China Post) To what end can Taiwan pursue their national identity? At what costs? “A clear identity is desirable, but not so if it provokes neighbors, undermines interests of allies and increases the danger of a regional war.” (China Post) The Taiwan people are marginalized, have a national identity crisis, and struggle to find a solution in the midst of politics.

To make matters worse, the political desires of the island are split between separatists and mainlanders. “In principle, the central divide in Taiwan politics remains attitudes to the mainland, with Chen Shui-bian's Democratic Progressive Party being associated with Taiwan independence and the Kuomintang with eventual reunification with the mainland.” (The International Herald Tribune) This makes it difficult to win an election without playing both sides. Campaigns are centered around this split, making other policies second to their political identity. This forces it upon everyone’s minds. Ask someone from Taiwan whether they are Taiwanese or Chinese, and you get split answers. Just like Thomas Brunell claims competitive elections are not good in terms of representation, the Taiwan government has the same problem of addressing both concerns of each group. Further, playing the Taiwanese card causes the inability to garner a majority [voter mobilization|vote. “Although playing identity politics has helped the DPP succeed in persuading some people to identify themselves as Taiwanese, not Chinese as in the past; and enabled the DPP to become the biggest party in the parliament, it still does not have a majority edge, even counting in seats of its ally, the Taiwan Solidarity Union. Its influence in local governments has been dwindling due to overplaying the identity game.” (China Post) One can not even talk about their nation’s identity without consequences.

"The ruling Democratic Progressive Party, which celebrated its 20th birthday last September, has been doing everything it can to hold on to power while its politicians are busy resorting to anti-China rhetoric, ethnic divisive tactics and smear campaigns against their rivals to secure posts in the government and seats in the parliament or local councils. "Chinese pigs", "anti-Taiwan saboteurs" and "Taiwan Yes, China No" are standard slogans in elections against competitors from the opposition Kuomintang, the People First Party and the New Party. They call themselves the only "true Taiwanese" whose love for Taiwan is real." (China Post) The elections are overtly concerned about this identity crisis. It is no wonders then, why the people of Taiwan are so torn, and yet – sick of hearing about themselves in terms of Taiwanese versus Chinese.

“Democracy has fallen on hard times in Taiwan, and it's been a long while since its citizens felt good about their government.” (Christian Science Monitor) Just like the elite class played race and labor forces against each other in the industrializing United States, so does the Chinese government play political parties against each other in Taiwan. Since neither Taiwan party has a majority, they are fractured into factions. This also prevents good governing. To make matters worse, the people have mixed feelings towards the entire controversy. “Today, the voices of reform are almost silent. Both major political parties appear mired in the special interests that disparage openness and accountability and bend the rules of fairness and due process.” (Christian Science Monitor) Without reform there will never be true independence.

“The rise of China in the 21st century has a huge impact on the balance of power in the world. This further constricts the already limited space that Taiwan has on the world stage. This island with a population of over 20 million faces a wall of isolation, with very few nations or international government organisations recognising it.” (The Strait Times 2) This has increased China’s ability to dominate Taiwan, isolating it, and creating its dependence.

China is the enemy.

Due to China’s isolation of Taiwan, it has become more than an enemy, but also a justification. Because of China’s mistreatment, they now increasingly classify their identity as Taiwanese. Although a near majority still think of themselves as Chinese too – this number will decrease and China will fit into the category of otherization – allowing themselves a reason for independence. Cartographically speaking they have an island with easily defined borders, separate from China. Otherization is a great way to band together a group of marginalized Taiwanese. It wasn’t until China’s attempts at thwarting democracy, and elections, that the Taiwanese people even considered themselves a people at all.

“Taiwan's democratic path sets it apart from its rival government on the Chinese mainland, which has strongly resisted Western-style political reforms. The island republic's peaceful transition to democratic rule more than a decade ago has helped to legitimize its status as a sovereign state. That's one reason Beijing so strongly opposed the first popular presidential election in 1996. Under pressure from China's hostile unification campaign, any democratic backtracking could jeopardize the legitimacy of Taiwan's government - and even dim the prospects for political changes coming out of Beijing.” (Christian Science Monitor)

China calls the island of Taiwan a renegade province, one that they must push back towards the heartland of China. Taiwan leaders denounce China, and call for independence. Thus we have an opposition, which is critical to creating Taiwan’s political identity. The only way to quickly create a political identity, is to create an enemy. For the United States, it was Britain. For France it was the aristocrats. For Taiwan, it is mainland China. “George Tsai says, 'if you want to build an identity in a short time, you have to create an enemy’.” (Strait Times)

The identity of Taiwan has seeped into not only just international politics and economics, but all parts of culture. “For a Taipei Biennial recovering from an identity crisis, it was a pertinent point. Two years ago, Taiwanese co-curator Amy Cheng boycotted the fourth Taipei Biennial at the 11th hour, citing a "lack of subjectivity" for herself and Taiwan. She was protesting against the domination - both cultural and personal - by her European counterpart, Barbara Vanderlinden.” (South China Morning Post) This article isn’t depicting an identity crisis between Chinese and Taiwanese, so much as it is with Taiwanese and the entire international recognition question. Art has historically been a crux of political statements, so it isn’t surprising that politics are undermining the international art community. But struggling for recognition in the art community is by no means going to win Taiwan its national identity.

Additionally, there was a proposal for the Olympic torch to be relayed through Taiwan. It was rejected. “TAIWAN has rejected the 2008 Olympics torch relay route proposed by Beijing, on the grounds that the route - from Vietnam to Taiwan to Hong Kong and into mainland China - belittles the island.” (Strait Times) This only brings light to the geographical location of Taiwan, right next to the former communist battle of Vietnam, and right next to the “reddest” country in the world. It makes sense Taiwan would make this rejection, but to what purpose does it serve? Should they not envelope themselves as much as possible into the international community – regardless of the destination of symbolic torch?

The matter of Taiwan’s call for UN membership as “Taiwan” is also a political strain. In fact, Taiwan has called for UN membership 15 times, as latest as 2007. Taiwan used to have a UN seat until 1971. They were previously then called the Republic of China. But since 1971 that seat has been given back to Beijing, and China regards Taiwan as its own territory, blocking the latest bid for UN membership by the island. The United States has publicly opposed its UN membership. China has denounced it as a move for independence, which it is indeed.

Taiwan’s democratic approach in terms of peaceful direction is very different from China’s rebellion that led to a shift of government into communism. This also suggests that China will use that very same aggression for the sake of nationalism to keep control of Taiwan. While Taiwan will struggle to uphold their peaceful direction and combat the overtly aggressive nature of China’s desires. But, “China has learned from past mistakes not to overreact and appear bullying.” (The International Herald Tribune) They can, however, get away with calls for invasion/occupation if Taiwan crosses line and declares independence.

The Impacts

What is so wrong about having a political identity crisis? Events like the Beijing's Tiananmen Square protests of 1989 come to mind where a “slaughter occurred” between police forces and protesting students. Protests lead to other concerning issues like war. “Relations with the mainland are getting tense, Taiwan has become a flashpoint and a troublemaker in the eyes of the world. War is a constant worry for all.” (China Post)

Identity politics are also straining alliances. “Identity politics have also caused increasing mistrust from allies, particularly the U.S., Japan and Singapore. Years back, when they were ready to conclude FTAs (free trade agreements) with Taiwan, the Chen-DPP government insisted on signing them under the name "Taiwan," instead of "Chinese Taipei" after the WTO formula. They turned away and refused to resume negotiations.” (China Post) This national crisis risks the United States backing them to what brink? Will the US defend Taiwan from an all out invasion from China? Probably, empirically we have gone into countries like Vietnam and Korea to prevent the spread of communism. But will the United States go so far as to back treaties for the sake of Taiwan? Or put their necks out for them - when signing an agreement under international treaties already in place means their identity is named different from their own established desires? Probably not. There comes a point in time when Taiwan will have to do it all on their own, and China could easily crush them if it wasn’t for international backlash , but without predicted backlash China could be all the more aggressive.

Not surprisingly also is the economic marginalization Taiwan faces. They are an economic suburb, sending a million of their workers to the mainland as part of the work force. Additionally, they send billions of dollars to the main land. “The increased economic interaction between the two sides - the Taiwanese have invested some $100US billion in the mainland and close to one million of them live and work there - has only sharpened the Taiwanese' sense of a separate identity as they realise the cultural differences between them and the mainland Chinese.” (Straits Times) That’s why when China’s economic isolation of Taiwan occurs, it’s absolutely destructive. “Without an FTA with Singapore, which is Taiwan's pipeline to the ASEAN countries, the island is excluded from the region's integrated trade alliance. Taiwan's economy is thus marginalized, isolated and weakened.” (China Post)

“If the people of Taiwan do not regard Taiwan as an independent, sovereign country, the country will not enjoy any significant degree of national security.” (BBC) Taiwan must then come to terms with its own identity as a nation – or risk China’s bullying being not only effective, but out right destroying Taiwan’s hope of a safe and independent country. The people are gaining a belief in a Taiwanese national identity year by year, “Since the DPP took power in 2000, the percentage of people in Taiwan who consider themselves to be "Taiwanese" rather than "Chinese" grew from 30 per cent to 70 per cent, according to Hsieh.” (BBC) Compare this to previous numbers, “In 1993 up to 48 per cent of the Taiwanese population considered themselves to be exclusively Chinese, the proportion had declined to 6 per cent by last year. About 60 per cent saw themselves as exclusively Taiwanese while 34 per cent saw themselves as both Taiwanese and Chinese.” (Straits Times) This proves why the identity is brand new, with just over a decade of time for a transition. If it can be created so quickly, it could also be reverted. But with China putting pressure on Taiwan, this is doubtful. The more pressure China puts on – the more Taiwan will fight for its right to its identity. Taiwan will fight its identity’s enemy, until it is recognized.

Taiwan is being isolated by China, and is being pressured by international laws. “China has been attempting to isolate Taiwan from the world and deprive the country of its right to participate in the international community, including the World Health Organization (WHO), which is a serious concern in safeguarding the health of the Taiwanese people.” (BBC) They did this when there was a SARS outbreak. “China also sought to narrow Taiwan's international space, even attempting to block the World Health Organisation from helping the island during the Sars outbreak in 2003.” (Straits Times) China is not just politically hindering Taiwan’s choice of independence, they are also using acts of aggression. Even if China wasn’t creating a atmosphere of tension, the island would believe it was occurring. “Hsieh said that Taiwan's national security faces a threat from China, who has deployed over 1,000 missiles targeting Taiwan, as well as launching legal, psychological, and electronic warfare against the island.” (BBC)

De Facto Independence

Let’s face it, the “elite” are only willing to give up what they were willing to concede before the “rebellion.” In this case, China is willing to recognize Taiwan as a local identity as Taiwanese – a form of Chinese, an island with an independent set of ideals for itself, i.e. a democracy, yet still a province. “China has repeatedly warned that it will use force if Taiwan declares independence.” (The Japan Times) What is not willing to do is let Taiwan become a separate entity, a country of its own, with its own international relations via a UN seat. It is not willing to let Taiwan create trade barriers, or prevent China’s investing into the island’s infrastructure or economy. It is not willing to let Taiwan create a Taiwanese identity that is separate from a Chinese identity. As long as Taiwan is dual Taiwanese and Chinese, then there will never be true independence, there will never be a national identity outside the realms of “One China,” there will never be a Taiwan country, only one province inside an extremely large China. A local identity does not mean independence. “What is notable is that the growing sense of Taiwanese local identity is not equivalent to a call for Taiwan's independence from China.” (The Straits Times 2)

    5 aspects of a successful movement
  • Rising Expectations
  • Social Resources
  • Consciousness Raising
  • Appealing Moral Cause
  • Transforming Leadership

Taiwan does have its rising expectations. They want WTO, WHO, and UN participation. They had their own UN seat, which was given back to Beijing, and they want it back. The WHO was denied access to help during the SARS outbreak. WTO agreements have to go through China. They didn’t want to declare independence over a decade ago, it is only their new rising expectations of a Taiwanese identity that has pushed forth to break out of their marginalization. The social resources are growing, they have had elections and designated democracy in Taiwan. But this is their weakest link into becoming a country in the end. They have dependence on China, and the international community has dependence on China. Taiwan can’t break off on their own, 25 million people against 1.3 billion is not going to work out in their favor. And the international community can not openly support Taiwan beyond defensive natured treaties (even the nuclear umbrella is not sufficient).

Taiwan does have a strong appealing moral cause. Denied WHO aide, attempts at destroying its leadership and preventing elections, and events like Tiananmen Square, are all reasons they have moral justification for action. Taiwan also has consciousness raising, the number of people who believe themselves Taiwanese is growing tremendously, as well as the number who call themselves Chinese shrinking. Luckily, they do hold onto their transforming leadership as they continue to have elections. The only question that may draw a problem is China’s increasing desire to “reign in” their rebellious province. They will continue to attempt destroying Taiwan’s leadership structure, but hopefully Taiwan will hold onto at least some sort of elected official in the years to come.

For the international community to avoid crisis, it should give “Respect for Taiwan, rather than (into) fear of China, (this) should be the guiding principles of cross-strait relations.” (The Japan Times) This also satiates Taiwan’s independence drive, while submitting to China’s will, de facto independence.

“Being pragmatic people who want a stable and peaceful environment, 85.5 per cent of Taiwanese prefer the status quo of de facto independence, polls show.” (Straits Times) That’s why even though the Taiwanese desire their own political identity, they are just a diaspora, an island arm to the mainland . Regardless of political statements, and international calls to arms, they still overtly accept being subject to their heart land. They may think themselves Taiwanese, and they are, but they still also remain Chinese too. And as long as they remain both, they will always be a diaspora. This is similar in nature to how Mexicans migrate to the United States. They will always be tied to their homeland of Mexico, even if they never go back. They send money back to their families in Mexico, in some cases. Taiwan does this in some sense too, as they work in China and live in Taiwan.

Taiwan will always be connected to China. They need China, China wants them too. That’s why they are fighting so hard to keep Taiwan. Taiwan will never see complete independence because of both of these wants and needs. “Still, the proportion of people who support independence - both immediate and future - went up from under 10 per cent in the early 1990s to 23.6 per cent last year.” (Straits Times) They haven’t even met the threshold of 50% that is needed to majority demand independence. The numbers are rising, but even still – the Taiwanese that support complete independence will still accept the status quo. They will remain self determined, but unable to act. Their desires will never see fruitation. They will always struggle towards this end goal, but complete separation will never happen. This scenario is different from the hegemonic controls from previous imperialist countries, like Great Britain over the African nations. Whereas, they used the countries for self gain of the homeland. China does this too –but not to the same extreme. The distance parameters are also different, China is right next door, not a hemisphere away. An acting up imperialist controlled country who is half a world away will get its independence, Great Britain gave up. But China will never give up – they have the resources of the most populated country in the world, as well as the fastest growing economy. Additionally, the Taiwanese share Chinese heritage. African nations were conquered in essence, Taiwan is a ceding entity from a larger whole.

Taiwan is too busy fighting with itself to determine its own local identity to create a true political identity, and that’s exactly what China is willing to concede, a local identity. The international community is seemingly neutral to the issue, at least in terms of being able to take action. China demands ownership over its province. Most importantly, Taiwan depends upon China. China is Taiwan’s number one trading partner, if nothing else. For all of these reasons, Taiwan will remain a diaspora. Taiwan is just a Republic of China.

Works Cited

China Post, FED UP WITH IDENTITY GAME, January 17, 2007 Wednesday, Global News Wire - Asia Africa Intelligence Wire, Financial Times Information Limited.
South China Morning Post, A dirty shame, The boom in biennales around Southeast Asia appears to be good news for culture vultures, but it could take its toll on Taipei's arts jamboree, writes David Frazier, November 12, 2006 Sunday.
BBC Monitoring Asia Pacific, Taiwan's identity, security more important than economy - DPP candidate - Political, Supplied by BBC Worldwide Monitoring, December 18, 2007 Tuesday.
Goh Sui noi, The Straits Times (Singapore), The route to Taiwanese hearts and minds, May 7, 2007. Reuters, Thomson, China, Taiwan trade bards over failed U.N. bid, July 24, 2007, http://www.reuters.com/article/worldNews/idUSTP22205320070724
Baum, Julian, Christian Science Monitor, Taiwan's faltering democracy, July 2, 2007.
The Japan Times, The real stakes in Taiwan, September 30, 2007, Sunday.
The International Herald Tribune, Taiwan's choices, Philip Bowring, July 3, 2007 Tuesday.
The Straits Times 2 (Singapore) When freedom reaches the end of the road; Taiwan's politicians and freewheeling media are dragging the island down. Goh Yeng Seng, February 5, 2007 Monday.

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