Global Policy Forum

Taiwan's Peaceful Independence


By Joe Hung

China Post
February 4, 2008

Robert Tsao, chairman emeritus of the United Microelectronics Corporation, is calling on Kuomintang standard bearer and his Democratic Progressive Party rival Frank Hsieh to jointly sponsor a bill on "peaceful coexistence" between Taiwan and China, at the heart of which is a "unification referendum," to settle all the problems they have been facing since Chiang Kai-shek lost the Chinese civil war and moved his government to Taipei at the end of 1949. The two contenders have paid little, if any, attention to the call, while President Chen Shui-bian condemned the Tsao referendum as an unconditional surrender to the People's Republic of China.

As is always the case, President Chen was wrong in equating the referendum to Taiwan's surrender. All eligible voters are expected to vote on a referendum, and if they are convinced unification with China is all to the good and vote for it, they are not surrendering their homeland to China.

Let's take time out to look at the history of Texas, the home state of President George W. Bush. The North Americans defeated the army of President Santa Anna of Mexico, which had massacred all the defenders at the Alamo in San Antonio, and declared independence of Texas in 1836. The United States recognized the Lone Star Republic on March 3, 1837. The new republic built a navy, accumulated a national debt, and received British and French recognition. It now belonged to the family of nations, but for how long? Its first president Mirabeau Bonaparte Lamar aimed to annex New Mexico, California and the northern tier of Mexican states to his republic, and himself led an expedition to Santa Fe, which the Mexicans easily defeated. His successor, Sam Houston, needed protection rather than expansion. Financing proved critical, and efforts to secure loans from foreign countries were unsuccessful. Protection against raids from Mexico and occasional attacks by Indians required a mobile armed force which further drained the meager coffer. As a consequence, the Texans voted for annexation by the United States; the proposition, rejected twice by Washington, was finally accepted in 1845. Texas ended its very difficult 10-year life as an independent, sovereign state in 1846.

The Texans voted for a "unification referendum." They freely expressed their volition to be annexed or unified by the United States of America. They did not surrender their hard-earned homeland to Washington.

As a matter of fact, Tsao's unification referendum is well designed. He wants China to specify all the conditions under which Taiwan will be unified. Then, according to what he advertised in major newspapers in Taipei, Beijing has to take the initiative by asking the people of Taiwan to choose unification if they are satisfied with the conditions it has laid down. If they are not satisfied, the people can turn down the offer of unification. They may ask China to offer better options. China can make requests for a referendum repeatedly until the people of Taiwan agree to return to its fold. Well, it's going to take decades, but it's better late than never. Tsao, founder of the world's second-largest contract chipmaker, predicates his proposal on an assumption that peaceful independence of Taiwan is impossible. Given the circumstances that now exist, it looks impossible, but there is still a possibility.

Most of the people on both sides of the Taiwan Strait speak the same language (Chinese, with at least five major dialect subfamilies, including Hoklo and Hakka) and share the same culture. That, of course, does not mean they should not form two, three or even four independent states. The Arabs with a population of less than 200 million have founded 21 independent, sovereign states. The American colonists who were ethnically and culturally English declared independence in 1776 and fought an eight-year war to win it from Great Britain. But those colonists in Canada were granted "independence" by the British Crown.

The traditional British policy of allowing considerable self-government in its colonies led to the existence by the nineteenth century of several dependent states, which were populated to a significant degree by Europeans accustomed to the forms of parliamentary rule and which possessed large degrees of sovereignty. Dominion status was first given to Canada in 1897 and later to Australia, New Zealand, the Union of South Africa, Eire, and New Foundland. A pronouncement by the Imperial Conference of 1926 described Great Britain and the dominions as "autonomous communities within the British Empire, equal in status, in no way subordinate to one another in any aspect of their domestic or external affairs, though united by a common allegiance to the Crown and freely associated as members of the British Commonwealth of Nations." Internationally, the dominions were recognized as separate states, entitled to have separate representation in the League of Nations -- the predecessor of the United Nations -- and other world organizations, to appoint their own ambassadors, and to conclude their own treaties. At the same time, the dominions were not considered to stand in the same relation to the United Kingdom or among themselves as foreign countries. After 1947 the phrase "members of the Commonwealth" came into use. As it now stands, the Commonwealth has as its members most of the old dominions as well as other countries that were former British colonies or territories. Some of them, like India, are republics with presidents as their heads of state.

Dominions were independent, sovereign states in fact and inasmuch as international law is concerned. Their independence was achieved peacefully, as the evolution of the British Commonwealth shows. And yet they remained "unified" because they did not stand in their relation with Great Britain, their mother country, or among themselves as foreign countries.

If the example of Canada is followed, Taiwan may be unified with China as a dominion first and then may develop into a full-fledged member of a Chinese commonwealth, which Beijing may choose to create. Chinese unification and Taiwan independence can be accomplished at the same time. The commonwealth may have Tibet, Mongolia, Hong Kong, Macau and Xinjiang as its members.

Beijing won't accept the idea of a Chinese commonwealth now. It may, however, in the not-so-remote future. History tells us the days of the Chinese empire are numbered. The British Empire came to an end in 1945. The "evil empire" of Soviet Russia has evolved into a Federation of Independent States. China has been an empire since 221 B.C. when the First Emperor of the Ch'in Dynasty unified the country. It may cease to be an empire perhaps not as long as the decades it takes for Tsao's unification referendum to be proposed and finally accepted.

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