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Taiwan independence (Chinese: 台灣獨立, pinyin: Táiwān dúlì, Taiwanese Romanization: Tâi-oân To̍k-li̍p; abbreviated to 台獨, Táidú, Tâi-to̍k) is a political movement whose goal is primarily to create an independent and sovereign Republic of Taiwan (out of the lands currently administered by the Republic of China) that is politically, culturally, and geographically separate from China.
This movement is supported by the pan-green coalition on Taiwan and opposed to different degrees by the pan-blue coalition and the People's Republic of China, which favor Chinese reunification. The movement is internationally significant because a formal declaration of independence could lead to a military confrontation not only between the People's Republic of China and Taiwan, but could also draw in the United States in defense of Taiwan.
Although the name itself might sound straightforward, "Taiwan independence" has varying definitions with different degrees of support. Currently, there are three major views.
The first view, put forward by the People's Republic of China government, defines Taiwan independence as "splitting Taiwan from China, causing division of the nation and the people." What "China" constitutes in this statement is somewhat ambiguous, as some statements by the People's Republic of China seem to identify China solely and uncompromisingly with the PRC, and other indicate a more flexible definition suggesting a cultural and geographic entity in which both mainland China and Taiwan are part but divided politically due to the civil war. The PRC considers the Republic of China to be a defunct entity replaced by the PRC as a legitimate government in the Communist revolution in 1949, so assertions that the ROC is a sovereign state are construed as support for Taiwan independence while paradoxically proposals to change the name of the ROC to Taiwan are met with even more disapproval since this would be the equivalent of formally dropping the notion that Taiwan is part of the greater China entity (as a side of an unresolved Chinese civil war).
The second view considers the move for Taiwan independence as a nationalist movement. This is the opinion, historically, put forward by such pro-independence groups on Taiwan as the tang wai movement (which later grew into the Democratic Progressive Party), which argue that the Kuomintang has been in the past a "foreign regime" forcibly imposed on Taiwan. Since the 1990s, supporters of Taiwan independence no longer actively make this argument. Instead, the argument has been that in order to survive against the growing power of the PRC, Taiwan must view itself as a separate and distinct entity from "China". This involves removing the name of China from official and unofficial items in Taiwan, rewriting history books to focus exclusively on Taiwan as a central entity, promoting the use of the Taiwanese language, reducing economic links with the PRC, and in general thinking of Taiwan as a separate entity from any notion of China. In this view, China is the enemy, and the goal of this movement is to create an internationally recognized state which is separate from any concept of China.
A third view is that that Taiwan is already an independent nation with the official name Republic of China which has been independent (i.e. de facto separate from mainland China) since the end of the Chinese Civil War in 1949. Although previously no major political faction adopted this pro-status quo viewpoint, because it is a "compromise" in face of Chinese threats and American warnings against a unilateral declaration of independence, the DPP combined it with their traditional belief to form their latest official policy. This viewpoint has not been adopted by more radical groups such as the Taiwan Solidarity Union, which favor only the second view and are in favor a Republic or State of Taiwan. In addition, many members of the pan-blue coalition are rather suspicious of this view, fearing that adopting this definition of Taiwan independence is merely an insincere stealth tactical effort to advance desinicization and the second view of Taiwan independence. As a result, supporters of pan-blue tend to make a clear distinction between Taiwan independence and Taiwan sovereignty while supporters of pan-green tend to try to blur the distinction between the two.
After the Kuomintang began to rule the island, the focus of the movement was as a vehicle for discontent from the native Taiwanese against the rule of "mainlanders" (i.e. people who came over with Chiang Kai-shek's armies and government in the late 1940s). Between 1949 and 1991, the official position of the ROC government on Taiwan was that it was the legitimate government of all of China and used this position as justification for authoritarian measures such as the refusal to vacate the seats held by delegates elected on the mainland in 1947 for the Legislative Yuan. The Taiwan independence movement intensified in response to this and presented an alternative vision of a sovereign and independent Republic of Taiwan. This vision was represented through a number of symbols such as the use of Taiwanese in opposition to the school taught Mandarin Chinese. Taiwan independence has been some of the motivation behind the Taiwanese localization movement.
The official opinion of the People's Republic of China has always been against Taiwan independence, and it has stated that a formal declaration of Taiwan independence would trigger military intervention. They often state that independence is wanted by only a small group, which is trying to brainwash others into thinking the same thing. Most people on the mainland would have a similar view.
In Taiwan itself, the situation is much more complicated. As mentioned previously there are two different interpretations in Taiwan. For the nationalist one of seeking total separation from China, support has grown steadily over the last decade. This change by no means translates into support for independence, which still represents a minority within which there are factions advocating several different, often incompatible approaches.
The view that the status quo is a sovereign Taiwan enjoys near universal support within Taiwan. An overwhelming majority of Taiwanese and virtually all political parties would agree that the Republic of China is a sovereign state (they do disagree bitterly on such details as territory, name, future policies and history though), and a smaller percentage would support the view that China is a hostile, enemy nation. When the two states theory was put forward by President Lee Teng-hui, he received an 80% support. Similar situations arose when President Chen Shui-bian declared that there was "one country on each side" of the Taiwan Strait. However, many in the pan-blue coalition and the People's Republic of China believe that Lee and Chen intend on publicly promoting a moderate form of Taiwan independence in order to secretly advance deeper forms of Taiwan independence, and that they intend to use popular support on Taiwan for political separation to advance notions of cultural and economic separation.
At the same time, polls indicate that most Taiwanese do not think that Taiwanese culture is or should be separate from Chinese culture, and efforts to remove the symbols of "China" can provoke very strong reaction from some sectors of society. Some elements of the Taiwanese society would even consider Taiwan to be the "true heir" to Chinese culture considering the degradation and rejection conducted during the Cultural Revolution, and the adoption of Simplified Chinese on the mainland. In addition, many sectors of society, especially the business community, are wary of the efforts to reduce trade with mainland China.
This complex situation is perhaps best demonstrated when the U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell said Taiwan is "not sovereign", provoking strong yet varying comments from both the pan-Green and pan-Blue coalitions. From the DPP's side, President Chen declared that "Taiwan is definitely a sovereign, independent country, a great country that absolutely does not belong to the People's Republic of China". The TSU, in addition to mocking Powell, questioned why United States sold weapons to Taiwan. From the KMT, Taipei Mayor Ma Ying-jeou announced that "the Republic of China has been a sovereign state ever since it was formed [in 1912]". James Soong called it "Taiwan's biggest failure in diplomacy".
While all parties concurred - something that has hardly ever happened in Taiwanese politics - on rebuking Powell's words, no one agreed with anyone else as to why Powell's words are unacceptable. The ruling DPP continued its policy that ROC is Taiwan and is a sovereign state, while TSU stuck to its pro-independence stance, with the KMT still supporting the Republic of China, and the People First Party maintaining the opinion that it is best to maintain the status quo as much as possible.
Domestically, the issue of independence has dominated Taiwanese politics for the past couple decades. This is also a grave issue for mainland China.
Internationally, this movement is also significant in that a formal declaration of independence is one of the five conditions the PRC has stated or implied under which it will take military action against Taiwan to force reunification — the other four being that Taiwan makes a military alliance with a foreign power, there is internal turmoil in Taiwan, Taiwan gains weapons of mass destruction, or Taiwan refuses to negotiate on the basis of "one China". (Recently, the PRC warned that if the situation in Taiwan becomes worse and spirals out of control, they will not look on "indifferently.") By law, military action against Taiwan by the PRC would obligate the United States to come to the aid of Taiwan under the Taiwan Relations Act, thus possibly causing a superpower conflict in East Asia.
Formal Taiwan independence is also recently seen by Japan as one of the three situations in which another Sino-Japanese war would be triggered. Japan has evaluated that in event of Taiwanese independence, the PRC would launch a pre-emptive strike against Japan to prevent U.S. troops stationed there to reinforce Taiwan. The other two scenarios are: armed struggle for the resources in the Pacific and a PRC attack to regain the disputed islands between the two states.
In more recent years, with the existence of democratic and direct elections, the focus of the movement has changed to that of insuring the independence and dignity of Taiwan against the possibility of rule by the People's Republic of China, and as such has been more willing to take on the symbols of the Republic of China. The movement has also moderated in recent years because of decreasing friction between "Mainlander" and "native" communities on Taiwan, increasing economic ties with mainland China, continuing threats by the People's Republic of China to invade if it declares independence, and doubts as to whether or not the United States would support a unilateral declaration of independence. Since the late 1990s, many supporters of Taiwan independence have argued that since Taiwan, as the ROC, is already independent from the mainland, a formal declaration of that fact is not urgent, and in 1998, the Democratic Progressive Party formalized this position in its party resolution.
After the October 10 speech by president Chen in 2004, support for independence reached new heights. Polls suggest that nearly 30% of Taiwanese residents now support independence, and an even higher percentage would support the construction of a Republic of Taiwan in 2008, as the final step after the proposed constitutional revisions in 2006. Support for One Country, Two Systems, the proposed solution by the PRC is between 5-7%. The majority (just below 60%) still support the status quo, which is to leave Taiwan's status exactly the way that it is and to leave the issue of whether to become independent or reunify for a future date. One advantage of this option is that it avoids the necessity of defining exactly what Taiwan's status really is.
- Political status of Taiwan
- Legal status of Taiwan
- Politics of Taiwan
- Taiwan poll should ask about US sovereignty
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