Discussion of Chinese issues must cover Taiwanese relations as well

The visit of China’s President Hu Jintao on Friday should open a Universitywide dialogue not just on the positives of the Yale-China relationship, but also on student concerns about the Chinese government and its policies. While we applaud Yale’s involvement in China, we believe that in promoting Hu’s visit, the University has deemphasized many controversial issues that are crucial to understanding East Asia. Among these issues are the Chinese government’s labor rights violations, legal abuses, media censorship, religious intolerance and support of the governments of Sudan and North Korea, and Taiwan-China relations.

China considers Taiwan a renegade province and has stated that if Taiwan makes moves that China interprets as pro-independence, “the state shall employ non-peaceful means and other necessary measures.” For Americans to adhere to this position without examining other viewpoints is to oversimplify the situation.

It is unfortunate that Yale provides inadequate opportunities for students to learn about Taiwan, one of the world’s youngest and most vibrant democracies, and one of East Asia’s key flashpoints. Because of the University’s deepening relationship with China, more students have become more interested than ever in East Asia. But whatever undergraduate study of Taiwan does occur only examines Taiwan from the Chinese perspective. With the exception of a Taiwanese history course (which is no longer being offered), the Yale curriculum does not encourage detailed study of Taiwan’s history and politics.

To understand the complexities of Taiwan’s current situation, we must understand the long, difficult road Taiwan has taken to democracy. Taiwan has been influenced by various outside nations and cultures for centuries. In the 17th century, immigrants from China, the Netherlands and Portugal joined the indigenous population of peoples of Malay-Polynesian descent. Japan governed Taiwan from 1895 to 1945. Its history of being controlled by outside parties has both necessitated and fueled Taiwan’s hard-won transformation into a viable democracy.

In a mere 50 years, Taiwan has successfully evolved from an authoritarian regime into a thriving democracy. Until martial law was lifted in 1987, the political climate in Taiwan was suffocating. The “2-28″ incident on Feb. 28, 1947, in which many Taiwanese people died at the hands of Chiang Kai-shek’s Chinese troops, led to the imposition of a four-decade period of martial law on the island by Chiang’s single-party Chinese Nationalist government.

Taiwan moved toward democracy with the formation of the first opposition political party in 1986 and finally achieved it with the island’s first presidential election in 1996. Today, Taiwan enjoys one of the highest rates of political participation in the world: 80 percent of those eligible voted in the 2004 presidential election.

With the rise of democracy in the last 20 years, an invaluable dialogue about Taiwan’s future has finally begun. In Taiwan’s new atmosphere of freer debate, difficult questions not only of politics but also of identity have been raised. There exists no single definition of what it means to be “Taiwanese,” and there is no clear consensus on what the future of Taiwan should be. However, it is imperative that Taiwan’s more established democratic counterparts nurture its fledgling democracy, even when it falters. This will allow the citizens of Taiwan time to confront questions of politics, sovereignty and identity in a democratic environment, as is their right. While others may have their opinions, only Taiwan’s people should have the power to decide Taiwan’s future, whatever that future may be.

The development of democracy on Taiwan should imply a right to this self-determination, a fundamental American ideal. Unfortunately, the possibility of self-determination for Taiwan is consistently threatened by China’s insistence on sovereignty over the island. Further, the Chinese government persistently impedes the basic rights of the citizens of Taiwan to representation in the United Nations and World Health Organization, denying 23 million people a voice on the international stage.

The survival of Taiwan’s democracy is contingent on China’s actions, which in turn depend on the messages China receives from the international community regarding Taiwan. And it is because outside nations — including the United States — can so profoundly affect Taiwan’s destiny that we must be sensitive to all the facets of Taiwan-China relations. To train future American leaders and policymakers who are truly knowledgeable about East Asia, Yale must first teach and discuss diverse perspectives on Taiwan’s situation.



Christine Hung is a senior in Pierson College. Florence Wu is a senior in Calhoun College.

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