Taiwanization for Dummies: A Simple Explanation of Taiwan’s Fight for Independence
Today, Taiwan, officially known as the Republic of China (ROC) to the United States, constantly pops up in American news. Democratic candidates for the 2020 presidential election consider Taiwan a notable talking point during debates and press interviews, and Taiwan continues to lead progressive political conversations in Asia: in 2019, Taiwan became the first Asian nation to legalize same-sex marriage, and the country openly accuses mainland superpower China of misdeeds, including travel prohibition and sensationalized media coverage. Taiwan has fought for its independence from China throughout modern history, and the United States currently thrives by maintaining trade relations with both countries, despite formally refusing to acknowledge Taiwan as a separate, self-governing nation. Taiwan’s and Hong Kong’s independence from China are frequently compared and contrasted in the media when discussing Chinese international relations, and the U.S.’s tactical involvement (and ignorance) could confuse anyone trying to stay informed. The back and forth between the involved parties may seem confusing, but breaking it down into layman's terms can assist anyone trying to understand the concept of Taiwanization.
First, one needs a brief history of Taiwan. The indigenous people of Taiwan are primarily Austronesian, a catch-all term for various ethnic groups situated in southeast Asia. Despite their genetic diversity, Taiwanese Natives shared a single language family. Several attempts by the Spanish and Dutch to colonize Taiwan rose and fell in various stages until 1662. After European imperialist attempts failed, the Chinese Civil War over communism caused constant turmoil as exiled and frightened communist leaders sought refuge on the island to escape the mainland. This political unrest was ongoing as recently as the 1940s. During this time, Japan seized Taiwan as a colony while fighting in World War II. With Japan’s loss in the war, they were forced to release their hold in 1945, and a communist party known as Kuomintang (KMT) established a new government in Taipei. By 1992, they signed the One-China Policy, which is a political agreement that allowed for a self-governing Taiwan as long as it maintained its status as a Chinese state.
Taiwan’s frequent changing of hands between colonizers disallowed for any imperialist identity to truly take root on the island. As indigenous communities lowered in population, Taiwan became home to a linguistically and religiously diverse population that wished for self-government after decades of imperialism. Consequently, Taiwanese independence sprang not as a refusal of Chinese culture but as an acceptance of their own diversity and their newly found community, which they considered a “taiwanization” of China’s rule at the time. The 1940s saw small but persistent groups calling for an official Republic of Taiwan, and polls conducted in 1992 concluded that 46% of Taiwan’s population considered themselves both Chinese and Taiwanese. By 2015, those identifying as both dropped to 36% and citizens identifying as purely Taiwanese took the majority at 59%. In 2016, the KMT lost political majority and leadership was granted to Taiwan’s Democratic Progressive Party (DPP). The DPP declared they would not adhere to policies established during the KMT rule and, thus, declared their independence to the world.
Following the DPP’s ascension to power, they have since elected their first woman into the office of the president. President Tsai Ing-wen actively pursues contemporary liberal issues. She studied law at Cornell University in the United States before her election and, less than three months into her presidency, issued an official apology to the indigenous Taiwanese population for the consistent violence they have faced. Taiwan’s government evolves daily, but their international reach is stagnated by China’s claim to their statehood. While the United States entered into a U.S.-Taiwan Trade and Investment Framework Agreement (TIFA) in 1994, the committee's council has not met since Ing-wen’s first year of presidency, and the U.S. is not one of the fifteen countries to formally recognize Taiwan as a diplomatic ally in order to conserve U.S.-China relations. Regardless, Taiwan currently ranks as the United States’ 11th largest goods trading partner with a both-way trade total of $78 billion, proving their potential.