Taiwan’s Road to Freedom by Anna Meomutli
Republic of China, another name of Taiwan, is a quasi-independent state in the East Asian region that is showing the world that one can and will make it to freedom if people are connected by the strong belief in a better future. By pursuing by-the-book-democracy, Taiwan has been following the road of the US, a poster-child for a democratic rule created by immigrants who wanted a better life and more freedom. Similar sentiments, yet two very different journeys; Taiwan has been on their road to freedom since the 1990’s and it is worth looking at their journey with admiration.
Taiwan is a peculiar case of a man-made democracy that is still in the stage of infancy. In fact, while only 19 states who recognize their sovereignty, nonetheless, Taiwan has been slowly but surely making steps towards revolutionize democratic rule. Democracy before independency is the perfect definition of the state’s situation – declaring democracy in 1992 and having first elections in 1996 – Taiwan has been fighting fires on all fronts: demands of the population hungry for freedom from China, maintaining diplomatic relations internationally, and remain relevant in terms of international trade to sustain the nation. Careful maneuvering around mention of the words ‘Taiwan’ and ‘independence’ in Beijing is already a huge risk, yet politicians are willing to take it. While Taiwan’s higher-caste politicians are fighting fires in Beijing, Democratic Progressive Party workers are doing their best to ensure freedom and democracy in the society.
Taiwan’s path to an internal democracy has been difficult just like gaining international recognition – KMT, Kuomingtang, a nationalist party which fled mainland from communist uprising, has been in power since 2008 until 2016. While in power, KMT has ignored the stance of citizens and ruled under the notion that civilians were not educated enough to take part in discussions on the future of the company; going against separatist movement as a momentum in Taiwan and neglect of civic virtues has not played out well for the nationalists and resulted in the party continuously losing seats in the upcoming elections. After defeat of KMT presidential candidate, Eric Chu, in 2016, Democratic Progressive Party has nestled in the ruling position and rolled out a lot of action to improve direct democracy.
Enormous neglect from international organizations on Taiwan’s struggle has made it harder for the state to become fully independent from PRC’s rule, yet it only sparked more civic action within the society. As mentioned earlier, after DPP candidate, Tsai Ingwen, stepped into power, it has become apparent that the democratic focus will be shifted internally, on people, rather than sparking conflict internationally. A plethora of proposals regarding direct democracyand balloting overall have been voted on in 2018, which satisfied citizens and only further angered Beijing. Nowadays it only takes 1,900 signatures to propose a nation-wide ballot and to make a measure to be on the ballot minimum of signatures is 282,000. As a result of internal democratic reforms, the voters’ age has been lowered to 18 and the turnout increased to 4.9 million people. Overall, people’s passion for creating a better future and specifically a democratic future is the sure sign of a strong basis for democratic empowerment. Ellen Lust and David Waldner have described the signs of democratic backsliding in their research, instead of focusing on how Taiwan lacks in many aspects, it would be more beneficial to take a positive look on their situation and acknowledge the most prominent factor that attributes to the democratic empowerment of Taiwan – impeccable, participatory, and undying civic action. Citizens of Taiwan might be lacking in the aspect of civic education, yet their willingness to participate and learn more compensates for the fact of previously absent knowledge of how Taiwan is pursuing their independence and freedom in the international arena. With such dedicated citizen unification the government feels the support and reflects the mood of the nation overall. However, it is unknown for how much longer Taiwanese can withstand this passion and pursue the battle for democracy while being pressured. Civic action might just be not enough.
Such difficult tasks and burdens as creating democracy internally while protecting the country from the external negative factors are being put on the shoulders of population nation raises the question of where is the UN, international organization that is notorious for defending young democracies and suppressed peoples. For rather secretive yet apparent reasons, the UN denies Taiwan’s representatives on General Assemblybut allows them to be present during the meetings. Taiwan’s willingness to be participant in the international deals whether it is in regards security, trade or even compliance with Sustainable Development Goals is admirable and should be the noted. However,ties between the UN and People’s Republic of Chinawill be under an intense strain if Taiwan will be recognized as an independent state. With South China sea conflict still at bay, UN cannot afford such a drastic change of pace without resolving other conflicts. Resulting neglectfrom international organizations on Taiwan’s struggle has made it harder for the state to become fully independent from PRC’s rule, yet it only sparked more civic action within the society.
America’s assistance in Taiwan’s battle for democracy has been rather counterproductive. With establishment of rather mysterious, one might even say that of unrequited love, de facto relationship between the two countries, the US during Bush administration refrains from calling Taiwan a sovereign state. An extensive reportby the China and Taiwan expert Richard C Bush explores all the factors why America is so involved in Taiwan’s defense but stays away when it comes to political recognition of Taiwan as an independent state. For similar reasons as UN, US is trying to build a better relationship with PRC, especially after a fall-out from the recent trade war, yet supporting Taiwan in the open might create a huge conflict that might go nuclear.
In his address on the issues that Taiwan is going through, Bush lists four conditions upon which the US will be willing to help Taiwanin their pursuit – it [Taiwan] needs to be able to protect themselves against China’s Liberation Army in case of military conflict, be sure that US is largely present in the East Asian region and not ignore the power of the presence, make sure that US and Taiwan will work closely on shutting the book on the questions of unification with PRC, and promote better communication channels that will not leave any open-ended questions that might be up to interpretations. With this statement, America takes on a role of an older sibling who is protective, yet does not want to be directly involved in the conflict. By backing up Taiwan without direct involvement, the US has its foot in both camps which is beneficial to both sides, yet still opens an opportunity of danger.
Taiwan’s future road to democracy seems promising – with devoted civic action and leaders who are willing to create a better future for the country it seems that democracy is well in transition, yet the question of independence is still in the works. Neglect from the international organizations and the US’ silence on the issue it will be a hard battle, yet not impossible.
Photo taken from Reuters “Street protests, mostly nonviolent, have been a vibrant feature of Taiwanese democracy. © Reuters”