«-French Tax Office, may I help you?
-Good afternoon, I live abroad and work for a foreign company, I would like to know if I must pay taxes in France next year.
-Well, it depends, where do you live?
-I live in Taiwan.
-Good. Give me a moment, Taiwan… Taiwan… Taiwan, where is that, Taiwan… do you live in Bangkok?
-No, Taiwan, close to China, you know.
-Ah, well, yes, sure, Taiwan, Taiwan… no, Taiwan, T, Tadjikistan, Tasmania, no, it doesn’t exist, sorry.
-What do you mean it doesn’t exist?
-Well, I’m sorry, sir, but you aren’t living anywhere, you can’t pay taxes in France.»
This is a real conversation I had with my tax office in France that left me puzzled for a while. For what is Taiwan? My point here is not to judge anything or anyone, but to give some insights to my friends (and government it seems) who may not be up-to-date with what’s happening here. I acknowledge that I don’t know many parts of the story, and that some of my statements might be questionable; they are thus open to discussion.
When you live there, in Taiwan, probably you know for sure it is a country: it has a government, a currency, a culture, a flag, a central bank a nuclear program (maybe not the best thing though), national universities, national parks, etc. etc. When you travel to China, you need a Visa, like anyone else.
So you would tell me it is quite good to live in this country and everything should be in peace? BUT, somewhere in the world village, a tribe of irreducible communists is watching! They say the island is theirs. For me, as a foreigner whose lessons about Taiwan started with the late 50’s, it is quite difficult to understand actually what those «Mainlanders», as we call them here, want.
Here’s a brief summary of the story-as objective as I can: Taiwan had first belonged to aboriginals, then European came, portuguese briefly and then Dutch for around 50 years at the end of XVIth and beginning of XVIIth century. Taiwan was on their road to Batavia, by then probably one of the most bustling centers in Asia; they developed trade with China, Japan, and encouraged Chinese people to settle here. XVIIth century also saw a shift in the Chinese dynasties, and the Qing overthrew the Ming. A warlord from Fujian, loyal to the Ming, Koxinga, decided not to submit to the new central power and thus retreated -invaded- in Taiwan. He was successful and claimed the island in only a few months, but died less than a year after arriving. Few years later, the Qing dynasty was able to regain the island, and ruled it till 1895, when it was taken away by the Japanese, in the verge of their new regional power. During those long years, nothing special happened, Taiwan was a province of Fujian, until in 1885 it was granted a special status, enabling it to have a government, a basic network of post-office, etc. Under the Japanese domination, the country was developed, in order for the Japanese to retrieve the natural resources like gold and use it for their own kingdom. A local ruling elite emerged along with the Japanese migrants, and the rule was tough. This era ended with the japanese defeat in 1945. Taiwan was logically given back to China. Until here things are pretty clear.
But in parallel China had a rich story. In 1911, Dr. Sun Yat Sen managed to overthrow the Qing and created the first democracy in China (the movie The Last Emperor for example gives a good explanation of this). His national party, the Kuo Min Tang, had to fight over the years with the communists, supported by Russia, but also the Japanese.
After World War 2, the Communists managed to win over the armies of Kuo Min Tang, led by Chang Kai Tchek. He decided, along with 2 million people, all the gold, and many local supporters from Fujian, to seek refuge in Taiwan, where they massacred the local Institution and set a dictatorship, supported by the Americans, that ended only with the first free election in 1996, and had gradually lost steam. In the mind of the Taiwanese government, and in the Taiwanese education, China actually belonged to them, and they just had to stay in Taiwan for a while, prepare war, and regain «their» China. The rule from Kuo Min Tang explains why Taiwan government says Taiwan, also called Republic of China was created in 1911 (when they were not at all living in Taiwan), and has many things in common with China: they believed Taiwan WAS China. This wasn’t challenged during the dictatorship, but of course as the rule came to an end a discussion, vital to the country, started on the topic.
On the international stage, while the US have recognized the Kuo Min Tang dictatorship in Taiwan and supported it as the «true» chinese government in exile after 1949, a shift has taken place in 1971 when the US officially recognized Communist China as the «real» China, while at the same time committing to support the Taiwanese government in its efforts to stay independent, and vowing to assure their protection, notably by selling weapons to them. Only a handful of countries recognize Taiwan internationally today, like Paraguay, but no European democracy or even the US recognizes Taiwan, partly because of the pressure from China, but in my understanding also because Taiwan still defines itself as Republic of China, instead of just Taiwan.
This is where we stand now. Taiwan has had a spectacular development under the late dictatorship of Kuo Min Tang, 30 years before China, and now that China has the successful model we all know, the strength relationship has changed. China consistently blocks Taiwan from entering any international institution, says it is a part of their territory, and in general has the politics you would expect from a model led by its own interests, where people can’t vote or express freely their opinions without risk.
It is difficult as a foreigner to have a position on this complicated story, especially when I can never be sure if the history I hear are true. I tried to give a general overview here, stay fair, and give the general direction. I believe that according to the values I have been taught, what should matter is the right of people to decide by themselves the best way of government for them, instead of the will of some politicians.
But the part I feel entitled to judge is, surprisingly, not the attitude of China, but the one of my own country. I am ashamed that, so obviously, western democracies have chosen to support industrial power over value, for example, Apple sees Taiwan as a part of China, the French president consistently starts talking in China by saying that Taiwan belongs to China, and generally people bend before a Chinese power that in my eyes, has little I can envy of. I came to acknowledge that many things I was taught as a kid were propaganda as well, convenient half-truth that everyone has an interest to believe in, but that the mere reality was involving more than just idealistic values.
I feel amazed by Taiwanese people who, over the years, have fought for their rights, have gradually moved away from dictatorship, and have managed to create a consensus, a society, where life is fair, tolerant in general, and based upon deeply anchored values. But, because economy matters so much, and Taiwan also has its problems, I regret that working environment is so poor to its workers, and that there is such a massive emigration of talents to China, US, Canada, South Africa, New Zealand and Australia, explained in a great deal because while education is high, workers rights and salaries are low, and the structure in general not flexible. In particular, for a normal household, it is difficult to raise children with just 2 average salaries.
The conclusion will be yours, dear reader: after all, we are in a democracy, and ultimately, people rule. What do you think?