Is Taiwan a Country?

Is Taiwan a Country?

Yes, Taiwan is a Country. It is not a province of Communist China.

One thing that irks me to no end is the amount of my fellow American citizens who still don’t get that Taiwan is a country, with its own president, its own constitution, its own culture, its own heritage, its own people.

This is made worse by literal agents of the Chinese Communist Party who go onto social media sites like TikTok and Quora to spread their propaganda. It’s also promulgated by an unlikely source: people within Taiwan who want to “re-unify” with China because of the power and money China represents, ignoring its abuse of minority populations, its surveillance state, its lack of press freedom, its lack of religious freedom, its environmental record, its human rights record, its animal rights record, and worst of all—the blood of their own grandparents and great-grandparents crying from the ground.

I’m writing this for people who legitimately care about this issue and want to learn more.

How is Taiwan an independent country?

Let me count the ways.

  • It continues to operate as a true Republic, i.e., a country governed by the people. It is still officially called the “Republic of China”.
  • It has its own Constitution
  • It has its own flag
  • It has its own president, which it elects every four years. There are two main political parties, the KMT and the DPP.
  • It has a population of over 23 million, some of whom identify with the Republic of China, some of whom identify with an independent Taiwan, but NONE of whom identify with the communist People’s Republic of China.
  • They have a market economy with a GDP that is in the top 25 of all countries in the world.
  • 172 countries and territories recognize the ROC (Taiwan) passport and allow visa-free travel to and from Taiwan.
  • They have active trading relationships with every major economic power in the world.
  • They have full freedom of religion, freedom of the press, and freedom of assembly.
  • Despite removing official diplomatic recognition, the United States and virtually every civilized country in the world continues to maintain de-facto diplomatic relations with Taiwan, no different than any other country.

Here’s where it gets confusing. China has become so powerful that it bullies international organizations, NGOs, and private companies to deny the sovereignty of Taiwan. They do this in various ways:

  1. They bully organizations like the International Monetary Fund to falsely call Taiwan as “province of China”, even though that hasn’t been true since 1895.
  2. They bully organizations like the International Olympic Committee to call Taiwan “Chinese Taipei” and forbid them from using their own flag.
  3. They bully corporations like UPS to call it “Taiwan, China”.

Did you notice something? Like any good communist dictatorship, China is trying to use words to change reality. The PRC, with its deep Marxist Communist roots, knows the Orwellian truth that changing the language can change reality.

Why do these organizations cave so quickly? It comes down to two things: money and pettiness.

China, rich with cash from American corporations, has the power to bully organizations and entire countries into doing what they want. Most of these organizations, countries, and corporations think “it’s only words”, not having experienced the reality that words in the hands of a dictatorship can kill millions.

And of course there’s pettiness. The Chinese Communist Party talks a good game, but in order to achieve “unity” in their country, they’ve had to kill, torture, imprison, disappear, and re-educate hundreds of millions of their citizens—and they continue to do so to this day.

History of Taiwan and China

Don’t trust sites like Quora or even Wikipedia. Go to primary sources. And the most primary source is Taiwan itself, although bear in mind that even Taiwan’s Web site is subject to some bias (which I’ll provide commentary on below).

  • Pre-history: Taiwan is settled by Malayoa-Polynesian people for many millennium, as are many other islands in the South Pacific. Today, these people still live on the island and are known as Taiwan’s “aboriginal people”.
  • 1500s: Portuguese sailors pass by Taiwan and name it “Ilha Formosa” or “beautiful island”.
  • 1624: The Dutch East India Company establishes a base in southwestern Taiwan. From most of the years between 1624 to 1668 Taiwan is under Dutch colonial rule.
  • 1662: As the Ming Dynasty in China is conquered by the Qing Dynasty, Ming loyalists escape to Taiwan and drive out the Dutch.
  • 1685: The Qing Dynasty takes control of Taiwan. Two hundred years later, Taiwan is declared a province on the Qing Empire.
  • 1895: The Qing Dynasty is defeated by Japan in the First Sino-Japanese War. China cedes sovereignty of Taiwan to Japan.
  • 1912: Following other revolutionary movements like the American, French, Greek, and India, revolutionary soldiers in China defeat the Qing Dynasty under Sun Yat-Sen.
    • China is declared a Republic, and the Republic of China (ROC) is established.
    • While the word “republican” can come to mean different things, it essentially means that the power of government is held by the people, who elect leaders to represent them, as opposed to a single monarch.
  • 1937-1945: The Republic of China is invaded by the Empire of Japan on the pretext of events like “The Mukden Incident” where Japan blamed Chinese nationalists for bombing a railway.
    • Japan’s goal was expansionism: conquering China and subjugating it to Japanese rule.
    • The horrors of how Japanese soldiers treated Chinese soldiers and civilians was beyond description. The Japanese army swept through China, decimating the military of the Republic of China.
    • Remember that during this time, Taiwan citizens (which now contained a combination of aboriginal, Dutch, and Chinese backgrounds) lived under Japan’s rule. Japan’s rule was ruthless towards those who opposed them or those they wanted to exploit, but to ordinary citizens they provided education, infrastructure, and relative peace.
  • 1943: In anticipation of Japan’s eventual defeat, President Franklin Roosevelt and Prime Minister Winston Churchill issue the Cairo Declaration, stating that Taiwan and the Penghu Islands would be restored to the Republic of China following the war.
  • 1945: In 1945, the Cairo Declaration took effect, as the ROC government officials accepted the surrender of the Japanese.
  • 1949: While the Republic of China was fighting for its country’s survival in World War II, Mao Tse-Tung, with the support of the Soviet Union providing them with weapons, organized armies among the peasantry and fought the decimated armies of the Republic of China, knowing that the war-weary Allied forces that had won World War II would be too weary to stop them.
    • Defeated, the military and leadership of the ROC fled to Taiwan and established the seat of the ROC there; they still ruled over “all of China” from a de jure perspective, but from a de facto perspective they really only oversaw Taiwan and the Penghu Islands now.
    • Mao Tse-Tung declared victory and established the People’s Republic of China on October 1, 1949.
    • Chiang Kai-Shek, the President of the ROC, declares as its stated goal to one day return to the mainland to reclaim it. For years the ROC continues to represent China on the Security Council on the United Nations and on the world stage.
  • 1952: Japan signs the San Francisco Peace Treaty, which among other things declares null and void all conventions and agreements between China and Japan before December, 1941.
  • 1971: The United Nations votes to remove the ROC from its Security Council seat and replace it with the PRC.
  • 1979: The United States formally recognizes the PRC as representing China, but rather than abandoning the ROC in Taiwan, it establishes de facto relations with Taiwan. Congress passes the Taiwan Relations Act which reiterates that recognition of the PRC the future of Taiwan is to be decided peacefully.
  • 2001: The United States grants permanent most favored trading status with China, but as a condition ensures that China does not try to remove Taiwan from the World Trade Organization.
  • 2004: China uses the 2004 Olympics as its “coming out” party to convince the world that it is a gentle, harmless country that is safe to do business with. They do a masterful job of hiding their human rights abuses behind smiling propaganda. Millions of American corporate executives and consumers fall for it, to this day.

Taiwan vs. China: What happened between 1952 and 1971?

In China, Mao Tse-Tung established Marxist rule over all of China as soon as he drove the ROC out. While the CCP of today likes to hold up Mao as their Founding Father, the reality is that he was a colossal failure. In the 1950s he instituted The Great Leap Forward, which made private land ownership illegal and put government bureaucrats in charge of dictating who and what was to be produced. The result was the starvation deaths of anywhere from 20 million to 50 million Chinese.

In 1966, Mao continued to see capitalism and traditional Chinese values as enemies to his glorious Communist utopia, so he set in place the Cultural Revolution to purge China of “Four Olds”: old ideas, old culture, old custom, and old habits. Religious leaders and academics were rounded up to be “re-educated”. The Party organized Red Guards—children really—to destroy monuments, attack people who they felt didn’t adequately bow to Mao, and anyone who represented the “old way”. It’s estimated that 500,000 to 2,000,000 people died during the Cultural Revolution, but even those who remained alive were not permitted to have free thoughts outside what The Party allowed them to believe.

In the meantime, Taiwan is governed by a single party, the Kuomingtang (literally “country national party”), the original movement formed by Sun Yat-Sen which is now led by Chiang Kai-Shek. Until President Chiang—and in contrast to Mao—Taiwan undergoes an unprecedented modernization, becoming one of the “four Asian Tigers” (Hong Kong, Singapore, South Korea, and Taiwan) whose GDP and standard of living exploded from 1960 to 2014 during what many economists call the “Asian miracle”.

I’m going to say something controversial here. There are those within Taiwan who want to paint Chiang Kai-Shek as a corrupt and ruthless military dictator. It’s indisputable that there was (and no doubt still is) a lot of corruption in the KMT. And yes, there were incidents (most notably the February 28 Incident) where uprisings against the government were put down brutally by the military.

I’m not going to comment one way or the other, other than to remind everyone to consider the political climate that was going on during that time. When the February 28 incident happened, there were plenty of Japanese sympathizers among Taiwan’s citizenry that would have preferred returning to Japanese rule. There were some who sympathized with the CCP. There were also brutal attacks by some Taiwanese against the KMT.

Bottom line, historians (revisionist and otherwise) need to ask themselves: was the arrival of the KMT a net positive for Taiwan? On the whole, were Taiwanese citizens treated fairly? Did the improvements that came in things like education and industry a net positive for the people of Taiwan?

What would have happened if Taiwan had returned to Japan, been occupied by the CCP, or attempted to establish independence at that time (remember, Taiwan had not been an independent state for over 500 years). Balance that against the net positives that the KMT brought to Taiwan during that time and the steps that they have taken towards reconciliation (including allowing for democracy in 1987 while the CCP crushed the same movements in China during that same time).

This doesn’t excuse brutality, but it hopefully helps provide some context. And it certainly does NOT excuse foolishness I see coming from many in the Taiwan today (mostly in the KMT) who seek to reunify with China in its current state.

1971: The UN Recognizes the PRC as “China”

The Republic of China had been given a permanent seat on the United Nations security council after World War II. For years, the United States had fought to keep the ROC as the representative of China (no doubts in hopes that the ROC would eventually retake the mainland of China), but by 1971 it was apparent that this was not happening.

On October 25, 1971, the United Nations removed the ROC from China’s UN seat and the PRC was admitted.

In 1971, President Nixon and his Secretary of State Henry Kissinger began to explore opening relations with the People’s Republic of China.

On January 1, 1979, the United States recognized the People’s Republic of China and broke official diplomatic relations with the Republic of China on Taiwan. On February 28, 1979 the US Embassy in Taipei was closed, and on March 1, 1979 the US Embassy in Beijing was established.

That word “official” is an important one that most people forget, and which China wants everyone to forget. The truth is, the United States did continue to maintain de-facto relations with Taiwan, as if nothing had changed.

While all of this was going on with China, the “Taiwan Miracle” continued. Taiwan made massive improvements to its infrastructure, communications, and education.

1979: The USA Recognizes the PRC and “China”

China wants you to believe that on January 1, 1979, Taiwan ceased to exist as an independent entity.

This is a lie. And US Law is very clear about it.

On January 1, 1979, the same day that the executive branch recognized the People’s Republic of China as the sole entity representing China, the 96th Congress of the United States passed H.R. 2479, known as the Taiwan Relations Act.

This is official US law which states, among other things:

  1. The United States will continue to preserve and promote close commercial, cultural, and other relations with the people on Taiwan.
  2. The United States commits to preserving human rights of the people of Taiwan.
  3. The United States shall make available defensive weapons and services for their self-defense.
  4. The United States will continue “business as usual” with Taiwan, including trade, immigration, treaties, financial, laws, etc. In other words, regardless of Taiwan’s diplomatic status nothing changes with the way the United States does business with Taiwan.
  5. In lieu of an Embassy, the United States will establish the “American Institute in Taiwan” to perform the same functions an embassy would.
  6. IMO, the most important phrase of all in this law is this. The purpose of the law is: “to make clear that the United States decision to establish diplomatic relations with the People’s Republic of China rests upon the expectation that the future of Taiwan will be determined by peaceful means; to consider any effort to determine the future of Taiwan by other than peaceful means, inlcluding by boycotts or embargoes, a threat to the peace and security of the Western Pacific area and of grave concern to the United States

I remember posting this to X, and some idiot China wumao responded “We in China do not recognize your dumb laws” or some foolishness like that. It reminds me of the old Bill Cosby punchline, “I brought you into this world…and I can take you out.”

The official US Policy to date has been one of “strategic ambiguity”, which is another way of saying “we’ll use generic, unclear language when we talk about our “One China Policy” so that the CCP can interpret it the way they want (“Taiwan is a renegade province of China”) while the USA can interpret it the way we want (“We treat Taiwan just as any other independent nation with its own constitution, leadership, and culture”).

This worked for 60 years, because China was frankly just too afraid to challenge the United States. The United States made sure to built up China to the point that it isn’t afraid anymore.

The “Taiwan Miracle” continued through these years. Those who were alive during this time may remember how “Made in Japan” and “Made in Taiwan” were originally looked down upon as substandard and cheap. Today, both of those phrases represent the best manufactured products you can find anywhere in the world. That is how free market capitalism is supposed to work. Unfortunately, China manipulated free market capitalism by stealing intellectual property and monopolizing production, as any good Marxist will do.

The Death of “American Values”

For a while, the PRC was kept at bay. After Mao died, Deng Xiao-ping took over and established reforms to the Chinese Communist Party. Here’s the problem. Kissinger and Nixon, in their foolishness, saw political and economic reforms as being “good enough” for the United States to start to embrace China. In this way, Nixon and Kissinger abandoned the principles established by Washington, Jefferson, Madison held which the United States had seen as their uniting principles all the way through 1945. Freedom of religion. Freedom of speech. Freedom of the press. Freedom of assembly. Freedom to petition the government for redress of grievances.

One of the failures of the neoconservative movement was the assumption that all you have to do is introduce “American values”, and they would magically transform to a liberal republic practicing American-style federalism. After all, it “worked” in Germany, Japan, and South Korea, right?

The problem is that America lost its way. American “values” like “love thy neighbor” and “do unto others” gave way to “make money”.

My dad escaped China before the Communists shut the borders. He was recruited by Baylor University and went to school there in the 1950s. While dad was a brilliant scientist, ultimately they brought him over so that they could convert him to Christianity.

As you read this in 2023, you probably cringe a little. So do I. But if you ask my dad, he thought it was completely normal. And it was. It’s not like he practiced a religion before. To the day of his death, one of his favorite hymns was “One Day”. He chose to be baptized (on his own…yes, immigrants are allowed to think for themselves). Because my mom (also from China) was a devout Christian, she wanted to marry someone else who are a Christian. Mom and Dad were introduced, and a decade later I was born.

I’m sure if you go to Baylor today, the administrators would punish or expel any Christian group who preached the gospel to immigrants. And that’s just sad. But it’s the new world we live in where not having any values is the most honored value of all.

2001: The Disaster of MFN

I spent time talking about “American values” to illustrate an important point.

After trading relations with China resumed in 1980, “most favored nation” trading status was decided on a year-by-year basis. In 1989, after China cracked down on protestors in Tienanmen Square calling, MFN status was debated every year in the Congress. But on October 2000, China was granted permanent trade status with the United States. In the law (which you can read here) there are plenty of passages talking about the human rights of China and warning China that it must improve its human rights record and must not stop Taiwan from joining the WTO (which Taiwan did).

Of course, China’s record on human rights only got worse. You’ve no doubt heard of its abuses of the Muslim population in Xinjiang. You’ve heard of the draconian lockdowns they put in place during COVID, to the point where its citizens were jumping out of buildings in desperation. You may have heard of the bounties it has put on Hong Kong dissidents. But think of everything you have not heard of. Neighbors spying on neighbors and turning them on. Social media scores that determine where you can go and what you can do. Orwell would look at today’s CCP-controlled China and gasp in horror at how much further they’ve gone than his writings.

So why did America, starting with Bill Clinton and continuing with George W. Bush and Barack Obama, rush headlong into trade with China? It comes down to one thing: money.

US regulations have made it impossible to produce things cheaply in the United States. So did powerful labor unions. But instead of working together to come up with solutions, Corporate America saw China as a billion workers they could exploit and sweep under the rug. It was a gold mine: they could provide things with the efficiency and cost of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory, and let someone else worry about things like fires and subhuman labor conditions. It was a big middle finger from American corporations to labor unions, and while both of those continue to get rich, it was American workers and communities who suffered.

In many ways, nothing has changed since The Great Leap Forward, except that now the CCP allows certain “civilians” to enjoy wealth as long as the people they employ produce the goods and as long as these civilians don’t get too uppity (see: Jack Ma). And being the government, they could choose who the winners and losers are. Is a contractor biding for a big American contract? We’ll just overlook certain environmental rules.

One thing I learned when I visited China in 1999 that in order for a foreign company to produce something in China they had to form a “joint venture” with a China-based company. American and European companies fell over themselves to form “joint ventures”, to get a piece of the cheap China manufacturing. Executives, who knew their tenures would only be a handful of years, had no problems selling out their domestic manufacturing and their long-term brand health in order to get immediate record profits by selling cheaply made products to consumers charging the full price they charged when it was made in America.

Sadly, during this time Taiwanese companies start to struggle as well. The “Taiwan Miracle” has been such a success that the standard of living has become too high for them to continue producing cheap things. Taiwanese business leaders at that point SHOULD have formed relations with emerging nations like Vietnam, India, Bangladesh. But it was just “too easy” to form relations with China, who spoke their language. While Taiwanese executives laughed at how they were exploiting cheap labor in China, people in China were laughing about how one day, they would be so powerful from American and Taiwan dollars that they would call the shots. Which is where we are today.

There are still manufacturers in Taiwan, but American brands are abandoning them. I see this right before my eyes. I remember buying a set of chrome shelves from HoneyCanDo, only to find that they’d switched to China. I switched to Seville Classics, and then they moved to China.

How to Find Products Made Taiwan

I came across this site, which appears to be hosted by the International Trade Administration and the Taiwan External Trade Development Council, both part of Taiwan’s government.

TaiwanTrade.com

If you know a business or retailer that sources products, point them HERE. It’s a definitive database of products made in Taiwan. These are manufacturers that still make thing in Taiwan, but they’re in trouble, as most people are going through to sites like Amazon to do their research (and we all know how Amazon props up China manufacturers). Any business that sells things made in Taiwan are going to have VERY happy customers.

While the site is more geared towards B2B than consumers, as a consumer be sure to send feedback to brands that have abandoned manufacturing in free nations like Taiwan and let them know that you care. It’s when they don’t hear this feedback that they just go to the lowest bidder, and you know where that invariably is.

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