Taiwan and “China”

Note: It is strongly recommended that you read The Basics and Taiwan the Complicated before reading this article, especially Taiwan the Complicated, which provides a lot of information that this article builds upon. It will be less confusing to first read the mentioned writings before reading this one.

Just for a brief review, the Republic of China 中華民國 (ROC) currently controls Taiwan, and the People’s Republic of China 中華人民共和國 (PRC) has NEVER controlled Taiwan. Never.

Now this is just confusing, they are both “China”, aren’t they?

I totally agree that for an English speaker, or frankly a speaker of any languages, the above statement is not only confusing, but also contradicting. Because if you really don’t know the difference between ROC and PRC and then simplify the sentence a bit, it will say “China currently controls Taiwan, but China has never controlled Taiwan,” or even “Taiwan is a part of China, but Taiwan is not a part of China.” I tried as hard as I can to differentiate the ROC and PRC to the clearest way possible in this blog, but that doesn’t mean it’s any less confusing. Let’s face it, not everyone really takes the time to figure out the difference between the two. Others have suggested using Nationalist China for ROC, and Communist China for PRC, but they are still both “Chinas”.

The UN General Assembly Resolution 2758 that recognized the PRC as the only lawful representative of China to the UN and expelled Taiwan (technically the “delegation of Chiang Kai-shek” was expelled) out of the UN did not actually stated what territories the “China” mentioned includes. But because of this resolution, Taiwan could not rejoin the UN, at least not under its formal country name, the Republic of China, because there already is a representative in the UN that represents “China”. Now whether Taiwan can join the UN to represent “Taiwan” is a whole other can of worms.

But your language is Chinese, you celebrate Chinese New Year, and frankly a significant portion of Taiwan’s culture is derived, if not the same as, from Chinese culture. Everything about Taiwan screams “China”, so what’s wrong with saying you are Chinese?

There’s nothing wrong with it if you know exactly what you are talking about, and most people don’t. To the rest of the world, “China” clearly means the PRC. Even with 22 countries recognizing the ROC as the only “China” in the world, it’s not changing the fact that “China = PRC”. It’s like in business, where a company may sell its product under a brand name not necessarily the same as the company name. The brand name “China” is associated with the PRC, while the brand name “Taiwan” is associated with the ROC (though not very widely known as such). So for anyone who doesn’t really know any of this to say that “Taiwan is part of China” or “Taiwanese are Chinese too” really suggests that they think Taiwan is part of the PRC (WRONG!!), and Taiwanese are PRC citizens (WRONG!! Especially when Taiwanese people are really considered “foreigners” in the PRC). The word “Chinese” really can have several meanings. It can refer to the Chinese language 中文/漢語/華語/普通話/國語, to the people of the PRC 中華人民共和國人民, to the people of the ROC 中華民國人民, to the people of Greater China combined 華人, to people originated from the geographical region of China 中華民族, etc. Each of those has a specific meaning in the Chinese language, but in English, they are all “Chinese”.

The bottom line is this: our language is Chinese 中文, we celebrate Chinese New Year 中國新年, traditional Chinese culture 傳統中華文化 is very much alive in Taiwan, and that really the majority of people in Taiwan are Han 漢人, same as the dominant ethnic group in the PRC. However, that does not mean that Taiwan belongs to a nation that happens to be internationally known as “China”. Taiwanese are not Chinese in the sense that we are not citizens of the PRC. A survey done by the Global Views Survey Research Center 遠見民調 in 2009 suggested that while 80.2% of the people in Taiwan considered themselves to be part of 中華民族, 82.2% of the people in Taiwan believed that ROC (Taiwan) and PRC are two nations going separate ways.

Why don’t you just change the country name to “Taiwan” then?

For several reasons actually. Since 2008, the cross-strait relationship has been at its best since the separation between the two sides in 1949. This was mainly due to the fact that the incumbent President Ma Ying-jeou bases his cross-strait policy on the 1992 Consensus 九二共識. It should be noted that not everyone in Taiwan agrees with or recognizes the existence of this consensus, as it didn’t really go through any democratic process to be established.

The 1992 Consensus 九二共識 basically says that both Taiwan and PRC recognizes that there is only one undivided “China”, and both mainland China and Taiwan belongs to this “China”. The consensus was that both Taiwan and PRC agree to verbally express the meaning of this “China” to their own definition.

The PRC’s interpretation is that the PRC is the sole legitimate representative of this “China”, while Taiwan’s interpretation is that the ROC is the sole legitimate representative of this “China”.

To break this down further, it’s saying the PRC claims both mainland China and Taiwan as its territory, while the ROC also claims both mainland China and Taiwan as its territory.

You can see the dilemma here, two political entities that in reality both controls part of this “China” are both claiming to be this “China’s” sole legitimate representative. This was not a strange idea, as back when the ROC still had its seat in the UN before 1971, the ROC was viewed as the sole legitimate representative of “China”, the territory of which was recognized to include both mainland China and Taiwan, even though it effectively only had control over Taiwan.

As unclear as the consensus is, economic negotiations as well as cultural exchange and tourism flourished. Because to the PRC, as long as Taiwan agrees it is part of “China”, anything is negotiable (even though never once has governmental officials in Taiwan ever stated that Taiwan is part of the People’s Republic of China).

Now, to officially change the country name from the “Republic of China” to “Taiwan” would have several implications.

First, the political system in Taiwan is currently based on the Constitution of the Republic of China 中華民國憲法. Written into the Constitution is this:

Article 4. The territory of the Republic of China according to its existing national boundaries shall not be altered except by resolution of the National Assembly.

第四條 中華民國領土,依其固有之疆域,非經國民大會之決議,不得變更之。

The territory stated, according to other drafts of the constitution and previous laws passed, is to include the territory currently controlled by the PRC, the Republic of Mongolia, and the territories currently controlled by the ROC (Taiwan, Penghu, Kinmen, Matsu, and other islands). To change the country name to Taiwan and modify the country’s territory need the approval of the Legislative Yuan 立法院, followed by a referendum. As the people of Taiwan have not yet elected a Legislative Yuan that agrees on the issues of changing the country name, territory, and other matter pertaining to sovereignty, this is difficult to achieve, not to mention that opinions are also divided among the people of Taiwan.

Second, it would mean that Taiwan no longer agrees to the consensus, and that Taiwan is a nation by it self (this really is true in reality), not under the name nor part of “China”. To the PRC, and most of the international community, this suggests the birth of a new nation, the declaration of “independence” of Taiwan from “China”. The PRC deems such act as an act to divide “China”, and passed the Anti-Secession Law in 2005, which states that the PRC could use non-peaceful means to against any actions that would separates Taiwan as an independent nation. So basically war, or better put, military invasion. This is a reason why many nations are opposed to the so-called Taiwan-independence.

Third, it could possibly starts a World War III. The United States Congress passed the Taiwan Relations Act 臺灣關係法 on January 1st, 1979, authorizing the US government to continue commercial, cultural, and other relationships with Taiwan. Also written into the act is that the US should try to ensure the stability of the region, as well as provide Taiwan with defensive arms, and to interfere if anything could jeopardize Taiwan’s safety as well as social or economic system. The interpretation is that in the event the PRC tries to attack Taiwan by force without being prompted to do so (for example without Taiwan declaring independence), the US is obliged to interfere. The showdown between the two largest military powers in the world definitely has the potential of destabilizing regional peace, involving other nations, and possibly the use of nuclear weapons. With the modern technology available, it’s hard to say that such conflict won’t result in the end of the world.

So basically Taiwan is just stuck?

The honest answer is yes, and as much as people of Taiwan don’t like it, there really isn’t all that much we could do about it. As long as the PRC remains an authoritarian state and holds a permanent seat in the UN Security Council, there is no chance that Taiwan will ever get into the UN under any name. As long as the PRC remains the second largest and soon the largest economy in the world, there is little chance that other nations would support any formal diplomatic relationships with Taiwan. (For a more detailed review on Taiwan’s fight for participation in UN and its related organizations, read the review from the Brookings Institution.)

I am not suggesting that the only resolution to this riddle is to voluntarily unify with the PRC, which frankly is a most undesirable result any Taiwanese would wish to see given the present PRC system. We are still trying hard to be part of the international community, to increase the visibility of Taiwan on the world stage. The more people who actually care and want Taiwan to remain a democracy, the harder it is for anyone to make Taiwan part of the PRC. So here is a call to anyone who cares: learn more about Taiwan, meet some people of Taiwan, and come visit Taiwan. By doing so, you will ensure Taiwan is not as isolated from the world as it could be, and frankly, no one should be isolated from the world, don’t you think?

2 thoughts on “Taiwan and “China””

  1. “But your language is Chinese, you celebrate Chinese New Year, and frankly a significant portion of Taiwan’s culture is derived, if not the same as, from Chinese culture. Everything about Taiwan screams “China”, so what’s wrong with saying you are Chinese?”

    Although to the rest of the world, “Chinese” means the Chinese race. It’s pretty confusing for Taiwanese to say they’re not Chinese, it’s sort of like saying they’re a different race.

    I blame the English language for having the same word for Chinese nationality and race. It’s high time “Han” or “Huaren” is used to denote the Chinese race. Cuts down on a lot of confusion.

  2. Taiwan is part of China, the Republic of China. Mainland is part of China, the Republic of China as well! Simple, period.

    Republic of Mongolia on the other hand, has already gained independence and is recognised as such by the international community. So in reality, to still include that as part of Republic of China is a bit wishful thinking. This is a minor issue, and can be rectified in law when Republic of China is reunited again. Mainland eventually returning to ROC though, is not wishful thinking. Why? Well we all know about the deep social problems in the PRC brought in large part by the authoritarian system. Nowadays, as more and more tourists are visiting Taiwan, more and more people knowing about pre-1949 history, and less and less anti-Nationalist education in PRC, people in Mainland are starting to have a new idea about ROC. So in 20-30 years’ time, when everything boils down and people say enough is enough, there is no reason why they won’t hold the Dr Sun Yat-Sen’s banner again!

    Why are people so hung up on the PRC? It will be gone in the next 50 years at most. People should be proud of the Republic of China! It is 103-year history of Chinese people struggling for democracy, freedom and independence! If people nowadays say China = People’s Republic of China, and Chinese = people of the PRC, then tell them NO! China = Republic of China, and Chinese people are a proud people who wants democracy and freedom as much as everyone else in the world! The fact that Republic of China is still standing and flourishing in Taiwan is a living testimony to this fact! And this not only includes the 23m people in Taiwan, but also the 1.6 billion people in Mainland! If Republic of China claims to be the true China, then why afraid of bringing the message of hope to ALL its people??

    Long Live the Republic of China!!!

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