Two independence movements were buzzing in Taiwan in the past few weeks, with Catalonia seeking independence from Spain and Kurdistan voted overwhelmingly for separation from Iraq. Both ongoing events sparked new discussions on whether Taiwan should be holding an independence referendum, and how China and the rest of the world might respond if a vote took place.
Much like other complicated political problems in the world, however, it is not as simple as an independence referendum. For one thing, there remains large divides within the Taiwanese population on the status of Taiwan as an independent state as well as what that state, if actually independent, should be called. The Taiwan National Security Surveys designed by Duke University and conducted by National Chengchi University in 2016 showed that more than 70% of people surveyed agreed with the following statement:
[Taiwan is a sovereign independent country, and its current name is the Republic of China.]
But when considering what Taiwan’s future should be, studies (and the comments section of Taiwan the Complicated) have found a wide spectrum of opinions, ranging from those supporting unification with the People’s Republic of China on one extreme to declaring independence as a new country called Taiwan on the other. Fang-Yu Chen, a PhD student at Michigan State University, produced an excellent diagram attempting to include and categorize the majority of opinions on the topic:
Brief description of each group:
A: Taiwan is already independent. Depending on one’s opinions, independence occurred when the Nationalist lost the civil war and retreated to Taiwan in 1949, when Japan signed the Treaty of San Francisco relinquishing sovereignty claims of Taiwan in 1952, or when democratization occurred and Taiwanese began to directly elect their political representatives in the 1990s. Most people in this group do not necessarily dislike the name Republic of China, but believe the name should be changed in the future.
B: Taiwan is not independent yet, as there has not been a vote of independence or other political actions representative of the Taiwanese people to declare Taiwan as independent. Most people in this group has a disdain towards the name Republic of China, the KMT, and anything associated with China, communist or otherwise.
C: Taiwan is not an independent country and should become a part of another country that’s not China, e.g. the United States, Japan, or others. There are very few people in this category.
D: Taiwan is a part of China, specifically the People’s Republic of China. Hugely unpopular group in Taiwan that has the support of the People’s Republic/Communist Party of China due to identical goals.
E: Taiwan is a part of China, but not the People’s Republic of China. Popular during the Cold War-era, this group supports re-taking or becoming a part of China in different ways, be it through a federal system or the abolishment of the communist regime.
F: Republic of China and the People’s Republic of China are two separate countries. This group does not support unification with the People’s Republic of China due to a disdain for the communist regime.
G: Maintain the status quo, where Taiwan maintains its de facto independence, but still recognizes that Taiwan and Mainland are a part of one China, just controlled by two separate regimes. Past and current Taiwanese governments tend to approach the Taiwan-China relations using this framework.
The position this blog maintains is most aligned with group A, as detailed in Scenario 1 of The Way Forward. The rest of the world already knows us as Taiwan, keep calling ourselves some form of China is pleasing no one. While I am under no illusion that re-branding will suddenly bring diplomatic recognition from other countries, it at least reduces the confusion Taiwanese people face when interacting with the world. It is simpler for others to support us when there is a clear and simple to explain cause.