In a rare sign of public defiance against China’s bullying tactics to prevent the rightful recognition of Taiwan as an independent, sovereign nation, Japan and 10 other countries asked the International Association for the Development of Apnea (AIDA) to remove their countries’ flags next to athletes’ names on the televised leaderboard for an international freediving championship on Oct. 1.
“Thank you for the support of many countries!” Taiwanese athlete Mia Hou later expressed on Facebook to the 10 countries, including the US, Russia, Korea, France, and Germany. This protest was in response to the AIDA suddenly removing Hou’s national flag from the leaderboard after streaming was blocked in China over the presence of the Taiwanese flag on the leaderboard.
The fact that we are seeing such a sign of solidarity from so many countries may portend a larger trend on how the international community of democracies is now more prepared to defend Taiwan from China’s political interference against Taiwan’s existence as a thriving, self-ruling democracy.
As United States (U.S.) international policy shifts from military intervention in the Middle East to diplomatic and strategic alliances in the Pacific, with the withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan and new strategic moves such as AUKUS (a new collaboration with the UK to assist Australia in building nuclear submarines), it is important that the goal of this new, more diplomatic approach is not just to bring about a soft power advantage in the region, but to help people govern themselves in nations whose free and democratic form of government we have committed to defending.
With a record 67 percent of people in Taiwan now identifying exclusively as “Taiwanese” rather than “Taiwanese and Chinese” or “Chinese” according to the National Chengchi University’s Election Study Center, it has become clearer now than ever that the Taiwanese people do not want their government or politics to have anything to do with the mainland.
Of course, this was not always the case. In 1971, when the Republic of China (ROC), which is still the official name of the government of Taiwan, was replaced by the People’s Republic of China (PRC) for the seat of “China,” the ROC still laid claim to the Chinese mainland, and Taiwan was ruled under martial law by Chiang Kai Shek’s Kuomintang (KMT) party.
It did not make sense to give a regime that had no sovereign power over mainland China representation in the United Nations (U.N.) for the region. Taiwan remained under martial law until 1987, which was when Taiwan began the process of reforming its government and beginning to democratically elect its leaders, with the first directly elected president being Lee Tung-hui in 1996.
Today, the nation of Taiwan has a well-established democracy, a vibrant economy, and a people with a stronger sense of national identity. The people of Taiwan deserve international recognition. It is high time that nations who officially support democracy not placate the whims of an authoritarian regime with an unelected president who recently abolished term limits.
It is morally wrong for us as a nation to maintain informal relations with Taiwan through bodies such as the American Institute in Taiwan while we maintain official relations with a country that has been openly hostile to democracy in places where it swore to allow for self-governance such as Hong Kong, in addition to committing human rights abuse to Uyghur people in Xinjiang. Instead of trying to force democracy on the people of nations who have shown no capacity to practice it, why don’t we support nations who already have a thriving democracy?
The fact that I am unable to attach my name to this article due to fear of repercussions against my family who lives in mainland China is illustrative of the nefariousness of Chinese war hawk nationalism and the need for the international community to take a lead on this issue. In any online discussion mentioning Taiwan, one can find that hot-headed Chinese nationalists always have only a few talking points to justify Taiwan’s lack of official representation.
One position is that of historical sovereignty and shared language and culture between Taiwan and China. This argument is immediately dismissible, as there are many nations, such as the US and the UK, China and Singapore, and Germany and Austria, that share language and culture. Sharing a language and culture has never necessitated sharing a government, especially when the people of one nation have summarily rejected the authoritarian government of another.
Another position that Chinese nationalists take is one of semantics and existing status, where they argue that because the official government of Taiwan is called the Republic of China and that Taiwan does not have diplomatic ties with major nations or a seat at the U.N. table, it should not be a nation. This is a meaningless response because the lack of international recognition for Taiwan is precisely the injustice we must change. Taiwan is a self-governing nation and must be treated as such.
The final, most sinister position that Chinese nationalists take is an “argumentum ad baculum” (“appeal to the stick”), where they threaten violence and hellfire from the People’s Liberation Army against Taiwan should any politician in the nation attempt to speak out in support of the self-governing nation’s independence. We should never bow to threats of military violence against the self-governing, proud people who simply want to thrive on their island nation.
It is time for the international community to step up and take a stand against authoritarianism. It is time to establish embassies for the US and all of its allies in Taipei, and for Taiwan to gain a seat in the U.N. representing not China, but Taiwan.