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Home > East Asia > 

Let 'ROC' die with Chiang's cronies
Paul Lin
9/9/2004

When it comes to the issue of national identification, unification and independence, proponents in Taiwan differ on the question of whether the nation in question is the "Republic of China" (ROC) or "Taiwan." The issue of national identification affects domestic ethnic unity.

A majority of Taiwanese clearly identify more closely with "Taiwan" than with the "Republic of China," but China's armed threat stops them from freely expressing that opinion. Identification with the ROC has declined, basically as a result of historical factors and the force of habit, followed by the passing of time, pressure from China and international realities. Based on these factors, the pan-green camp is demanding the "rectification" of Taiwan's national title, and in the face of this pressure toward localization, even the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT), although "Chinese" is still part of its name, has to chime in and call for localization.

Lately, the KMT has proposed a fundamental discourse regarding the relationship between the "ROC" and "Taiwan" in an attempt to integrate the two. The issue is, however, fraught with problems.

The greatest obstacle is the reactionary forces in the party's Central Standing Committee who will not even accept the slogan "the ROC and Taiwan are the same thing." In the end, KMT Chairman Lien Chan settled the issue with the far-fetched expression "the ROC is the best guarantor for Taiwanese democracy and peace."

More or less at the same time, during his visit to Honduras, Premier Yu Shyi-kun used the name "Taiwan, ROC" several times in another obvious attempt to integrate the two. The reason why he waited until he arrived in Honduras to use this name was probably the fact that pass cards dispatched to the delegation's motorcade during their earlier visit to the Dominican Republic bore the term "China, Taiwan." Not only did that confuse Taiwan with China, it also implied that China is part of Taiwan, which of course is preposterous. Other similar incidents made Yu feel the necessity to clarify the relationship between Taiwan, the ROC and China in a diplomatic context. Then there are, of course, different opinions about how that is best done.

There is no reason to deny that the concepts "Taiwan," "ROC," "People's Republic of China (PRC)" and "China" are easily confused. Among these, "China" has been claimed by the PRC, and that has become accepted by a majority of nations around the world. It would not be an easy task for the ROC to reclaim that name. If ROC territory expanded to the Yellow River, using the name "China" would make sense, but calling Taiwan "China" does not make much sense, both because Taiwan has never represented China, and because its geographical location far removes it from the center of China.

The "one country on each side [of the Taiwan Strait]" approach is abundantly clear about Taiwan, but it is opposed by unification proponents. Yu's statement, or, for that matter, earlier statements by Vice President Annette Lu, are attempts at finding a compromise based on domestic factors. This kind of compromise is, however, being scoffed at by Taiwan's unificationists as "looking for unnecessary trouble," "trying to take advantage" and so on.

Is it really a matter of looking for unnecessary trouble to try to clarify the difference between Taiwan and China? Who are they trying to "take advantage" of? Could it be that admitting that Taiwan is part of China is the clever thing to do? It is exactly this defeatist attitude of the unificationists, delivering Taiwan to China, that is causing more Taiwanese to develop a crisis awareness and become more vociferous in their demands for correcting Taiwan's national title.

But using "Taiwan" and "ROC" together is a matter of expediency. When I was invited to Taiwan to watch the election earlier this year, I sent photos and other information from New York to handle formalities related to the visit, but the recipient never received my letter because the envelope said "Taiwan, ROC." When I sent a second letter by registered mail, the post office clerk eradicated the letters "ROC," saying that it otherwise would go to China, because as long as that "C" was there, it meant "China." At the same time as this second letter arrived, the recipient also received the first letter, re-routed from China. And when I participated in a radio show in New York, using the term "President of the Republic of China," I was told that I could not say "Republic of China." I guess this is what is meant by the US' "one China" policy.

According to that policy, Taiwan has far more international space than the ROC. Since this is the reality, anyone who does not want to deliver Taiwan to the PRC should stop holding on to the name "ROC" because emotions also have to give in to reality. I think that as all the old people who came over to Taiwan together with Chiang Kai-shek pass on, their emotions will die with them and Taiwan's national title will be "rectified" as a matter of course.

Paul Lin is a commentator based in New York.

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