When challenger Tsai Ing-wen, candidate of the pro-Taiwan Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), visited Washington in October, a senior administration official told The Financial Times that she “left us with distinct doubts about whether she is both willing and able to continue the stability in cross-Strait relations.” A denial of that tilt has been unconvincing.
The elections in Taiwan, like the country’s future writ large, are for the Taiwanese to determine. The US should be prepared to accept the outcome of any transparent, inclusive, democratic process – whether that be formalization of Taiwan’s de facto independence from China, unification, or some commonwealth arrangement such as the one that Canada – an independent nation – has with the United Kingdom.
The fact is, however, that most Taiwanese are prepared to live with the status quo – full but undeclared independence. What riles them is their continued national humiliation.
Their history is different from that of the “mainlander” Chinese who moved to Taiwan after World War II and today still represent only 10 to 15 percent of the population. Over the centuries, the Taiwanese have been ruled by the Dutch, Spanish, French, the Qing Dynasty of China, the Japanese, and – after the Cairo Declaration assigned Taiwan to China during the war – the KMT party.
Not until 1987, when martial law was lifted, could the Taiwanese even begin to engage in the basic activities of democracy and self-determination.
We have followed Taiwan since the 1960s, having lived there for 15 years between us, ridden the trains and buses, and pedaled bicycles around the country, albeit years apart.