Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Taiwan in the Global Context Recap

The program I participated in was through a direct exchange between GW and National Chengchi University of Taiwan. There, I took a 4-week class titled “Taiwan in the Global Context,” as well as a six-week class for advanced Chinese. The summer program at Chengchi was evidently not anticipating many advanced speakers of Chinese, since they only allotted one teacher for advanced Chinese, with the rest allotted to several divisions of beginner’s level, as well as one class for legacy learners who had no formal education in written Chinese. As a result, several people who were not advanced learners of Chinese, yet still wanted a more challenging class than the second-highest class which still taught beginner’s level characters, came into my class later on.
The most interesting part of the course, “Taiwan in the Global Context”, was the four lectures taught by Professor Tang Shaocheng regarding Taiwanese National Identity and its implications for Cross-Straits relations. The course emphasized that the most strongly prevailing issue in cross-straits relations is Beijing’s One-China policy, which states that Taiwan is the inseparable sovereign territory of China. A key background issue that is frequently underemphasized in the West, is that to many Mainland Chinese, Taiwan’s existence as a de facto separate entity from the Mainland is a remaining legacy of China’s century of humiliation begun in 1840 with the First Opium War, and that reunification would be a key step towards restoring national pride. 

 Another crucial issue we studied in depth was the issue of mutual nonrecognition. As explained by our most frequent lecturer, Professor Tang Shaocheng, Mainland China implicitly supports the Republic of China maintaining Article 4’s claims to sovereignty over the Mainland, as any change would be seen as Taiwan’s formal splitting of links with Mainland China and thus an act of independence.
            Professor Tang is also one of the leading Taiwanese scholars in the field of international relations today.  Largely based on a policy memo Professor Tang submitted, Ma Ying-Jiu developed the "special relationship" designation for relations with Beijing. As I learned in the class, both the KMT and CCP accept the concept of one Chinese nation; only the DPP supports a Taiwanese national identity. However, the KMT supports one-nation, one-state under ROC leadership of all of China, while the CCP advocates one-nation two systems, currently being implemented in the Hong Kong and Macau Special Administrative Regions.
            An additional area of note was the opinions of the Taiwanese public regarding cross-straits issues. Since 1990 the general trend in public opinion is that since 1990 approximately sixty percent of Taiwanese have wanted to maintain the status quo relationship with the Mainland, twenty percent support independence, and ten percent of Taiwanese support unification. However, a majority of Taiwanese support reunification with the Mainland under the prerequisites of political reforms in the Mainland and an island-wide popular referendum. Dr. Tang also noted the increasing divergence culturally between Mainlanders and Taiwanese, which has played an important role in decreasing the number of Taiwanese who identify themselves as singularly Chinese as represented by the PRC.  This also feeds into another interesting concept, that of ROC-Chinese versus PRC-Chinese, which leads to the conclusion that most Taiwanese now identify themselves as Taiwan Chinese, members of the greater Chinese nation, but with certain special characteristics as a result of being Taiwanese.
          One last interesting point that Dr. Tang makes which I had not before considered is the idea that if either Taiwan, Tibet, or Xinjiang provinces made formal moves towards independence from the PRC, it could lead to a domino effect in the other two. Therefore, in the eyes of policymakers in Beijing, the Taiwan issue involves the very integrity of the PRC, and that force has to be considered an option in the case of Taiwanese independence to avert the risk of the disintegration of the People’s Republic of China. 
             Before I went to Taiwan, I had very limited knowledge on the subject matter of Cross-Straits relations or Taiwanese history. However, as a result of taking the Taiwan in the Global Context course offered as an exchange with GW, not to mention just being in Taiwan, I learned a lot about the issues.

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