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O say can you see...Taiwan?
O say can you see...Taiwan?
It's a long shot, but some Taiwanese
want the island to become the 51st U.S. state
The Globe and Mail
Thursday, April 6, 2000
Taipei -- The future of Taiwan is usually one of two scenarios: join China
or declare independence and face its giant neighbour's 2.5-million-man army.
But David Chou has a third option. Why not make Taiwan the 51st U.S. state?
"If you think about it, it makes sense," said Mr. Chou, a toy manufacturer
who is behind the 51st Club, a group of 51 like-minded Taiwanese
Yankeephiles. Their goal is to have the island democracy of 23 million, 160
kilometres off China's coast, fly the Stars and Stripes as soon as possible.
"It's not a popular idea -- not yet," admitted Mr. Chou, an earnest sort in
suspenders and rolled-up sleeves. "People say China would go to war if we
try to join the States. And they say we will lose our identity and
independence if we are part of America."
"But let's face it. . . . We're always occupied by someone, so why not take
things into our own hands for a change and choose to join America?"
An amateur history buff, Mr. Chou notes that Taiwan has been fought over for
First it was pirates, then the Chinese, who first showed up in the 7th
century, then Portuguese, who sailed ashore about 1590.
The Dutch took over in the mid-1600s. And China's Qing Dynasty was back
later that century, eventually replaced by the Japanese empire, which took
over the island from the 1890s to 1945.
U.S. influence began after the Japanese defeat in the Second World War,
helped along by the anti-Communist and pro-U.S. Nationalist Party dynasty.
As a result, Taiwan today is a cosmopolitan amalgam of Japanese, Chinese and
U.S. culture. Especially the latter.
On the way to Taipei from the airport, for example, there's a 20-metre-high
replica of the Statue of Liberty within sight. Most Taiwanese are eager to
see their government buy U.S. warships and missiles; they count on help from
the Pentagon if the Chinese ever invaded.
"There's only three things you really need for a good life in Taiwan.
Sunshine, clean air and the protection of the U.S. 7th fleet," said Mr.
Chou, who went to school in the United States.
The chances of Taiwan being allowed to join the United States are, of
course, extremely slim. Beijing views Taiwan as a breakaway province that
must be returned, which will happen by military force if Taiwan's government
ever declares separation. Joining the United States would be a red flag to
China's Communist regime, and the appetite in Washington for any such
linkage to Taipei is roughly zero.
Still, Taiwan's March 18 presidential election, won by independence-minded
Chen Shui-bian, has sparked a renewed debate about its ongoing existential
crisis. While the 51st Club offers an unlikely pipe dream, it also shows how
Taiwan has developed into a society with few political taboos.
"The odds of Taiwan joining the U.S. are the about the same as me convincing
one billion Chinese that I'm the reincarnation of Chairman Mao," said a
Western diplomat in Taipei. "It's never going to happen. It could mean a
regional war with the Chinese.
"But the fact that somebody like Mr. Chou can go around Taiwan to promote
the idea just shows you how much different Taiwan is from mainland China. In
China, he'd already be in jail by now for treason."
Mr. Chou said he is hoping he can "make people think," and Taiwanese,
especially the young, do seem to be thinking.
"I would love to have the United States take over Taiwan," said Johnny Lim,
a 19-year-old student. "There's just so much about us now that is like
America. We have hamburgers, we have Starbucks, we watch American films, and
now we have true democracy. Most of my friends want to study in the United
States. It's the country I respect the most in the world, I'd cherish the
idea of being part of it."
Near Mr. Lim, in the lineup for the movie American Beauty, was Jennifer Lin,
who like many Taiwanese prefers to use an English first name and speaks
fluent English. But she sees the prospect of joining the United States as
ridiculous and dangerous.
"It will never happen, and I don't want it to happen. I don't want to be
part of the U.S. and I don't want to be part of China. Taiwan should be its
own country and I think it is now its own country already."
Taiwan remains a society deeply rooted in its Chinese culture -- from its
tea houses to its pagoda roofs and detailed attention to feng shui,the
ancient Chinese art of gauging nature's forces. But its flirtation with the
West causes anxiety.
"Am I Chinese or am I Western?" wondered Sam Chu, a 27-year-old bookseller.
"It's hard to tell. I think Taiwan is halfway between the East and West. I
think eventually we will be Chinese and part of China. But first the
mainland must change, to become more democratic.
"We are not going to give up our freedom . . . but we're not going to be
part of the United States either. That would drive Beijing nuts and I don't
want to be a soldier. We have to be patient and not anger China by talking
about such things."
But Mr. Chou has no intention of backing down. "Taiwan would be a great U.S.
state," he insisted, and noted that, for a time, it almost was.
After the Communist Revolution in 1949, when Chiang Kai-shek's Nationalists
fled to Taiwan in defeat, Washington propped up the island economically and
militarily. Throughout the Cold War, the U.S. government, missionaries and
Republicans in particular, saw Taiwan as something of a natural aircraft
carrier, parked off the shore of China's "godless communists."
But that changed in 1972, when then president Richard Nixon opened
diplomatic relations with China and the West began to agree to Beijing's
"one-China" policy, which holds that Taiwan is a part of China, and must
eventually return, with the caveat that it should be done peacefully.
Last week, Beijing indicated that it expects Mr. Chen to agree to the
"one-China" policy when he takes office on May 20. If he does not, many fear
Throughout Taiwan, people are obsessed with reports about Chinese military
manoeuvres in the Taiwan Straits or the buildup of Communist missile
batteries aimed at the island.
Perhaps the only people who don't worry are the members of the the 51st
Club. Mr. Chou believes that Washington would defend Taiwan, and that if
Beijing ever makes an aggressive move, he will be the head of one of the
fastest growing political groups on the island.
"Believe me, if the Chinese ever attack, people will be running over to me
to join up."
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