A Tough Month for Taiwan: What Can We Do?

Michael Turton
May 22, 2018 · 4 min read
Protest, May 17, 2009

It has been a tough month for Taiwan’s international status. Taiwan’s application to be an observer at the World Health Assembly (WHA) was denied by the WHO at China’s behest. In Geneva, Taiwanese wearing shirts protesting the decision were approached by Swiss police and told to change their shirts. The government expressed anger, and Taiwan received support from several large nations, including Japan, but to no avail. China has locked it out for not accepting Beijing’s “one China” principle, and the major nations have done nothing.

Taiwan’s health minister Chen Shih-chung is in Geneva at the moment attempting to make a case for Taiwan’s observer status, and to attend side events. He will fail, but at least he is there to remind the world of what is happening.

Large corporations also decided to kow-tow to China. The Gap was forced to apologize for printing t-shirts with maps that did not show Taiwan as part of China. Qantas, Air Canada (mocked as “Air Chinada”), and Zara of Spain were among the many corporations that changed their website designations to make Taiwan part of China. Interestingly, many China-based firms were not so required. The Trump Administration rightly attacked this policy of control aimed at firms abroad as “Orwellian nonsense” but then, as US administrations invariably choose, stopped short of concrete punishment of China for its actions.

China also poached another o̶n̶e̶ two of Taiwan’s diplomatic partners, the Dominican Republic, and now Burkina Faso, which switched recognition from the ROC to the PRC. The major media treated this as a coup for China. In a way it was, since few in the media take the time to understand that it is the ROC, not Taiwan, that is sustained by these diplomatic linkages. Taiwan itself remains a strong trading state, with links around the world, and visa free entry to over 100 economies. If the ROC and its diplomatic linkages all vanished tomorrow, these comprehensive connections would remain, unharmed.

For Taiwanese, that is the crux of the problem. Taiwan receives a great deal of understanding sympathy, but little concrete support. Though Taiwan’s situation can be disheartening, What should we who love and support Taiwan be doing?

There are many things that Taiwanese at home and abroad, and Taiwan’s supporters, need to be doing. First, they should learn by heart Taiwan’s status in the relevant international treaties, the San Francisco Peace Treaty and the Treaty of Taipei, which define Taiwan as an unincorporated territory whose status awaits final disposition. They should also know that the major powers such as the U.S., the U.K., Canada, Japan, and Australia all support that position. Some learning about Taiwan history is also useful. Taiwan supporters should be able to direct listeners to polls showing that Taiwanese strongly support independence. This knowledge is necessary because China and its apologists constantly lie about Taiwan.

Second, there are numerous organizations that work on Taiwan-related issues. They need support in the form of both money and time. There can never be enough.

Third, take action! Because the U.S. is Taiwan’s most important support, Taiwan supporters should be writing their members of Congress and donating to candidates for Congress who support Taiwan. They should also be contacting relevant U.S. policymaking agencies and individuals. Letters should flood into the President’s Asia advisor (currently Matthew Pottinger) at the White House, the State Department, and elsewhere. Pro-China statements in the local papers should always be challenged by letters to the editor. Join Taiwan discussion groups on social media platforms and make pro-Taiwan voices heard.

Action also means participation. If there is a pro-Taiwan event in the neighborhood, go to it! Warm bodies are always needed. Local pro-Taiwan groups need your participation as well (and it’s a great way to make new friends and network). When politicians meet the people, show up to voice your support for Taiwan. When people are visible, they encourage others to become visible, signaling “you are not alone.”

Finally, take heart. We are all in this for the long haul, and we are all in it together. The struggle for keeping Taiwan free and independent will not be finished today or tomorrow. We are in this for our children and grandchildren. Remember, Taiwan is not an island south of Japan and north of the Philippines. It is not the place where we are from or where we live. It is an idea that we build anew each day, through our commitment to the future of a free and democratic Taiwan, and to building a better future for all who are Taiwanese in their hearts, wherever they may live.

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American Citizens for Taiwan | 美臺會

Helping Americans understand the importance of Taiwan to the United States

Michael Turton

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Michael Turton is a longtime expat in Taiwan, who operates the well known blog The View from Taiwan on Taiwan politics, history, and culture.

American Citizens for Taiwan | 美臺會

Helping Americans understand the importance of Taiwan to the United States