Taiwanese Canadians feel betrayed by corporate kowtowing to Chinese strongman Xi Jinping
Imagine the reaction of Vancouver residents if a U.S. airline or bank created a map showing Canada as an administrative region of the United Kingdom.
Let's say that United Airlines or Bank of America Corp. did this to win the approval of British prime minister Theresa May, who is in a position to grant concessions to these corporations.
Canadians would be furious. They would declare that Canada ceased to be a colony in 1867 when it became independent.
No doubt, some would launch boycotts against United Airlines or the Bank of America. Canadians would also hold demonstrations outside the offending corporations' offices.
Yet this scenario is playing itself out for real with Taiwanese people.
Air Canada and the Royal Bank of Canada each capitulated to Chinese government demands to refer to the independent island nation of Taiwan as a "province of China" on their websites.
These so-called pillars of corporate Canada undoubtedly did this to appease President Xi Jinping of China.
They've behaved this way even though the government of China has no administrative power over Taiwan (also known as the Republic of China).
Taiwan is an independent nation southeast of China, south of Japan, and north of the Philippines.
Following an uproar in the Taiwanese-Canadian community, the Royal Bank reversed its decision.
And on Thursday (June 14), Taiwanese Canadians held a demonstration outside Air Canada's Montreal head office to protest the airline's decision.
The protesters pinned the blame on the Trudeau government.
"The government of Canada knows full well that this is NOT 'strictly a commercial decision'," several Taiwanese-Canadian organizations said in a statement. "It is the effect of a Chinese Communist gun pointed at Air Canada.
"Air Canada looked to Canada for support and our government ran for cover," the groups claimed. "Canada must give strong support to Air Canada, and do what we do so well—take the lead to craft a multilateral response by all affected states to this 'Orwellian nonsense'."
Taiwan is not an administrative region of China
Air Canada CEO Calin Rovinescu studied law in university; Royal Bank president CEO David I. McKay did his undergraduate degree in mathematics.
So perhaps they can be forgiven for their ignorance of East Asian history.
But anyone who has paid attention to Taiwanese affairs knows that this "indie nation" has been colonized over the centuries by many countries, just as Canada was colonized by Great Britain.
But Taiwan is now independent. It also has an Indigenous population, like Canada, whose land was stolen by colonizers.
Dutch mercantilists first imposed autocratic rule on Taiwan in 1624, which continued until 1661.
The Spaniards tried to move in, but they were pushed away by the Dutch in 1642.
A Ming dynasty loyalist, Koxinga, came from China to Taiwan and defeated the Dutch in 1661. He imposed his colonial rule until being defeated by China's Qing dynasty forces in 1683.
The Qing's feudal-oriented colonialism lasted until 1895 until it was put to an end by a war with Japan.
Taiwan came under Japanese control in 1895 under the Treaty of Shimonoseki. That continued until the end of the Second World War in 1945.
“When Japan took over Taiwan in 1895, they did not plan to give it up,” Vancouver accountant and Taiwanese immigrant James Chou told the Straight last year. “They treated it as their new earned territory. It was part of their country. They didn’t treat it like a traditional colonial area that you exploit and you leave.”
The final colonial period began after the Second World War.
That's when the Chinese Nationalists, led by Chiang Kai-shek, seized control of Taiwan following the Japanese defeat. The Nationalists moved en masse to Taiwan in 1949 after losing the Chinese Civil War to Mao Zedong.
Chiang imposed martial law on Taiwan, which was continued by his son and successor, Chiang Ching-kuo, until 1987.
It was only in recent times that restrictions on use of the Taiwanese language in the broadcast media were lifted.
The first democratic presidential election occurred in 1996 over the objections of the government of China, which launched missile tests.
When Democratic People's Party candidate Chen Shui-bian won reelection as president of Taiwan in 2004, the government of China created an antisecession law. China asserted that it could use military force should Taiwan "declare" independence.
But in fact, the country was already independent, with a free press, a democratically elected legislature, and a thriving arts and music scene.
Taiwan has all the hallmarks of an independent country: a constitution, national flag, national anthem, national flower, national health-care program, multiparty democracy, its own currency, and freedom of religion, as well as its own diplomatic offices.
In 2018, Taiwan's gross domestic product is expected to top US$600 billion with a population of just 23.5 million on land slightly larger than Vancouver Island.
It's nobody's province.
Historian documented colonialist periods
Taiwanese historian and political activist Su Beng detailed his country's colonial experiences in his 1962 book Taiwan's 400 Year History. A shorter English-language version was published in 1986.
Sometimes referred to as the Che Guevara of Taiwan, Su Beng repeatedly documented how the Qing dynasty in China never considered Taiwan to be a part of China.
At one point, he quoted the Qing dynasty's Official Historical Record of Taiwan, Vol II, by Liu Liang-P'i. It stated: "Taiwan is a wilderness land and, from the beginning, never a part of the Chinese domain."
Among other works Su Beng cited was Chang Ju-shen's An Unofficial Record of Taiwan, Vol. II, which described Taiwan as "a place where pirates band together".
The preface to Fan Hsien's Record of Taiwan described the island as "a haven for criminals who had escaped".
"Yet, in spite of the 215 years of rule from the mainland, 'the Taiwanese people and the Taiwanese society' in essential quality, never became one with China," Su Beng insisted in his book. "On the contrary, from beginning to end, the colonial contradictions between the two were preserved and Taiwan developed differently from China.
"In the end, the basic conditions for the society and the common consciousness of the Taiwanese nation were established under the Ch'ing [Qing] colonialist rule."
Under the Qing dynasty, there were bans and severe restrictions on migration of people from mainland China to Taiwan until 1875. But by then, according to Su Beng, it was too late to attract "pioneers": Taiwan's population had already reached 2.5 million.
Throughout this period, there were many rebellions against Qing rule, which Su Beng described as "discriminatory" and "colonial" both in politics and economics.
Similar charges were made about Chiang's colonial rule after the Second World War. A massive protest was viciously suppressed on February 28, 1947, leading to the deaths of approximately 10,000 Taiwanese.
At last year's TaiwanFest celebrations in Vancouver and Toronto, a great deal of attention was devoted to how Taiwanese identity was forged during the period of Japanese occupation from 1895 to 1945.
The festival demonstrated over this half-century, Taiwan embraced origami, Japanese cuisine, western classical music, and western watercolours, among other things.
Retired Richmond physician Dr. Charles Yang lived under Japanese and Chinese nationalist rule in Taiwan.
He told the Straight last year that life was actually better under Japanese rule because the Kuomintang under the authoritarian Chiang was driven by "fanatic anticommunism".
Yet here in Canada, the country's largest airline is, and its largest bank was, promoting the myth that Taiwan is a province of China.
It's a shameful insult to our Taiwanese expatriate community, which has given so much of themselves to Canada.
No wonder they're upset.
Canadians would also be upset if their independent nation was described in U.S. corporate documents as an administrative region of Great Britain.
It's that simple.