Taiwanese seek an end to isolation
Time hasn’t diminished Charles Yang’s deep attachment to his native land.
Half a century after moving to Canada, the internationally trained and now-retired doctor is as passionate as anyone about the rightful place of Taiwan in the world.
“It’s virtually an orphan, and this goes on because all the strong nations tolerate that,” Yang said with disappointment.
When the former president of the Taiwanese Canadian Cultural Society spoke with the Georgia Straight at his Richmond home, he invited community leaders to come.
“Taiwan has its own defined territory, taxation, a democratically elected government,” Yang declared at the gathering. “Everything that a sovereign nation should have, Taiwan has.”
Canada is home to more than 200,000 people of Taiwanese descent, according to the federal government. But like most countries, Canada doesn’t have formal diplomatic ties with Taiwan.
One of the world’s most prosperous nations, the island state of 23 million people is claimed by China as a province. It has no seat at the United Nations.
“Everybody is so afraid to offend China because of its big market,” Yang said. “It’s a rising power. It’s simply not acceptable.”
Taiwan’s history is one of immigration and colonization. First inhabited by aborigines, it was occupied by the Dutch, Spanish, and Japanese, with intervals of Chinese imperial rule.
People from China came to Taiwan starting in the 17th century during the Dutch occupation, Yang noted.
When the Japanese lost the Second World War, control over Taiwan reverted to China. A civil war in China soon saw Chiang Kai-shek and his ruling Nationalist Party (aka Kuo-mintang) defeated by Mao Zedong and his fellow Communists.
Chiang and his followers retreated to Taiwan in 1949, hoping to someday unify China. Meanwhile, the Kuomintang, or KMT, ruled the island with an iron fist until 1987.
According to Yang, the people of Taiwan “had nothing to do” with the civil war between Chiang’s KMT and Mao’s Communists but suffered under the hands of the KMT.
When he was taking medical-specialist training in the U.S., Yang decided not to return. He came to Canada in 1964.
Taiwanese-born James Chou also disliked the KMT and its repressive rule. He was also studying in the U.S. when he decided that he was not going back.
“This kind of resentment brought us to a different experience in North America,” Chou told the Straight in a phone interview. “All of a sudden, we enjoyed the freedom of the open society, and at least the respect of fundamental human rights, which is so refreshing.”
Chou and his wife came to Vancouver in 1976, becoming part of a wave of Taiwanese immigrants who arrived in Canada in the decades following the Second World War.
Another wave rolled up during the 1990s amid fears about what might come next after China’s takeover of Hong Kong and Macau from the British and Portuguese, respectively. In 1996, nearly 13,000 immigrants from Taiwan arrived, according to Statistics Canada.
Jason Wang’s parents were part of this latter exodus. Now a Vancouver lawyer, he was still young when his family moved to Canada. These immigrants were wealthy and successful in Taiwan, but were “concerned about potential complications with Hong Kong being returned to China”, Wang told the Straight by phone.
Taiwanese immigration to Canada since 2000 has remained steady. In 2011, close to 2,000 immigrants from Taiwan arrived in Canada.
Over at Yang’s Richmond residence, the retired doctor and his visitors also talked about the evolution of a Taiwanese identity that has native, Chinese, and other foreign influences but is distinct from that of mainland China.
“Whenever we can, we always say we are Taiwanese Canadians,” said Pang Liang Chang, lead adviser of the Asian-Canadian Special Events Association.
In Taiwan, the Taipei Times reported on August 13 about a survey showing that 96.5 percent of respondents in Taiwan identified themselves as Taiwanese. The paper also reported that 60.9 percent indicated they do not support unification with China. More than half (52.3 percent) said Taiwan should eventually become a full-fledged independent nation.
For Yang, “any person who regards Taiwan as his home or her home is a Taiwanese, no matter where you come from.”
Following its electoral defeat in 2000, a resurgent KMT returned to power in Taiwan in 2008. President Ma Ying-jeou promotes a policy of rapprochement with China.
Yang isn’t happy about this direction: “They put Taiwan under martial law for 38 years…and did terrible things in the name of…anti-communism. But now, after decades,…they want to be buddy-buddy with the Chinese mainland.”
Also present at Yang’s home was Ben Tseng, president of the Society of Taiwanese Canadian History in B.C. Tseng noted than an end to Taiwan’s international isolation would correct a “mistake of history”.
Another visitor, John Tsai, boiled it down to a few words. The president of the Greater Vancouver Taiwanese Canadian Association said: “Taiwan is Taiwan. China is China.”
Adrian C.Y. Fu
Sep 1, 2013 at 9:36am
Taiwan belongs to the Chinese nation. Stop trying to start another Chinese civil war.
A Fellow Taiwanese
Sep 2, 2013 at 8:32am
Taiwan belongs to the Taiwanese people not the Chinese Government
Sep 2, 2013 at 7:21pm
As much as I support the cause of Taiwanese independence, many of the statements in this article ring hollow.
Charles Yang, for instance, laments that Taiwan is an "orphan" because "all the strong nations" of the world are trying to retain favour with almighty China. Also quoted is the president of the Society of Taiwanese Canadian History in BC, Ben Tseng, as saying that an end to Taiwan's international isolation would correct a "mistake of history".
These kinds of statements are disingenuous. Taiwan has been able to function independently with a massive amount of protection from America and its military. Another reason China just doesn’t go in and take Taiwan is fear of the world’s reaction, whether in the form of economic sanctions or military action. China might win such a struggle no matter what form it took, but Beijing also realizes that the resulting damage to its reputation and economy wouldn’t be worth it.
Perhaps Yang would respond that the "strong nations" could do more, such as cutting economic ties with China. But how can other nations be asked to make that sacrifice while Taiwan itself has formed a lucrative economic relationship with China? How can other nations stand behind the Taiwanese when a majority of them won’t elect a party that will declare independence?
Taiwan had the chance during the eight years when the pro-independence Democratic Progressive Party was in power. But even the DPP knows it must soften its stance to gain votes, as the majority of Taiwanese – even those who want independence – will not support a formal declaration, partly in fear of an attack by China, partly in fear of risking lucrative trade agreements with China. (When money and jobs talk, independence walks.)
The Straight gave voice to other Taiwanese-Canadians who expressed similar judgments. But as Yang also pointed out, "Taiwan has its own defined territory, taxation, a democratically elected government". That being the case, I have to wonder why those who support Taiwan's independence don’t return there and work within Taiwan's democratic institutions and push for that sovereignty.
To blame the rest of the world for this situation is simply unfair, and especially insincere when coming from those who abandoned the fight. Their statements and efforts would have much more meaning and power if they were made from within Taiwan's healthy political system.