Monday, October 10, 2011
The China Conundrum
Today is “Double Ten,” a very special day for some of the Chinese who live on the island of Taiwan, and to a lesser degree for all Chinese.
The Chinese Revolution began on October 10, 1911. It resulted in the overthrow of the Qing Dynasty (1644-1912), the last imperial dynasty, and the establishing of the Republic of China (ROC), which was formed on January 1, 1912.
So today is the centennial celebration of Double Ten Day, the national day for the ROC.
A symbol often seen during Double Ten Day (it is the combination of two characters for "10" (十)
Long called Formosa (“beautiful island”) Taiwan is the name of an island off the east coast of China, home to about 23,000,000 people. While most of the people of Taiwan are Chinese (only about 2% are aboriginal people, like the Native Americans in this country), only about 15% of them are from the mainland. And they are the ones who lead the celebration of Double Ten.
Several memories linger from the first time I visited Taiwan many years ago—such as being surprised at seeing beautiful poinsettia trees, many over ten feet tall. I hadn’t known poinsettias grew so tall.
I also remember the feeling of incongruity when I was visiting an old shrine erected in veneration of Confucius—and at the same time seeing Taiwanese Air Force jets screaming overhead.
One other memory: seeing many portraits of Sun Yat Sen, the first President of the Republic of China. Actually, he was only Provisional President and served less than three months, but still he was, and is, widely celebrated at the founder of the Republic of China (ROC).
In 1949, however, the Communists under Mao Zedong (Tse-tung) overthrew the ROC and established the People’s Republic of China, which is still the name of the nation on mainland China.
On March 1, 1950, ROC President Chiang Kai-shek moved the government of China to Taiwan, and formally resumed duties as President. And, sixty-one years later, the U.S. is still supporting Taiwan. Should that support continue? Or should the U.S. recognize that the People’s Republic of China (PRC) is the only legitimate government for the country, including the island of Taiwan?
That is a difficult question.
Just last month, the Obama administration approved a $5.8 billion arms deal to Taiwan, including upgrades to the island’s fleet of old F-16 fighter jets. Not surprisingly, that did not set well with the government of the PRC. In fact, Beijing warned that U.S.-Chinese relations would suffer “severe obstacles” as a result of that action.
On the other hand, Republican critics accused the Obama administration of bowing to Chinese pressure with its decision only to upgrade aging Taiwanese warplanes rather than sell the island the later generation fighters it had requested.
According to CBS News, GOP presidential aspirant Mitt Romney said, “President Obama’s refusal to sell Taiwan new military jets is yet another example of his weak leadership in foreign policy.”
In light of the vital American economic and financial relationships with the PRC, what should the U.S. stance toward Taiwan be? That’s a difficult question, and one that I’m glad I don’t have to decide how to answer.