TAIWAN KEEN TO LEAVE DRAMATIC PAST BEHIND
Taiwan is a small island with a big history – and it’s complicated.
Though a relatively young land form (about 70 million years old), it has been home to Malayo-Polynesian peoples for thousands of years.
Visited by the Dutch and Spanish in the early 17th century, it has often been ruled by Chinese factions fleeing the mainland.
For the first half of the 20th century the island was under Japanese control but this ended after World War II.
In the late 1940s, a civil war in mainland China between the ruling Republic of China government and the Chinese Communist Party meant 1.2 million Chinese and the ROC government moved to Taiwan (the island still carries the name).
What followed was the “white terror”, a bleak period in the island’s history.
Martial law brought corruption, violence and totalitarian rule. Thousands were killed, with estimates as high as 28,000.
But small voices for reform planted the seeds of democracy.
Martial law ended in 1987 and the first fair elections were organised. Today the ruling Democratic Progressive Party is expanding the 30-year tradition of democracy. Elected by a landslide in 2016, the woman at its helm, Tsai Ing-Wen, is forging a social agenda and is keen to build connections with Taiwan’s southern neighbours, including Australia.
But China is keen to return the “renegade” island to its grasp and block Taiwan’s connections with the global community.
Most countries, including Australia, do not have formal diplomatic ties with Taiwan. In May this year, Australia hosted the Kimberley Process Meeting, an international forum to halt the trade in ‘conflict diamonds’.
As host, Australia invited a delegation from Taiwan to sit in.
China disrupted the opening ceremony, loudly protesting the Taiwanese presence.
Although Australia complained behind the scenes, it is a telling comment on China’s world status that the Taiwanese delegation was removed.
But it is no coincidence that Taiwan’s national flower is the plum blossom, renowned for its resilience in the harsh winters.
Taiwan is growing its economic and human ties with like-minded democracies, building its “friendship assets” from the bottom up.