Life & Style Weekend - - ESCAPE -

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.

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