Putting Taiwan in context

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To mark the 100th anniversary of the toppling of the Xing dynasty in China, a former U.S. representative to Taiwan gave a lecture Tuesday on Taiwan’s upcoming election.

Douglas H. Paal, vice president for studies at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and former unofficial U.S. representative to Taiwan, shared his knowledge of the current situation in Taiwan.

He felt it was important to share the historical background of the issue involving Taiwan, the U.S. and mainland China.

“I think it’s worth taking a look back at Taiwan-U.S. relations,” he said. “It helps put all of this into context.”

At the end of World War II Japan returned the ownership of the island back to mainland China, but because of poor leadership the Taiwanese revolted.

“There was a revolution and a war,” he said. “Some people rose up against heavy-handed taxation. These events seared themselves into the minds of the Taiwanese.”

He explained the Taiwanese people who lived during this time can never forget what was done to them.

“This created a bad impression of the jackboot leadership of the mainland,” he said. “Those people who came into adulthood under that leadership have remained anti-mainland.”

A large part of his lecture was dedicated to the U.S. role.

In 1996, when Taiwan held its first democratic election, Paal said China’s reaction was clumsy and the U.S. reaction was volatile.

“China sent a barrage of missiles around Taiwan when they held the election,” he said. “And the U.S. sent two naval battle groups to protect the election.”

According to Paal, there was an informal plan to go to war with the U.S. in 2007 because of what happened.

“You will struggle to find documentation on this but I am sure of it from several reliable sources,” he said.

Yet with optimism, he said things have since changed.

“By the fall of 2005 you could feel that the attitude had changed,” he said. “They wanted to start taking advantage of their relationship with China.”

Going back to the upcoming elections, Paal showed these elections can be dangerous.

“There is lots of volatility in the election,” he said. “A bullet was shot at the son of the former chairman, hitting him in the face.”

History has set the stage for a political battle that will pit the anti-mainland old-timers against the younger innovative business people of Taiwan.

He said the old-timers will vote for anyone who is against further relations with mainland China.

“They will vote for a candidate whether it’s a dog, or a cat or anything else as long as i’ts not a mainlander,” he said.

But the younger generation, those who did not experience the atrocities of the past, want to increase ties for business purposes.

The election is set for Jan. 14 and the people of Taiwan and the people of the world will watch closely as a relatively small island could have a major effect on the entire world.

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