The Magazine

How Many Chinas Are There?

A question that continues to roil Taiwan.

Nov 11, 2013, Vol. 19, No. 09 • By ETHAN EPSTEIN
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The point, though, which many willfully obscure, is that being pro-unification does not mean being pro-unification on Beijing’s terms. And so the paradox is that while Ma, at a superficial level, looks like he’s cozying up to the Communists in Beijing, his actions may represent just the opposite: His policies imply that the government in Taipei still considers all of China its territory. Cooperation with the mainland, in this case, represents expansive—and tacitly aggressive—territorial claims.

The DPP, meanwhile, which was founded in 1986 as Taiwan began its transition to democracy, has embraced the idea that the island should be independent. Indeed, as Alan Romberg, a distinguished fellow at the Stimson Center, explains, when the opposition was legalized, “an important part of its reason for being was to oppose the mainlander KMT and the notion that Taiwan had anything to do with the [mainland], historically or otherwise.” Consequently, some in the DPP have frequently suggested amending the ROC constitution.

Remarkably, given that fundamental questions over its status as a nation remain unresolved, the rest of Taiwanese politics looks a lot like that of Western Europe or the United States. There’s plenty of fighting over environmental issues, sluggish economic growth, and income inequality. That’s an achievement in itself, given the 1,600 mainland missiles pointed directly across the strait at this small island of 23 million. It also stands as a rejoinder to those who say that the Chinese aren’t “suited” to democracy. In many important ways, Taiwan is just another normal prosperous, democratic country—even if it’s still not sure that in the long run it wants to be an independent country at all.

Ethan Epstein is an assistant editor at The Weekly Standard.

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