Ten Questions and answers About Taiwan today

Q: 1. Is Taiwan part of China?

A: Taiwan has only been under the control of China's government for four years of this century. Following periods of Dutch, Spanish, and Chinese rule, Japan ruled the island from 1895 to 1945, and there is a strong legal case to be made that the people of the island should determine its future international status, without interference form their own government of China. However, the present government of Taiwan and the government of mainland China both insist that Taiwan is an integral part of China.

Q: 2. How did the present government come to power in Taiwan?

A: In 1945, the Chinese Nationalists(KMT) occupied the island on behalf of the Allied powers. Not until Dec. 21,1991 have the present authorities ever held a general parliamentary election on the island, but instead transferred their parliament from China to Taiwan after the Communists took over. The surviving members of the legislature have not faced elections since 1948, till 1991.

Q: 3. Is Taiwan a democratic country?

A: No. The people cannot change the government through the electoral process, and although the government has lifted martial law and other emergency regulations, it continues to place serious restraints on civil and political rights. Yet, under pressure from grass-roots organizations and the democratic movement, Taiwan's government has been forced to make political reforms in recent years. There is greater freedom of expression and freedom to organize than during the martial law period(1949-1987). There will be elections for most parliamentary seats in 1996. However, there will still be seats representing China in the parliament, and it remains to be seen whether the KMT will let itself be voted out of office.

Q: 4. What is the human rights situation in Taiwan?

A: While the number of political prisoners is much smaller than it was just a few years ago, the government continues to jail non-violent dissidents, especially those who advocate independence(i.e., Taiwan's permanent separation from China) or criticize the military.

Q: 5. Who are Taiwan's people?

A: Most of people(nearly 70%) who now live on the island are descended form immigrants from China's Fukien Province, and are called Hoklo. About 10-15% of the population has roots in Kwangtung Province, and are called Hakka. Another 12-15% are more recent refugees form China and their Taiwan-born families. They came form various Chinese provinces and ethnic groups, and fled to Taiwan when the Communists took over the mainland. The remaining two percent come from nine non-Chinese Aborigine tribes, which occupied Taiwan before the first Chinese settlers arrived. Many Hoklo and Hakka have some Aborigine blood. Excluding the China-born inhabitants, all of these people can be called Taiwanese, although the word is also sometimes used to refer to the Hoklo people alone.

Q: 6. Isn't Taiwan's culture basically Chinese?

A: Chinese culture has exerted considerable influence, but so have Japanese and Western culture. And there are some uniquely Taiwanese aspects of local culture as well, such as opera, folk music, literature, and film.

Q: 7. What is the economic situation in Taiwan?

A: There is much greater economic freedom in Taiwan today than in China. Many people own small businesses and factories. However, the government plays a major role in the economy through the ownership of major companies, fiscal and monetary polices, economic plans, licensing and contracts and political connections with corporate leaders.

Q: 8. Is Taiwan prevented from having normal international relations?

A: Yes. There still are very few governments which officially recognize Taiwan, and Taiwan belongs to only a few international organizations, where it usually sits as a "province of China". If the people of Taiwan want the international community to support their desire to decide their future peacefully and by themselves, they have to be part of that international community. Also there are many social and economic problems caused by the lack of formal ties. With the admission of the two Koreas and the Baltics to the United Nations, there is hope that Taiwan can become a member as well.

Q: 9. Dose China really pose a threat to Taiwan?

A: The people of Taiwan have got to view China's threat to use force, if necessary, to "recover" Taiwan, as serious, especially after the June 1989 massacres of Chinese students by the PRC government. Obviously, it would be costly for China to make good on this threat, but not impossible. This is why Taiwanese must rejoin the international community and insist that the future of Taiwan is an international issue.

Q: 10. Could Taiwan be a viable independent country?

A: Of course. It has the world's 25th largest economy and is the world's 13th most important trading nation. It has trade links to almost every other country. It has more people than about 75% of the members of the United Nations. Its people are ready for nationhood.

SUMMARY

Taiwan today is undergoing rapid and dynamic changes in political, economic, and social spheres. After decades of authoritarian rule by the Chinese Nationalist Party(Kuomintang, or KMT), grass-roots groups around the island are pressing for genuine self-rule and self-determination. The economy faces major challenges, as rising wage rates have made Taiwan's goods less competitive internationally, and as rapid industrialization has exacted a devastation toll upon the island's fragile environment. Socially, Taiwan must ensure in the years to come that women, ethic minority group members, the handicapped, and other groups receive their fair share of the fruits of economic growth. Culturally, there is a struggle between the growing "Taiwan consciousness" of those who identify primarily with the island and government's "we are all Chinese" policy. Internationally, Taiwan must grapple with diplomatic isolation that contrasts sharply with its economic power and a complex relationship with China, which insists that it has sovereignty over the island.
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