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“If you mention the words ‘Republic of China,’ or even suggest that Taiwan isn’t a part of China in public,” a Chinese friend whis­pered to me in hushed tones in a crowded Beijing restaurant. “You will be arrested and will never be heard from again.”

This was a star­tling reminder of the oppression of China’s regime when I studied Man­darin in China over the summer. In Beijing, with its wide­spread west­ern­ization, the many Star­bucks and the elegant shopping malls, trav­elers can forget the author­i­tarian regime that lurks beneath the surface. Yet talking with Chinese people about Taiwan brought me back to  the reality that the Com­munist regime has a tight grip on its people.

The Chinese Com­munist Party indoc­tri­nates children from an early age that Taiwan right­fully belongs to China. In reality, Taiwan is a de facto inde­pendent country with a func­tioning multi-party democracy.

Recently, a Tai­wanese makeup blogger posted a video online of her recent trip to Beijing fea­turing her makeup regimen and video footage of her touring the city. Yet the somewhat mundane video attracted the ire of hun­dreds of Chinese cit­izens. Why? Because she referred to her trip as “leaving the country.”

Chinese netizens posted com­ments such as, “Calling for Tai­wanese inde­pen­dence is unfor­givable,” “Going to Beijing counts as going abroad?! You are Chinese!”

A couple years ago, Tai­wanese K-pop artist, Chou Tzu-yu, faced similar backlash after waving a small Tai­wanese flag during a tele­vision show. Chinese netizens demanded that the gov­ernment ban the group from per­forming in China. Later, Chou, 16 years old at the time, was forced to give a scripted, tearful apology, halt­ingly affirming that Taiwan is a part of China and that she is proud to be Chinese.

Most of us won’t be shocked by the rev­e­lation that China’s regime seeks to enforce its oppressive ide­ology at home and abroad, however, many Amer­icans know little about Taiwan, a small island off China’s south­eastern coast. Yet Taiwan’s key dif­fer­ences with China ought to engender the sym­pathy and support of all Amer­icans.

Taiwan and China both share the same official lan­guage — Man­darin — a similar cul­tural back­ground, and a similar cuisine. Taiwan is free and demo­c­ratic. Cit­izens enjoy the freedom of speech, press, and religion. In Taiwan, you can crit­icize the gov­ernment and protest without reper­cussion. In China, however, the Com­munist Party represses dissent, restricts indi­vidual liberty, and blocks Google and Facebook­ — nearly all western media.

With these dif­fer­ences, why does China con­tinue to insist that Taiwan is their sov­ereign ter­ritory? In 1949, the Chinese Nation­alists fled to Taiwan after defeat by the Chinese Com­mu­nists. At the time, the Chinese Nation­alist Party — or KMT — and the Chinese Com­munist Party both main­tained that they were the legit­imate gov­ernment of China.

In order to prevent war, when opening diplo­matic rela­tions with China, but the United States agreed to an amor­phous “One-China policy,” a term that everyone agreed to but defined dif­fer­ently. In other words, both the KMT and the CCP agreed that Taiwan was a part of China, but dis­agreed as to who con­sti­tuted the rightful gov­ernment of China.

Since then, while mainland China remained under com­munist rule, Taiwan grad­ually tran­si­tioned from the auto­cratic one-party system of the KMT to a multi-party democracy. Although most nations don’t rec­ognize Taiwan as its own country, Taiwan, also known by its official name, the Republic of China, enjoys de facto inde­pen­dence with its own gov­ernment, mil­itary, and eco­nomic system.

Taiwan has forged for itself a unique national identity sep­arate from China. Today, 73 percent of Tai­wanese cit­izens identify them­selves as Tai­wanese, not Chinese.

Yet  China still con­siders Taiwan its own ter­ritory. Walking down the crowded streets in Beijing, one can see signs every­where listing the “12 Core Values of Socialism,” among which are “democracy,” “freedom,” and the “rule of law.” Even as the Chinese gov­ernment pays lip-service to democracy, China can’t seem to accept that most of the 23 million people that live in Taiwan don’t want to be ruled by the Chinese Com­munist Party.

We must not allow the Com­mu­nists to rule Taiwan.

  • Arlen Tsao

    Taiwan is gov­erned by the Republic of China, a sep­arate inde­pendent country. Period. End of dis­cussion.