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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.