If You Want Peace, You Must Not Keep Hurting Taiwan

(China Times)  If You Want Peace, You Must Not Keep Hurting Taiwan.  By Lung Ying-tai (龍應台).  May 18, 2007.  Public speech on May 17, 2007 at Cambridge University, England.

[in translation]

We all know that the Taiwan strait is one of the "danger zones" in the world.  Five to six hundred missiles are located on the Chinese coast and aimed at the Taiwan islands.  It is actually astonishing why so many missiles are needed against such a small island.  The area of China is 256 times that of Taiwan and the population size is 58 times as big.  How far apart are the two coasts?  From the Matsu coast, you can see the people walking on the opposite side.  A fighter plane pilot said that it takes 6 minutes to go from Hsin Chu Airport to reach the opposite shore.

It is no exaggeration for the Taiwanese people to say that the Taiwan strait could be an "ignition point" that threatens world peace.  "Ignition" is no joke.  On the fewer than 150 square kilometers of Kinmen island, there are 1,500,000 bombs or about 10,000 bombs per square kilometer.  This does not include the 500,000 land mines and 500,000 gun shells.  The 70,000 inhabitants of Kinmen island get to "share" 22 bombs, 8 land mines and 44 gun shells each.  The ammunition depots on Taiwan often explode.

War is not far back in our memories.  For the 20 years after 1958, about 1,000,000 explosive bombs crashed into the ground at Kinmen.  We grew up in a state of "wartime."  Before I was 12 years old, I had already acted many times in school plays as a little soldier carrying a rifle on my back and killing "enemies" with a bayonet.  Before I was 18 years old, I had participated in numerous "Mandarin oration performances" to offer my wisdom and impassioned views on "recovering the mainland and saving the compatriots."

The seafaring fishermen were under strict control.  For "safety" reasons, they were not permitted to have adequate communication equipment.  When the storms came, they faced the fate of sinking into the ocean.  We have 1,500 kilometers of sea coast.  But the sea coast was a military zone and therefore many people do not know how to swim.  We are afraid of the ocean.

We are familiar with the so-called "siege mentality."

In 1979, I met the first "Chinese person" from mainland China.  In comparing our growing-up process, we found that we were actually very much alike: he had played a little soldier who "killed enemies" and he participated in oration competitions and sang innumerable patriotic songs.  Our differences were: his "heros" and "martyrs" were my "traitors" and "sinners"; my "great men" and "saviors" were his "bandits" and "gangs."  The word "revolution" sounded terrifying to me, but it was righteous to him.  When he said "left," he meant "reactionary," backwards and conservative, which is "right" for me.

Was there so much difference between our values?  At the deeper level of values, we are actually identical to each other.  Heros and martyrs, traitors and sinners.  The names were changed but the standards for telling good from bad were identical.

The difference began to show after Taiwan officially became a democratic society in 1987.  In Taiwan, the singular "Grand Narrative" and the sole "Truth" were replaced by many "small narratives."  Any grand concept was superseded by the small narratives of personal values.  Any consensus had to go through struggling and fighting.  Democracy led to a deep transformation of the value system of Taiwanese people: the relationship between the national collective whole and the individual including the beliefs about the rights and obligations between the two became different from Taiwan before and with the present China in a fundamental way.

Human rights is one of the core values in a democratic system.  On this key concept, there is a serious divergence between Taiwan and mainland China.  When I bring up the words "human rights" and "China" at the same time, you must think that I am going to talk about the number of writers and reporters who have been sent to jail, or the number of death penalties in China each year, or the number of peasant homes that were demolished with their inhabitants left homeless.  You are western Europeans and I believe that you must have heard enough about human rights being discussed this way.  This is the mainstream approach in western Europe.  I would rather offer a different angle for you.

It is true that the control of speech is a daily reality in China.  Following the development of science and technology, the technology to control people and media are also changing.  But at the same time that we watch the collective controls, we cannot help but see the ongoing changes.  In 2005, it is estimated that more than 90,000 large-scale mass demonstrations and protests occurred in China.  This showed that the people's awareness of their rights has grown rapidly.  The year 2003 was even referred to as the Year of Rights Defense by the Chinese media: young lawyers helped farmers to sue the government for violating their rights; the middle-class went to court to defend their private property; the parents fought for the right of education; dog lovers marched in the street to call for respect of the rights of pets, etc.

I recognize that China is not just a single slab of iron.  Its values are also in the process of being divided.  In the inside part which we cannot see too clearly, the various values are combatting in a seesaw battle.  The responsibility of the global community is to know this new China with the changing values.  Then we will know what to do and what not to do so, that the rational, open and peaceful half of the forces in the seesaw battle of values can gain the upper hand.

Perhaps you wonder, Is there a human rights problem with Taiwan?

Put it this way -- suppose we have a small community here.  For what reasons do we have to not permit the people from this community to attend any conference or participate in any decisions.  We do not allow them to appear at any important festive, mourning or memorial functions.  Furthermore, we forbid the leaders of this community to step out of their community and enter our area.  Worse yet, if there is a huge fire, we will not notify them.  We don't even allow them to call themselves by their own name.

Please ask yourselves: Why is this not a violation of human rights?

In terms of economic power, Taiwan is the fifteenth largest economic system in the world.  In terms of population size, Taiwan is the 48th largest in the more than 200 nations of the world.  But Taiwan has been excluded from almost all international organizations.  It has to spend money to "buy" diplomacy.  When its leader travels abroad, he is insulted and humiliated.  In 2006, President Chen Shui-bian went on the "lost" international mission.  Although his personal ways can be criticized, the humiliation heaped on him was not just his personal one.  It was a humiliation of all the people of Taiwan.

The international community knows about the political isolation of Taiwan.  But I think that the international community has no awareness whatsoever about the depth and breadth of this isolation and the degree of damage done to the people of Taiwan.  This is not just about the "isolation" of Taiwan in the realm of politics, but the "isolation" pervades at all levels: art, academics, public health, education, every field.  Using art an example, Taiwan cannot be represented in the public national museum venue at the Venice Art Exposition.  Instead, it must find another venue for which it has to worry about being able to retain for the next year.

The most prominent and acute example is the SARS episode.  When the epidemic broke out, Taiwan health officials immediately contact the World Health Organisation for information and assistance.  They received the response, "You are not a member.  Please go and talk to Beijing."  But during the initial stages when the epidemic first broke out, the Beijing officials were not even prepared to deal with their own problems.

The 23 million people in Taiwan went through a martial law period of 37 years.  Martial law meant a form of siege.  After the martial law period, there was another 35 years of international blockade up to now.  After 37 years of martial law and 35 years of blockage, there has to be some "symptoms."  In 2006, the survey results from a certain Taiwan magazine are astonishing.

You should not think that this survey was conducted in some remote village.  No, the principal sample came from Taipei, and the people of Taipei are supposed to have the highest educational level in the Chinese world.

The so-called international world has become a common global community.  But the people of Taiwan have been deprived of the social and cultural rights to participate in this global community.  Do you know that the deprivation of social and cultural rights is against the United Nations' Universal Declaration of Human Rights?  Please read Articles 2 and 22 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights:

Article 2: Everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration, without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status. Furthermore, no distinction shall be made on the basis of the political, jurisdictional or international status of the country or territory to which a person belongs, whether it be independent, trust, non-self-governing or under any other limitation of sovereignty.

Article 22: Everyone, as a member of society, has the right to social security and is entitled to realization, through national effort and international co-operation and in accordance with the organization and resources of each State, of the economic, social and cultural rights indispensable for his dignity and the free development of his personality.

The western European countries are members of the United Nations.  I ask how you would explain the spirit of these two articles to the children of Taiwan.

37 years of self-imposed blockage and 35 years of forced blockage.  No matter whether it was self-imposed or forced, aren't the people innocent?  The international isolation and "abandonment" of Taiwan made the people of Taiwan feel that they are being "punished" because they fought for democracy.  The global community watch coldly that one generation after another of Taiwan children grow up in the global village, they are talented and they work hard, but they are deprived of their global citizenship as well as the basic dignity of citizens.

The damage from this deprivation is twofold:

1. Democracy in Taiwan cannot be improved materially.  You tell me whether a society that cannot participate in international affairs, that cannot gain experience from international affairs and cannot that fulfill its international duties and obligations can possibly become a democracy with better quality?

2. The continuation of the isolation of Taiwan and the repeated defeats inflicted on its people has caused greater hostility towards the "originator" of the isolation: China.  As the desire to oppose or separate from China grows, the possibility of conflict in the Taiwan strait becomes higher.

The international community should care about the situation of Taiwan not just for the sake of the people of Taiwan, but also for the sake of the security of the global village itself.  The logic is actually simple: on the path of China's question for modernization, the Taiwan experience -- whether the good or the bad part -- should be an importance reference point for China.  If an open and rational China with citizen participation is essential to world peace and stability, then the global community must not ignore the importance of Taiwan.  That is to say, the more the global community supports and looks after democracy in Taiwan, the more guarantee there is for stability in the Taiwan strait and world peace.

You cannot ignore the international blockade of Taiwan and the deprivation of global citizenship to the children of Taiwan.  This has to stop, not just for Taiwan but for the sake of international peace.

Related Link: The <Far and Wide Weekly> Interview of Lung Ying-tai; How Different are the Chinese?