Remembering The Formosa Incident in Kaohsiung, Taiwan, 40 Years On

taiwan-formosa.jpg Veteran Taiwan pro-democracy activists commemorate the 40th anniversary of an armed KMT crackdown on pro-democracy activists in the southern city of Kaohsiung, known as the Formosa Incident, in Taipei, Dec. 9, 2019.

Democratic Taiwan, which was itself once ruled by a one-party authoritarian state under the nationalist Kuomintang (KMT), has been vocal in support of protesters in Hong Kong and their demands for freedom and democracy in the face of growing interference from Beijing.

This year has also marked the 40th anniversary of an armed KMT crackdown on pro-democracy activists in the southern city of Kaohsiung, which became known as the Formosa Incident.

Former activists from that era told a recent conference marking the anniversary about their memories of the island's past, and their hopes for its future:

Former Kaohsiung mayor Kiku Chen hit out at former activists with the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), who had failed to attend the event, however.

"So we could unite to fight authoritarianism, but we can't reconcile today?" Chen said. "The time of fear and terror, when we dared to face down the authoritarian KMT state and martial law, is already past."

"Why can't we get together and talk about it now, and reconcile? I think it's such a shame."

Author Yang Ch'ing-Ch'u, who served jail time in the wake of the crackdown on democracy activists, warned that Taiwan needs to prepare itself to face another threat: that of interference and possible military invasion from mainland China and its ruling Communist Party.

"We were a pro-democracy movement for decades, but there's one thing I don't see us doing right now and that is making preparation," Yang said, calling for a bolder commitment to formal independence from Taiwan president Tsai Ing-wen.

"Tsai Ing-wen has been suspected of trying to play it safe in the past, and yet premier William Lai has stated his support for independence for Taiwan," Yang said. "We trust that."

"Nobody wants to hear [statements] that are afraid to offend the Chinese Communist Party, that daren't explain clearly what Taiwan independence is all about, and daren't say that it is both a peaceful aspiration and a realistic one," Yang said.

"People will only respect Taiwan if it is a country, not if it's just a province."

A nation in its own right

Taiwan began a transition to democracy following the death of Chiang Ching-kuo in January 1988, starting with direct elections to the legislature in the early 1990s and culminating in the first direct election of a president, Lee Teng-hui, in 1996.

It has never been controlled by the Chinese Communist Party, nor formed part of the People's Republic of China.

Chinese president Xi Jinping said in a Jan. 2 speech that Taiwan must be "unified" with China. The People's Liberation Army (PLA) echoed the sentiment in a military white paper in July.

Tsai has repeatedly responded that Taiwan's 23 million population have no wish to give up their sovereignty.

Taiwan was ruled as a Japanese colony in the 50 years prior to the end of World War II, but was handed back to the 1911 Republic of China under the KMT as part of Tokyo's post-war reparation deal.

Yang called on Tsai's administration, which is seeking re-election in 2020, to start thinking about building up Taiwan as a nation in its own right, rather than as the last remnant of the KMT's 1911 Republic of China, which fled to the islands of Taiwan, Penghu, Kinmen and Matsu after losing the civil war to Mao Zedong's communists in 1949.

Rights activist Linda Arrigo said the DPP had done little to advance the cause of independence during the past 30 years, even after Taiwan's political system metamorphosed into a fully functioning democracy.

She said Taiwan's 23 million people should decide for themselves via referendum whether they want independence or reunification with China.

"Now that the rest of the world is paying attention to Hong Kong ... this may be the last opportunity for Taiwan to speak out," Arrigo told RFA. "It's not just Hong Kong, but Taiwan too, that could get pulled into the Chinese [Communist Party] system."

"There is a huge amount of infiltration everywhere, and a lack of willingness to challenge China," she said. "Right now is a crucial time in determining Taiwan's fate."

Republic of Taiwan

Former top DPP official Yao Chia-wen also called on the Taiwan government to start describing themselves as the Republic of Taiwan.

"Taiwan has long been a country, but the name Republic of China has stuck," he said. "The DPP needs to change it to the Republic of Taiwan."

He said Taiwan is described as the Republic of Taiwan in the party's constitution, and that the moniker Taiwan, Republic of China, carries no legal meaning.

Politician and former democracy activist Chen Chung-hsin, who once edited the opposition Formosa Magazine, said the Chinese Communist Party is a more worrying enemy than the KMT was.

"The danger we are facing is a political party that is even more trouble than the KMT," Chen said. "Back then, the Kuomintang was an authoritarian government, but now we are dealing with a party that is part Marxist-Leninist and part Emperor Qin Shihuang [who unified China in 256 B.C.].

Former DPP chairman Hsu Hsin-liang said the DPP should beware of failing to stand on its original platform.

"If the people of Taiwan lose their resolve, and if we elect a president who won't declare independence .. then the Formosa Incident of 40 years ago will no longer be a proud part of our history," Hsu said. "It will become a historical joke, and everything the people of Taiwan have done in the past 40 years to fight for democracy will become history."

Reported by Hsia Hsiao-hwa for RFA's Mandarin Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.


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