People of Taiwan wary of China’s reach

March 14, 2019

From the March-April 2019 issue of News & Letters

Airline pilots in Taiwan staged a week-long strike against China Airlines and won their key demands: to have three pilots assigned on flights of more than eight hours, and four pilots for flights longer than 12 hours, to combat the fatigue that puts safety at risk for crew and passengers alike. The company head agreed to sharply higher labor costs in the name of safety because pilots made him.

On Feb. 28, aging survivors of the massacre of tens of thousands on Feb. 28, 1947, at the hands of Chiang Kai-shek’s Kuomintang (Nationalist) Army gathered to remember and to oppose any movement toward unification with the China of Xi Jinping. The harshness of the Nationalist occupation, under martial law from 1949 until 1987, left many on Taiwan preferring the 50 years they had spent under Japanese imperialism. Even now, Chiang Kai-shek’s tomb has been repeatedly vandalized.

As an inducement to unification, Xi has dangled something like the “one country, two systems” autonomy offered to Hong Kong after the British ended their 150-year rule. But arrests stemming from Occupy Central mass demonstrations nearly five years ago are still being made today and are one aspect of gutting the remnants of autonomy in Hong Kong.

China’s pronouncements about seizing Taiwan by force of arms have been empty bluster. First, the U.S. made Taiwan a key part of Cold War containment. Then, for the last quarter century, Taiwan supplied much of the capital to create the world’s sweatshop based on exploiting Chinese workers. But under Xi’s Han-Chinese chauvinism and expansionism, armed conflict can no longer be entirely ruled out.

What had worried many of those survivors is the escalating repression of people in areas on the fringe of the Chinese Empire. That includes Tibet and Xinjiang, where, since 2009, Beijing first claimed Muslim terrorism as a pretext for bloody repression. By now, with concentration camps and forced transfer of Uyghurs from Xinjiang to Mongolia, it is the genocide of an ethnicity and religion.

Tools once tested against Uyghurs can oppress all. The 23 million people blocked from buying plane and train tickets for failing to show loyalty can testify to that.                                           

—Bob McGuire

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