Back to Important Issues
 

Back to TAHW

 
Back to TAHW 2000
    Prof. Chen TAHW Speech

Taiwanese American Heritage Week, 2000

Wen-yen Chen, President, FAPA

May 20, 2000 in San Diego, CA

Mr. Chairman, Distinguished Guests, Friends, and Fellow Taiwanese American:

Thank you, Mr. Chairman for this nice introduction. It is a great honor to be here tonight to see so many old and new friends and to join you to celebrate the Taiwanese American Heritage Week as part of a month long cerebration of Asia Pacific Heritage. I am very impressed by the sponsoring organizations for putting up such a fabulous program to celebrate Taiwanese American Heritage Week. FAPA takes pride to initiate this celebration two years ago. This is the occasion to celebrate the unique and diverse contributions of Taiwanese Americans to the American society and to solidify our community pride. We hope this celebration would become the tradition of our community.

To mark the Taiwanese American Heritage week, President Clinton said in his statement, and I quote, "Throughout our nation’s history, Americans have drawn strength, hope, and inspiration from their ethnic heritage. Our ancestors came from every corner of the world, bring the myriad cultures, experiences, and beliefs that shape our nation today. A vibrant part of that legacy, the people and culture of Taiwan have made invaluable contributions to every sector of our society."

Taiwan’s President-elect Chen Shui-bian, in recognition of Taiwanese American’s contribution to Taiwan’s democratization, said in a letter to us to celebrate Taiwanese American Heritage Week, and I quote, " I would like to recognize the extraordinary achievements of Taiwanese Americans, from business to the arts, from academia to high tech. Your are the pride of all Taiwanese people. I also want to thank you for being willing to come back to contribute your expertise for a better, more modern Taiwan. It is because of your efforts over the years to seek U.S. guarantees of support for Taiwan and for peace in the Taiwan Strait that full democratic reform and a peaceful transition of power could take place in Taiwan. We specially recognize the immense support Taiwan has received from the U.S. Congress as due to your long-term efforts to establish close ties with Members of Congress. In the future, my government will need even more support and effort from you in order to strengthen and upgrade U.S.-Taiwan relations."

Many senators and representatives also join us in cerebrating our heritage week. Senator Feingold from Wisconsin, Senator Torricelli of New Jersey, Representative Nita Lowey from New York, Representative Bob Schaffer from Colorado, Representative Robert Wexler from Florida, Representative Tom Tancredo of Colorado, Representative Steve Chabot of Ohio, Representative David Wu from Oregon, Sherrod Brown of Ohio, and Peter Deutsch of Florida have all joined President Clinton and President-elect Chen Shui-bian in paying tribute to Taiwanese Americans' achievements and their contributions to the American society and Taiwan's democratic reform.

Although this is the time to celebrate our heritage and achievement in this land of opportunity, this is also the occasion for us to reflect upon ourselves to know who we are and where we came from.

Almost all of us are the first generation of Taiwanese Americans who came to this country thirty years ago either as students or immigrants to realize our American dreams. Although we are working in different professions and in different fields, we are a very close knit community. We celebrate together and support each other during difficulty times. What binds us together are our common culture and heritage. Through hard work and traditional Taiwanese value of emphasizing education, we have become one of the very successful minorities in the United States. We not only achieve the material success we are also very successful in raising our children. I had opportunities attending several meetings organized by our second generation youngsters called ITASA, Intercollegiate Taiwanese Students Association. I was very impressed by the talents and abilities of so many Taiwanese American children who attend the best colleges and universities throughout the nation. They are our future and they are source of our pride. Looking at these young men and women and see what they can do for the community, I am very confident that our community will have a very bright future.

The Taiwanese Americans have very short history of immigration. It began in 1950s and early 60s. Most of us came to the United States originally not as immigrants but rather as students pursuing our advanced degrees. Back then, there were very few universities in Taiwan offering graduate programs and anyone who was motivated to pursue graduate studies had to go abroad and the United States was the first choice. We have many stories to tell. I remember when I first came to New York, I had only 300 dollars in my pocket. I spent $60 dollars for a room, $50 for a winter coat, and $20 dollars for a radio. There was very little left, but that was how I started my life in the United States. I am sure you have similar stories to share.

The number of Taiwanese Americans in that period of time was very small, perhaps about several thousand. After they completed their advanced degrees and for various reasons, political or economical, many of us chose to stay and eventually became the citizens of the United States.

By 1980, according to the U.S. census, there were only about 17,000 FAPA respondents who identify themselves as Taiwanese Americans. In 1980, through the work of FAFA predecessor organization, the U.S. Congress passed the law to allocate an annual 20,000 immigration quota specifically for people from Taiwan, independent from those of China. From that year on, there had been a steady influx of Taiwanese immigrants to the United States. By 1990, again, according to the U.S. census, there were about 350,000 immigrants who identify themselves as Taiwanese Americans. The number is still very small comparing with other minorities. Half of them lived in California. They were young and their median age was only 30s. It is estimated that the number of Taiwanese Americans perhaps will be over a half million by the year of 2000. Looking at numbers, you can see that Taiwanese Americans are a minority among minorities.

However, what the Taiwanese Americans lack in number they make up by quality. Taiwanese Americans are quite unique in their educational level and accomplishment. According to 1990 census, about 40% of Taiwanese Americans were college graduates, 8% of them have doctoral degrees. They are at the top among Asian American groups in terms of education attainment. 71% of Taiwanese Americans own houses, and among Taiwanese American working women and men, 48% are either professionals or hold managerial positions.

There are many well known Taiwanese Americans who distinguished themselves in their respective fields. They contribute their talents to their adopted nation in medicine, science, engineer, education, industries and business. The best known Taiwanese American, perhaps, is Dr. Lee yuan-tse who won a Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1986 and now is the president of Taiwan's Academica Sinica.

The development of Taiwanese American community is closely linked to the political development in Taiwan. Many people believe that the seeds of Taiwan's democratization are planted by overseas Taiwanese, particularly those in Japan and the United States. Many of you here tonight in many different ways have made many contributions to the development of Taiwan's democracy. I believe that all of us must be very proud of being a part of this great achievement.

The desire to see Taiwan become a free democracy, and the right of Taiwanese people to determine their own future, to be independent from China's control has been the primary force that unites our community together.

This movement commonly known as "Taiwan Independence Movement" was first started in 1956 in Philadelphia by a group of Taiwanese students called themselves Free Formosans' Formosa (3F) and two years later changed it to the United Formosans for Independence (UFI). They openly advocate the idea that Taiwan should become and be recognized as an independent country. Their idea was radical and posed a great challenge to Chiang Kai-shek's regime. It was extremely courageous for them to speak up the idea, because promoting Taiwan independence was a capital crime in Taiwan at that time.

As the idea of Taiwan independent spurted in 1960s, small groups of Taiwanese began to organize a social club called Formosan Club which was the predecessor of Taiwanese Association of America TAA. Although Formosan Club was ostensibly a social and apolitical organization, those who joined the club mostly shared the idea that Taiwan must one day be free and democratic..

That was the beginning of Taiwanese organization and the prevailing political ideology of our community. TAA has been the magnet of our community ever since

Later on, as Taiwan quickened its pace of democratization, there were many Taiwanese American organizations established to deal with various issues related to Taiwan. These organizations include North America Taiwanese Professors Association, Formosan Association for Public Affairs, North America Medical Association, North America Women' Association, just to name a few. Each of these organizations in its own way has contributed to the democratization of Taiwan.

Taiwan in the 60s, 70s, and 80s was ruled by the remnant of KMT forces who were defeated by Communists in 1940s. Taiwan then was tightly controlled by martial law and ruled by a harsh, authoritarian regime. I am sure many of you still remember the life under that regime.

Taiwan today is completely different. The political transformation from an authoritarian to a democratic state is amazing. It is one of the remarkable political achievement in the 20th century. It was all accomplished peacefully without blood shed and with little social upheaval. Taiwan now is ranked as one of the freest nations in the world. Its people enjoy all the freedoms that are protected under constitution. And their human rights are no longer an issue in Taiwan.

The inauguration of Chen shui-bian yesterday marked another historical turning point in Taiwan's political history. It shows how democracy in Taiwan has flourished and matured. This is the first time in Taiwan's history that the political power was peacefully handed over from a dominate ruling party which has ruled Taiwan for 50 years to an opposition party.

Even more remarkable is the fact that while undertaking political transformation, Taiwan also achieves one of the economical miracles in Asia. It is the 14th largest trading nation in the world. 7th largest trading partner of the United States, and one of the largest holders of foreign reserve. It is also interesting to know that the trade between the U.S. and Taiwan, an island nation of 23 million people, is more than the trade between the U.S. and China, a country of 1.2 billion people. Taiwan is also the third largest manufacturer of computers in the world.

As Taiwanese Americans, we all very proud of what our homeland have achieved in the past fifteen years politically and economically.

However, just ten years ago Taiwan was quite a different place. I remember in 1989 and 1991 when I was in Taiwan observing elections, the opposition party was prohibited from advocating certain sensitive issues such as independence and self-determination. Those dared to promote self-determination risked being charged with sedition punishable by long jail sentences and even death.

I also remember in 1989 and 1991 while were in Taipei, we were keenly aware that we were constantly followed by secret security agents. I was forced out of a taxi by security agent several times to show my ID on the way to my hotel after attending a political rally. Hotel clerk told us afterwards that security agents had been looking for our whereabouts.

Now Taiwanese have enjoyed the total freedom free from fear of being watched and under surveillance.

These sea changes, of course, did not occur over night. It took courage, sacrifices, and even lives of many brave men and women to bring about these changes.

During 1950s and 60s, under Chiang's oppressive rule and martial law, a small group of elite Chinese mainlanders and Taiwanese intellectuals through their publication called "Free China" attempted to organize an opposition party to challenge Chiang's authoritarian regime and his fictitious goal of retaking mainland China. The leaders were silenced and attempt failed. In 1970s, Taiwan underwent a rapid industrialization and economic development. The ensuing formation of business and middle class demanded greater voices in political process. This demand translated into the support of "Dong Wai", outside the KMT party. At that time organizing a political party, particularly the opposition party, was illegal. In 1977 "Don Wai" won a significant victory in local election, and a charge of election fraud in Chung-li led to the biggest riot since 1947.

1970 also marked a period of significant changes in Taiwan's international relations. In 1971, Chiang's representatives were expelled from the United Nations. Many countries also began to shift their diplomatic recognition from the Republic of China to the People's Republic of China. In 1972 Nixon traveled to China and, in a joint communiqué, the United States acknowledges that both sides of the Taiwan Strait maintain there is one China and Taiwan is a part of China. The right of Taiwanese people to determine their future was totally ignored in the international geopolitics. In 1979, in a final blow to the Chinag's regime, the United States formally established a diplomatic relations with Beijing and began an official relations with Taiwan based on Taiwan Relations Act.

As Taiwan became more and more isolated in the international community, the demands for democratic reform in Taiwan grew stronger. In 1979, Formosa Magazine organized a human rights rally in Kaohsiung in commemorating UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The rally provoked by government secret agents, turned into a riot, and government used it as a pretense to arrest fifty prominent opposition leaders who had spoken out in favor of democratic reforms or independence. This incidence, now we call Kaohsing incidence, represents the most significant crackdown on dissidents since 1947. It also represents turning point in Taiwan's democratization, for this time, unlike the aftermath of 228 in 1947, Taiwanese people in Taiwan and abroad were not to be intimidated and silenced. Relatives, lawyers of jailed dissidents and young leaders of the opposition movement continued to press for a respect of human rights, democracy, and rights of Taiwanese people to decide their own future.

Protests and demonstrations continued through 1980s. Issues such as lifting martial law, parliamentary reform, environmental protection, women's rights, academic freedom, and censorship had attracted much attention in Taiwan and abroad. In a most defiant move, the opposition leaders in 1986, in spite of government ban, formed Democratic Progressive Party. The party took a even more bold stand by incorporating Taiwan Independence position into its charter in 1991. Although the KMT regime continued using censorship and arrest to stem the tide of democracy movement, it finally yielded to the pressure from the people of Taiwan and international opinion by lifting the martial law in 1987, the longest martial law in human history.

After Chiang Ching Kuo died in 1988 and Lee Teng Hui took over the presidency, the pace of political reform accelerated. We saw removal of so call "Temporary Provision" and "Mobilization Period for the Suppression of the Communist Rebellion" from the Constitution and "Statute for the Punishment of Sedition", a device used to suppress dissidents. And we also saw students' involvement in demanding further political reform, leading to an opening of National Affairs Conference and the eventual dissolution of National Assembly made of 700 "old thieves" and a new parliamentary election in 1991.

All o f these development reached its climax in 1996 when Taiwanese people for the first time in their 400 years of history elected their own president in spite of missile threat from China.

And democracy marches on. In 1997, Democratic Progressive Party surprised everybody by capturing a majority votes in local election. The party is now ruling over 70% of the population. The significance of this election was that it showed that the Taiwanese voters had the confidence in a party that had written Taiwan Independence position into their platforms. The rising power of the DPP reflects a dynamics of democracy in Taiwan.

Yesterday, we saw another milestone in Taiwan's democratic development. An opposition party associated with Taiwan Independence was sworn in as the President of Taiwan. The Taiwanese people elected Mr. Chen in spite of constant intimidation, White Paper, and military threat from China during election campaign. The voice of Taiwanese people has spoken loud and clear.

The rising sentiment for an independence country is also shown in the public opinion. Recent polls have shown that a majority of Taiwanese now has identified themselves as Taiwanese, and people in favor of independence or maintaining status quo are far more than those in favor of unification with China.

Ten years ago, Taiwan Independence, TI was a rarely spoken word. It was a taboo, a forbidden word, a word that has negative connotation associated with danger and subversion, and few people took it seriously. Now, it is becoming a household vocabulary, and a distinctive possibility. Even a major magazine, U.S. News and World Report, for instance, published an article using such provocative title as "Spirit of Independence: One Taiwan, One China." This development, of course, has many implications for the U.S. and the world.

During these dark days of political reforms , many Taiwanese Americans extended their helping hands to support those who were prosecuted and jailed. They lobbied their congressmen to speak for human rights and democracy and political reform.

Taiwan's achievement toward democracy has received high praises from the world. U.S. commentators called it a political miracle, the greatest political transformation in the 20th century. And yet Taiwan is not readily accepted into the community of nations such as United Nations and other international organizations. Nations such as Cuba, North Korea, Iran, Iraq, and Libya, the so called rogue nations are members of many international organizations. Yet, Taiwan, a democracy, a free country, and an economic powerhouse has been excluded from the international community. It has diplomatic relations with only about 29 small countries.

The roots of the problem as you all know are the China's unjustified claim that Taiwan is part of China and KMT's faulty policy of the past. Is Taiwan a part of China? I do not intent to engage in historical and legal expose here.

The most important fact is that the People's Republic of China since its establishment in 1949, has never ruled Taiwan for a single day. Taiwan is a de facto independent nation. It has its own elected president, territory, effective government, and a proud and industrious people who wish to manage their own affairs. The international community should respect and support the Taiwanese people's right to make that choice.

As China opens its door, develops its economy, modernizes it military forces, China is becoming a power that the world has to reckon with. And China is using its growing power to further isolate Taiwan and attempts to force Taiwan to negotiate away its future.

In this era of geopolitics, Taiwan indeed is facing a very difficult situation and its very survival is at stake. However, we do not believe that the people of Taiwan after so many years of struggle are willing to trade away their economic fruits, freedom, and democracy. I do not believe that Taiwanese people are willing to live under a umbrella of a totalitarian regime that denies its citizens' human rights, suppress its minorities and their culture, and shot its citizens during a peaceful demonstration in Tienanman Square in 1989.

The people in Taiwan definitely need a lot of international support, particularly the support of the United States government and American people. We believe that the support of the United States is vital to the survival of Taiwan, because the United States is the only superpower in the world that can stand up against China.

Here, we, Taiwanese Americans, can play a very significant role. We must ,first, constantly remind our government that the United States not only has the legal obligation under Taiwan Relations Act to help Taiwan defend itself, our government also has moral responsibility to support a young democracy from being taken over by a communist dictator by force.

Second, we must challenge the so called "One China" policy. The "One China' policy was formulated during the peak of the cold war in 1970s. The cold war is over and this policy clearly does not reflect the reality. In a span of thirty years since Shanghai communiqué, things have changed dramatically. Taiwan is now a full-fledged democracy and the will of the Taiwanese people must be fully respected. It is about time for the United States to reexamine its policy toward Taiwan in line with the development of democracy in this island nation.

Third, we call upon the U.S. Senate to pass the Taiwan Security Enhancement Act. In the past several years, we have seen constant threats from China. In 1996 during Taiwan's first presidential election, China launched test missiles to intimidate Taiwanese people. This year, although no missile was launched, China has repeatedly threatened to use force if Taiwanese voters elects pro-independence candidate. It also published so called White paper dictating the conditions for surrender. The Chinese primer Chu Rong Chi repeatedly warned the Taiwanese people of dire consequences if they voted for Mr. Chen.

To back up their threat, China has deployed at least 200 medium and short range missiles aiming at Taiwan. Taiwanese people have been living constant fear of war. Because of China is rapidly modernizing its forces, Taiwan's ability to defend itself is eroding. A recent classified Pentagon report clearly shows that because of diplomatic isolation, Taiwanese forces have suffered many deficiencies. Passage of this bill will help strengthen Taiwanese forces to defend themselves. We believe deterrence with strength is the best means to maintain peace.

My fellow Taiwanese Americans, we have helped Taiwan achieve its democratization. Now, we are facing another challenge that is even more formidable and daunting. It requires all of us working together again with new vision and resolve. What we are facing now is not the issue of Taiwan's democracy and human rights. It is the issue of survival as a nation. We must roll up our selves and continue our work to make sure that this young democracy Taiwan will survive, flourish, and become an equal and full member of the international community.

Finally, I would like to take this opportunity to thank you all for your unyielding support of the Formosan Association for Public Affairs. If FAPA has accomplished anything in the past years, it is because of our competent and dedicated staff, our members, and particularly our community. Your support is the source of encouragement, knowing that we have a whole community behind us. For this, I am deeply grateful.

Thank you very much for listening.

 

 
Any questions? Please email: home@fapa.org