Google: Taiwan is Taiwan

Battles over Internet freedom, corporate responsibility, and Taiwan intersect in latest episode

By Leeshai Lemish
Special to The Epoch Times
Oct 13, 2005

Temporarily quieting outrage over its bowing to pressure from Beijing, Google recognized that Taiwan is not really a province of China.

Up until last Sunday, Google Maps listed the island as “Taiwan, Province of China.” But a series of vociferous protests led to Google changing the listing to simply “Taiwan.”

“Taiwan is an independent, sovereign state. Taiwan is not part of China,” Taiwan Solidarity Union legislative caucus whip David Huang said, according to the Taipei Times . Protests began registering at least as early as mid-September, but picked up last week. Taiwan’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Mark Chen took a public stance last Thursday. Also that day, the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office in San Francisco (which would, under any other circumstances, be known as the Taiwanese Consulate) delivered a protest to the company’s headquarters. During a radio interview last Friday, Taiwan’s Vice-President Annette Lu said that Google owes Taiwan an apology.

Ex-pats Chip In

Expatriate communities on both sides of the Pacific got involved as well. On Tuesday Taiwanese residing in California’s Silicon Valley protested outside of Google’s Mountain View headquarters.

“Taiwan is an Independent Country,” “One Taiwan – one China,” their banners read. And, in recognition of Google’s amendment, “We Appreciate Your Response.”

Meanwhile, Ryan Tierney, an American ex-pat who had studied in Taiwan and is currently working there circulated an email urging Internet users to rethink their Google-based Gmail accounts, saying he had stopped using his.

He also encouraged people to go on Google’s comments site and express their opinions. “Please, for me and the country I currently call home, write to Google and tell them this won’t stand,” Tierney said.

“If the governments of the world won’t secure for this island the human right of recognition, we must ensure that the citizens of the world clearly understand the situation,” he said. “This is a language battle and it must be fought on all fronts.”

The Chinese Communist Party in Beijing insists that Taiwan is a renegade province that had historically been a part of China and should be returned to Mainland China’s sovereignty. Taiwan’s modern history, which dates back to the end of the 16th century, tells a different story.

Whose Island is It Anyway?

The island has an aboriginal community that had migrated to Taiwan over 12,000 years ago. During the 17th century, the Dutch took over Taiwan, then known as Formosa, or the “Beautiful Island.” In the latter part of the century, a Chinese pirate fleeing from the Manchurian forces that had invaded China evicted the Dutch, but the Manchus defeated this last remnant of China’s previous Ming Dynasty twenty years later.

Despite repeated attempts, however, the Manchus failed to get lasting control of the island, as its inhabitants repeatedly fought back and Taiwan was thus largely left to its own devices for 200 years. During that time, Mainlanders came to Taiwan fleeing wars and famine. But they did not come as representatives of Beijing, itself ruled by the foreign Manchus, a people from regions northeast of China.

The island had been part of Imperial China for a period of only eight years, from 1887-1895 under the Manchus, before it came under Japanese occupation for fifty years. At the end of World War II, the Allies assigned temporary power over Taiwan to China’s Nationalist government.

The divide was sealed four years later, at the end of China’s 1949 Civil War. Chiang Kai-shek’s Nationalist forces, exhausted from years of fighting with the Japanese, lost to Mao Zedong’s Communist military and fled to Taiwan. Two China’s were then established – the Peoples’ Republic of China with its capital in Beijing, and the Republic of China with its capital in Taipei.

With United States support, Taiwan initially held a United Nations’ seat, including a spot as a permanent member of the U.N. Security Council. In 1971, however, as relations between the United States and Beijing warmed, Taiwan’s Republic of China lost its U.N. seat to the People’s Republic and has been in international limbo since.

One Strait, Two Countries?

Supporters of continued Taiwanese sovereignty point out that the island has its own flag, its own currency, its own international sports teams and its own, elected, government.

Not having undergone half a century of communist campaigns, Taiwan has been able to preserve freedom of religion, as well as ancient Chinese art collections and use of traditional Chinese characters in writing. With infrastructure that had been put in place during the Japanese occupation, Taiwan has become one of the “Asian Tigers” of the world economy. Since a period known as the “White Terror” ended in the 1970s, and especially with the lifting of martial law in 1987, Taiwanese have enjoyed freedom of the press and a thriving, if nascent and sometimes corrupt, democracy.

In Mainland China the press and education systems continue to be tightly controlled on sensitive issues like Taiwan. As a result, along with strong nationalist sentiments, there appears to be a strong consensus among Chinese that Taiwan needs to be “returned to its motherland,” with hard-liners advocating for a military invasion of the island.

In a series of intimidation moves, Beijing has deployed missiles aimed at the island that is only 100 miles away, tested rockets just inside Taiwan’s territorial waters, and recently threatened the United States with a first-strike nuclear war in case America comes to the island’s defense.

China’s War Goes Cyber

Many have touted the Internet as an opportunity to elude China’s control of the media and to provide a space for safe discussion of sensitive topics such as human rights, democracy, or Taiwan. Optimists see the Internet as bearing the potential of being a key force in creating an open public sphere needed for China’s democratization.

At the same time, Western companies, apparently following the allure of contracts in China, have played into Beijing’s hands and been accused by critics as “kowtowing” to pressure from Chinese Communist Party (CCP) officials.

Last month, Jerry Yang, a co-founder of Yahoo!, admitted that his company had provided Chinese authorities with email information about journalist Shi Tao. The information was then used to convict and sentence the journalist to ten years in prison for “divulging state secrets.” In response, Reporters Without Borders (Reporters Sans Frontières) called Yahoo! “a Chinese police informant” that helped the CCP convict a good journalist.

In his book, Losing the New China , Ethan Gutmann disclosed that a Yahoo! representative “admitted that the search phrase ‘Taiwan independence’ on Chinese Yahoo! would yield no results, because Yahoo! had disabled searches for select keywords.” Gutmann also wrote about how Chinese authorities blocked Google in 2002. When Google was reopened, searches for “Jiang Zemin,” then head of the CCP, received the message “no entries found,” and searches on Google for “Falun Gong” led to the user’s Web access being shut down.

In September 2004, Google publicly acknowledged that it censors certain websites out of China-based searches. Research conducted by institutes such as Dynamic Internet Technology showed that certain websites that would normally come up under Google’s expansive search engine do not come up for Chinese Net users.

At least for now, after last weekend, searches on Google Maps for a place known as “Taiwan, Province of China” come up empty, too.

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