By Joe Hung, Special to The China Post
A leading Washington-based think tank has released a study on what is going to happen if Taiwan declares independence and China launches an attack on the island to honor its anti-secession law of 2006. It’s a result of conscientious research, though lacking a historical perspective. Researchers offered two scenarios, in both of which American military support may arrive. The truth is that no support will ever come, and even if it did, it would be too late, for Taiwan’s defense force could never hold long enough. The best the island state could hope for is the neutralization of the Taiwan Strait like the one President Harry S. Truman ordered the U.S. Seventh Fleet to enforce when the Korean War broke out in 1950. It worked wonders more than half a century ago. It won’t now.
That aside, history tells us Taiwan has been invaded thrice — each successfully — in the past 400 years. The Dutch occupied Taiwan without a fight in 1624. Koxinga’s invasion army drove out the Dutch from the island in 1662 after a half-year siege of Fort Zeelandia. The Dutch could not send naval reinforcements in time. The takeover was aided by a large Chinese community the Dutch had invited from China to settle for rice farming. Koxinga let all the Dutch colonizers leave for Batavia safely. The second invasion took place in 1683. By then Taiwan had been well Sinicized after two decades of Hoklo rule by the House of Cheng. (Koxinga is the Westernized name of Cheng Ch’eng-kung. It was the transliteration of Kuo Hsing Ya or Koksingya in Hoklo which means the Lord of the Imperial Surname, for he was granted that family name of Chu by one of the three last minor emperors of the Ming Dynasty.) The House of Ming came to an end in 1644. While Koxinga and his son Cheng Ching ruled Taiwan, the Manchu emperors could do nothing against the island, which was the last citadel of the Ming Chinese and the possible base for a counterattack against the mainland of China. The Manchu lacked fleets to cross the 100-mile strait. In fact, the people in the coastal area of Fujian were evacuated a dozen miles inland to cut off their collaboration with Taiwan Chinese and Cheng Ching himself led a counterattack, fighting unsuccessfully against the Manchu and their Chinese allies in southern China for seven years. After the death of Cheng Ching in early 1683, the Emperor K’ang Hsi thought the time was ripe to subjugate Taiwan. He had an armada built and put a former Koxinga admiral in command. Admiral Shih Lang fought a decisive sea battle off the Pescadores or the Penghu Islands. Cheng Ching’s son Ko-shuang had to surrender after his navy had lost that battle. The Manchu emperor pardoned him and allowed all the Cheng soldiers to return to China. Taiwan was annexed as part of Manchu or Qing China in 1684. France occupied Keelung and the Pescadores in 1885. Japan invaded southern Taiwan and occupied Hengchun briefly in 1874. These were no massive invasions to conquer, however. The Japanese attacked and occupied the Pescadores in 1895 but did not invade Taiwan until after the island had been ceded to it in perpetuity under the Treaty of Shimonoseki in the spring of that year. Taiwan was made a province shortly before its cession to Japan, which was met with strong resistance from the island’s populace. The people, particularly the irate literati, could not accept Japanese colonization. They wanted to defend their island home against the Japanese. In the process they made Taiwan Asia’s first republic. They declared independence in Taipei on May 23, 1895, electing Governor T’ang Ching-sung president of the Republic of Taiwan. T’ang tried to solicit foreign assistance. British, American, French, German, Russian and Spanish authorities were contacted. No diplomatic recognition was extended to Taiwan, though. Even China, of which the newborn republic wished to be a vassal state, did not extend a helping hand. When the Japanese invasion army landed at Aoti near Yilan on May 29, the island was all alone to defend itself. Taiwan had about 150,000 combatants, many of them mainland Chinese sent to the island at the beginning of the Sino-Japanese War of 1894-95, against a 50,000-strong invasion army, which was supported by 26,000 coolies and naval units. The republic had no navy. The republic had a numerical superiority, more than twice as much troop strength as the Japanese army, which, however, was a much better armed and equipped modern fighting unit, ranking among the best in the world. The republican force consisted of Hsiang (Hunan), Huai (Anhui) and volunteer units from Kwangtung (Guangdong) as well as a diverse assortment of armed islanders, including Hoklo and Hakka. The war ended in a lopsided victory for the Japanese. President T’ang fled Taipei for Foochow only 12 days after he had assumed office. The Republic of Taiwan without the head of state came to an end on Oct. 21 when Tainan fell following the flight of General Liu Yung-fu of Black Flag Brigade fame. Liu, whose Guangdong brigade defeated the French in a major battle in Vietnam in the Sino-French War of 1884-85, did not put up a fight in Tainan. During the five-month war of independence, Hoklo units did not fight a major battle. Hakka troops fought a series of partisan skirmishes, holding the Japanese army at Hsinchu for a month. The Japanese were stopped at Hsinchu by mainland Chinese units that had been stationed in Taiwan and had refused to return to China in defiance of the evacuation order from the Manchu court in Beijing. Thousands of Chinese troops, including a Hunanese general, were killed in action. The Japanese were in fact invited to take Taipei on June 11. All resistance leaders fled, and the frenzied mob looted the treasury and set Taipei afire. It was the Japanese who restored order in Taipei, where they inaugurated their colonial government on June 17. History repeats itself. If and when independence is declared now or more likely in 2010, China is ready to invade Taiwan. No countries in the world will dare recognize Taiwan’s second republic. A few sea and air battles may be fought, and the People’s Liberation Army will conduct a successful decapitation operation. No help of any kind will come from abroad. (Do the Americans wish to fight for Taiwan after long years of futile war in Iraq? Their Taiwan Relations Act does not stipulate military engagements in time of hostilities between Taiwan and China.) Independence leaders, who never fail to talk tough now, will all flee like their first republican predecessors in 1895. They can’t ask for Beijing’s pardon. Taiwan has to surrender. It won’t take five months for China to subjugate Taiwan.