How Asia’s first republic fares in the first decade of the new millennium

By Joe Hung, Special to The China Post

Frederick Lewis Allen, the celebrated editor of Harper’s Magazine and a historian, wrote an excellent book about American history in the 1920s.

His book, “Only Yesterday,” tells the rise of the United States as the world’s policeman to formally start the Pax Americana, though the decade closed with the New York stock market crash that harbingered the advent of the Great Depression.

Hung Chien-chao, a former managing editor of The China Post who had “A History of Taiwan” published by Cerchio in Italy in 2000, has followed Allen’s example in writing about Taiwan, Asia’s first republic, in the first decade of the twenty-first century in his new book “A New History of Taiwan,” to be released today. The first eight years of the decade saw a tremendous upheaval in Taiwan while President Chen Shui-bian was at the helm. He is now doing time for corruption and graft, as well as money laundering. He rejected a modus vivendi President Lee Teng-hui had achieved with China to plunge relations across the Taiwan Strait to the point of near war. The economy stagnated. Unemployment hit a historical high. The gap between the rich and the poor widened sharply, making Taiwan an M-shaped society with the middle income earners suffering the most.

The country became a house divided, as President Chen continued his hate-China policy of creeping independence for Taiwan. The People’s Republic of China was compelled to adopt an anti-secession law to codify an automatic invasion of Taiwan if and when Taipei declared independence, de facto or de jure. Tensions across the strait eased after a journey of peace by then Kuomintang Chairman Lien Chan, who met with Chinese President Hu Jintao to urge that swords be turned to plowshares. Chen stepped down as president on May 20, 2008. Ma Ying-jeou then took over. His landslide victory over Chen’s anointed heir Frank Hsieh seemed to signal a reconciliation in the relationship between the native islander majority and the mainland Chinese minority that was torn asunder after the Feb. 28 Incident in 1947. Democracy prevailed again. Communal harmony was set to be restored. President Ma has instilled hope in the people. The people know full well that Taiwan has to reinstitute the modus videndi now disgraced President Chen scrapped if it wants to get out of its long economic doldrum and avoid being marginalized in the world economy. Fortunately, China seems responsive. While the presidential campaign of 2008 was drawing to an end in Taiwan, Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao went on the record by stating Beijing was ready to sign a peace accord to preserve the status quo between the two sides of the strait.