By Michael Danielsen, Chairman of Taiwan Corner
Step into the complex and fascinating world of Taiwan with the Danish book ‘Taiwan – politik, historie og Samfund’ (English: ‘Taiwan – politics, history, and society’), but be prepared for a confusing journey that can harm your understanding more than it enlightens. Taiwan’s history and current situation are inescapably complicated, requiring accurate and in-depth insight to interpret. Unfortunately, this book complicates matters further by containing errors, unclear definitions, and a lack of nuance in crucial areas.
The book ‘Taiwan – politics, history, and society’ could have been a useful one. But it isn’t. It goes completely wrong when it describes Taiwan as “in principle also a part of the People’s Republic of China” (translated from Danish “principielt også en del af Folkerepublikken Kina”), that Taiwan was “admitted to the World Trade Organization (WTO) in 2001, however, under the condition that Taiwan had the status of a ‘special region’ under the People’s Republic of China in the WTO” (translated from Danish “optaget i Verdenshandelsorganisationen (WTO) i 2001, dog under det krav, at Taiwan fik status som en ’special region’ under Folkerepublikken Kina i WTO”, that Taiwan was a “Chinese province in 1945-1949” (translated from Danish “kinesisk provins i 1945-1949”) and that Taiwan was given to China during World War II.
For the public debate, the definition of the One-China policy is crucial, but the book fails to correctly define this central point, confusing the reader about what China’s policy is and how, for example, the various ‘One-China’ policies of the West are formulated.
Furthermore, there is no evidence presented that the major opposition party, the Nationalist Party (KMT), is popular among young Taiwanese, and for “DPP’s anti-Chinese policy” (translated from Danish “DPP’s anti-kinesiske politik”). At Taiwan Corner, we are not aware of such studies.
Overall, this means the book must be read with a careful and critical eye. This also applies to some questions raised in the book, such as whether the Taiwan’s history is its own or part of China’s history. The book describes that this “is even more difficult to determine when we look at Taiwan’s recent history after 1949” (translated from Danish “er endnu sværere at afgøre, når vi kigger på Taiwans nyere historie efter 1949”). While an academic dialogue on this can be had, the fact is that Taiwan and China naturally have their own histories with commonalities like many other nations.
The book is intended for high school education, university, and other interested readers. I find the book unsuitable for teaching or providing information about Taiwan.
Let me delve deeper into some key points in the book.
Chapter 13 of the book titled “Speak nicely to dad! Taiwan seen from China” (translated from Danish “Tal ordentligt til far! Taiwan set fra Kina” also deals with the One-China policy.
The chapter is imprecise in terms of concepts and never accurately defines the One-China policy. The reader is left with the impression that the One-China policy is the same in China and in, for example, the EU and the USA. But that is not the case. The USA has its own One-China policy, and the EU has a different One-China policy. Common to, for example, the EU’s and the USA’s One-China policies is that they do not consider Taiwan as part of China.
An example of a description of the One-China policy is found on page 225, and it is not helpful for information and future dialogues. What’s worse is that the book posits that the USA “has adhered to the ‘One-China principle’ (translated from Danish “har tilsluttet sig ”et-Kina-princippet”) which is the term for China’s version of the ‘One-China policy.’ Under the ‘One-China principle’, Taiwan is a part of China, and this is by no means the policy of the USA. It is crucial in texts to distinguish between the ‘One-China principle’ and the various ‘One-China policies’ as these concepts appear in public debates and are very different. The book also quotes the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the People’s Republic of China referring to the ‘One-China principle’.
In the earlier Chapter 11, “Taiwan in the center of power confrontations between China and the USA” (translated from Danish “Taiwan i centrum for stormagtskonfrontationer mellem Kina og USA”), it is problematic that the chapter describes that “the USA recognizes (“anerkender” in Danish) China’s ‘One-China principle.’ It is problematic because it requires an elaboration. The word in Danish “anerkender” means to accept that something exists, is in a certain way, or is true. The USA has never approved China’s ‘One-China principle’ that Taiwan is part of China. The nuance should be clear but is omitted. The USA uses the word “acknowledge,” which in this context should be translated differently into Danish or a clarification should have been provided.
Trade, economy, and WTO
An otherwise good Chapter 4, “Taiwan’s economic development in the 20th and 21st centuries” (translated from Danish ) on the economic development in Taiwan, also under Japanese colonization, becomes unreliable when Taiwan is suddenly described as a “Chinese province” from 1945 to 1949, and that Taiwan was “admitted to the World Trade Organization (WTO) in 2001, however, under the condition that Taiwan had the status of a ‘special region’ under the People’s Republic of China in the WTO.”
The fact is that Taiwan is a full member of the WTO – on par with China – and in no way is subject to the People’s Republic of China in the WTO. Taiwan is a separate customs union consisting of Taiwan, Penghu, Kinmen, and Matsu. During the period from 1945 to 1949, the Republic of China administered Taiwan on behalf of the Allies. Taiwan’s status was not yet determined. It was only with the San Francisco Treaty in 1952, where Japan ceded Taiwan without specifying the recipient. Therefore, Taiwan’s current status is unresolved [Ref 1].
Taiwan’s exports to China account for 40% of the total, and have remained relatively stable since 2005. The book merely mentions that Taiwan is “today deeply dependent on trade with China” and provides some figures that are difficult to relate to when not placed in the context of total trade. It does not mention how dependent China actually is on Taiwan’s exports, which is precisely why China’s sanctions against Taiwan focus on agriculture, which accounts for about 2% of exports. The sanctions that China imposes on Taiwan are therefore more symbolic than real.
Independence and Taiwan’s identity
Independence and Taiwan’s identity are addressed in several places in the book, such as in the description of elections in Taiwan.
Elections in Taiwan are covered in the chapter on Taiwan’s recent history. It states that Taiwanese today are “divided, especially on the question of independence from China, and what it means to be Taiwanese in the 21st century” (translated from Danish ”splittet på især spørgsmålet om uafhængighed fra Kina, og hvad der ligger i at være taiwanere i det 21. århundrede”). This is nonsense, as 70% believe that Taiwan is an independent nation. The change in political leadership from time to time is due to several factors, with domestic reasons being the most significant. There is much greater consensus on Taiwan’s independence than the book suggests. I find it simplistic to see that the alternation between the KMT and the DPP is only an expression of the Taiwanese division on independence.
Chapter 5, titled “Taiwanese self-understanding and national identity in flux” (translated from Danish ”Taiwansk selvforståelse og national identitet under forandring”) excellently describes the two dominant political parties, the current ruling party DPP, and the Nationalist Party KMT, with their respective approaches to China, where the KMT, unlike the DPP, seeks greater interaction with China, while the DPP emphasizes Taiwan as an independent country outside of China.
Chapter 5 delves deeper into independence and Taiwan’s identity. The chapter highlights that Taiwanese identity has grown enormously, and today, 63.7% say they perceive themselves as Taiwanese, while only 2.4% say they are Chinese. The book spends most of its time writing about those who perceive themselves as both Chinese and Taiwanese, which is 30.4%. Here, the book describes that the increase in identity does not necessarily mean that “Taiwanese do not at all identify with China and Chinese culture” (translated from Danish ”taiwanerne slet ikke identificerer sig med Kina og kinesisk kultur”) as a pretext for focusing on this group. But isn’t it just as interesting to focus on the overall trend that Taiwanese are becoming more Taiwanese?
The book describes that the growing national identity does not necessarily “correlate with a growing desire for independence” (translated from Danish “hænger sammen med et voksende ønske om uafhængighed”). Here, it uses status quo surveys to show that support for independence as soon as possible is now at 5.1% and was at 3.1% in 1994. It is entirely correct that support for Taiwanese identity cannot be translated into support for independence [Ref 2]. Conversely, status quo surveys showing that Taiwanese prefer the status quo cannot be used to exclude that Taiwanese want independence.
What the book does not mention is that the status quo is precisely the closest the Taiwanese can get to independence under the given circumstances, and that is probably why support for the status quo is so prominent. What is not included in the book is that if you give the Taiwanese a free choice, they will support independence with 72% , and a study from 2021 shows that 70% of Taiwanese consider Taiwan as independent, and therefore there is no need to declare independence.
Governments in Taiwan from 2008 until now
The book covers the period of President Ma Ying-jeou from 2008 to 2016 and mentioning the agreements made with China but does not mention the crucial fact that the agreements were made outside the WTO. It also does not mention that Taiwan’s democratic star faded during the same period. The government suffered a significant setback in 2014 when young people occupied the parliament. The youth were dissatisfied, among other things, that a trade agreement would “tie Taiwan too closely to China” (translated from Danish ”knytte Taiwan for tæt til Kina”). How close does not emerge, namely that Chinese could work in the service industry in Taiwan, where about 60% of Taiwanese work.
Concerning Taiwan’s current President Tsai Ing-wen, the book mentions nothing about the many necessary reforms carried out internally in Taiwan, and her policy of shifting focus towards Southeast Asia economically is only briefly mentioned, just like her focus on renewable energy. The book expresses the view that it is more important to focus on relations with China and the world.
The book claims that Tsai Ing-wen’s policy has taken “an offensive diplomatic line” (translated from Danish ”anlagt en offensiv diplomatisk linje”). It is correct that Tsai Ing-wen has tried to draw more attention to Taiwan in her second term, but it was after China intensified military activities against Taiwan. Many others would argue that Taiwan’s current President Tsai Ing-wen, on the contrary, is very restrained, diplomatic, and pragmatic towards China.
The book works well when describing Taiwan’s political structure, freedom of speech, media, religion, COVID-19, migration, family patterns, and the introduction of same-sex marriages. It also provides a good description of the democratic struggle taking place in a network collaboration among especially young people in the Milk Tea Alliance between Taiwan, Hong Kong, Thailand, and Myanmar.
The book also touches on the relationship with Denmark. The book describes that Taiwan has not had great success with “official cooperation projects” (translated from Danish ”officielle samarbejdsprojekter”), and therefore Taiwan has spent more time on “schools, giving lectures and events of a more cultural nature”(translated from Danish ”skoler, afholde foredrag og arrangementer af mere kulturel art”) and supporting the friendship associations that exist. One of them is the Danish-Taiwanese Society, which works closely with Taiwan’s Representative Office. Another association is the one that I am chairman of, namely Taiwan Corner, which correctly is not mentioned as having close cooperation with Taiwan’s Representative Office.
Overall, this book is not sufficiently nuanced and accurate in its coverage of significant issues and historical events. It contains too many inaccuracies, making it challenging for the reader to gain a clear understanding of Taiwan. In a time when China threatens Taiwan’s sovereignty, there is a need for more accurate information to aid discussion. It is unfortunate that this book does not live up to this promise and has not sufficiently investigated key concepts and historical events that are central to a factual treatment of Taiwan. As mentioned earlier, the book is intended for high school education, university, and other interested readers. I find the book unsuitable for teaching or providing information about Taiwan.
 Huang-Chih Chiang and Jau-Yuan Hwang, “ON THE STATEHOOD OF TAIWAN: LEGAL REAPPRAISAL”, Edited Peter C.Y. Chou, “The “One China” Dilemma”, Palgrave macmillan, 2008.
 Danielsen, Michael, “On the Road to a Common Taiwan Identity”, National Identity and Economic Interest, Edited by Peter C. Y Chow, Palgrave macmillan, 2012.
 Niou E, 2008, ”The China factor in Taiwan’s Domestic Politics” in P. Paolino and J. Meernik, Democratization in Taiwan – Challenges in Transformation (Hampshire, England: Ashgate), pp. 167-181.