The battle of Formosa which has raged over Washington these past weeks is now concluding its first phase.
Truman’s announcement that the United States has no intention of intervening, since Formosa is Chinese territory and must be settled by Chinese political forces, does not close the matter. But it reduces the opposition to the position of critics rather than potential makers of policy.
Intervention was discarded because it could not serve the higher political interests of US diplomacy, which is now shifting its base to India and Japan. The State Department, for example, is heavily involved in the British Empire Conference at Colombo, Ceylon. The State Department also cherishes the thesis that, if not open Titoism, at least deep fissures, can be made in the Chinese CP leadership by a more benevolent policy.
But like the rabid militarists, this “enlightened” policy has power politics as its point of departure. And like the former, it disregards the Formosan people. Nor is the Chinese CP in any different position. It too simply asserts its legal right to Formosa basing this right on the notorious Yalta decision where small and large nations were distributed as on a chessboard.
None of these groups have proposed to let the pawns speak for themselves. No one in a position of power has spoken up in defence of the rights of the six million Formosans. Yet no one has a better right to be heard.
There is no better single criterion for nationhood than the struggle of a body of people to become a political entity.
Formosa is largely peopled by Chinese, many of them old settlers dating back to the collapse of the Ming dynasty in 1644. After the Sino-Japanese war of 1890, Japan took Formosa and held it for 50 years. During this time the island was transformed. It became alienated from the main currents of Chinese life and instead entered on the road of modernisation taken by Japan.
It became an integral part of the inner empire and was an administrative unit of the central Japanese government rather than a colony. It became the Hawaii of Japan, its sugar bowl. Extensive railroads, airfields and harbor installations were developed along with modern mines and industrial establishments. Yet its people did not become Japanese.
While the Formosans never became quite reconciled to Japanisation, the gap with China became wider than they knew. Formosa was a relatively modern society while China groaned in the agony of the most corrupt warlordism. When Chiang and his carpetbaggers moved in on the island in 1945 they were received as liberators because of the feeling of common cultural origins. But the Formosans soon saw their error.
The Kuomintang brought with it its secret police, its inefficiency, the personal squeeze, labyrinthine bureaucracy — and its provincial, cliquish, stultified culture. Like locusts, every official brought his swarm of retainers. In place of her modern Japanese taxation system, there was introduced the system of repeated, uncertain, pyramiding taxes, much of which remained in personal pockets. Cynical repression replaced the efficient foreign administration.
The Formosans were pressed to the limits of endurance. When cholera broke out in 1946 the Chinese officials sold UNRRA medicines on the black market to the helpless victims at whatever the traffic could bear. A thousand lepers were loosed from the leprosariums because the administration would not spare funds for their maintenance. Japanese as a language was suppressed and Chinese made mandatory. Bribery became the national means of getting along among a people who had lived under the Japanese code of honest administration. Concubinage was introduced. Prostitution became common.
While the medieval minds of the Kuomintang could strip a people of wealth, they did not know how to operate a modern industry. Gradually the modern installations came to a halt. Agriculture and industry both fell into decline. Black-market prices rose to 800 per cent of official prices. Inflation is increasing daily.
This was the background of the Formosan revolt of 1947 — an unarmed uprising of desperate people. The object of the revolt was not yet independence but simply the reform of government, to lighten the tax burden and reduce corruption. To guarantee this the Formosans set up local governments of their own which, however, acknowledged the sovereignty of the central regime and agreed to carry out its laws.
Chiang’s response was the massacre of 20,000 people. Troops poured in from the mainland and were let loose on helpless civilians. The people fell info despair. Hatred for all things Chinese went underground.
Yet, at no time did the Communist Party ever gain a foothold. Whatever the reason, the fact is clear. Stalinism has no strength on this island.
The dwindling fortunes of the Nationalists do not have a long future on Formosa, left to themselves. Barring US intervention, the people will grow stronger against this rotting power. On the other hand, a Stalinist invasion will not only bring war to the island but, if victorious, will establish a new Chinese and Stalinist tyranny. The people of Formosa have not been participants in the Chinese civil war and neither side has a claim to rule them. Of recent years their only politics has been first anti-Japanese and then anti-Chiang. Their only desire is to disengage themselves from Chinese political struggles.
All this does not yet make nation. But in the last two years an independence movement has begun to grew. From Hong Kong and Tokyo its agents have begun to organise a Free Formosa party. This movement is still in its infancy and it is small. because the police regime keeps it suppressed. Yet it is bound to grow as against the Kuomintang because the latter can only grow weaker. If Stalinism conquers. this movement will be suppressed with a for heavier hand.
Socialists should defend the rights of the Free Formosans. Its people have a right to peace and this is possible only through independence. Socialists should oppose the Stalinist invasion as much as the Chinese dictatorship. This programme for a Free Formosa also applies to other areas such as Tibet.
Let the people decide their own future! That is the only democratic road.
January 16, 1950