Looking to the East
The year 2004 marks an exciting event in Taiwanese history.  This year, the Taipei 101 was completed, claiming several world records in the process.  At a record 1,679 feet, this skyscraper is 188 feet taller than the previous record-holder, Malaysia's Petronas Towers.  The tower also boasts the record for tallest roof, highest structural top, highest occupied floor, and even fastest elevator.  The elevators travel at up to thirty-eight miles per hour, and can take passengers to the ninetieth floor in under thirty-nine seconds.

Taiwan has been seemingly plagued by natural disasters, therefore it may seem odd that a building of such magnitude would be placed there, but the engineers of the skyscraper addressed this concern.  A 733-ton ball, housed in the base of the tower, moves to counter seismic waves and strong winds.  The engineers maintain that the building will be able to withstand natural disasters such as those that plague the small nation frequently, or even a fire, while allowing occupants ample time to escape.

All this is even more remarkable when one stops to consider that such craftsmanship comes from a people the rest of the world refuses to even acknowledge as a nation.

This country of twenty-three million is one of the world's leading suppliers and exporters of electronics, such as laptops and computer chips.   They have their own national beer and have produced world-famous pop stars.  Taiwan also vaunts one of the World's most stable economies, as well as the title of first all-Chinese democracy.  In March of this year, Taiwan's President Chen Shui-bian became the first democratic progressive leader ever to be elected to a second term in one of Asia's fledgling democracies.

Taiwan's résumé is even more impressive considering the things Taiwan is not able to do.  The Taiwanese cannot join or be represented in the United Nations, or any other international body.  They cannot receive recognition from groups like the World Health Organization.  They cannot ratify international treaties, such as those regarding the environment.  In fact, most other countries do not even have formal diplomatic relations with Taiwan, because they fail to recognize Taiwan as a country.

The source of conflict is the fact that China, the opposition to Taiwanese independence, refuses to cede power to the Taiwanese people.   Every time the Taiwanese hold an election, China threatens to recall control of this "renegade province."  To the communist Chinese, this emerging republic is little more than the product of an unfinished civil war.

Economic ties, on the increase since the early 1980s, are exactly what China does not want to sever with Taiwan. Taiwanese enterprises have invested some forty billion dollars in China in the past two decades, and these investors would likely be lost if Taiwan were freed.

Nationalism is also a factor for some Chinese and Taiwanese people.  Most native Taiwanese regard themselves as a unique ethnic group, while the Chinese regard them as being of mutual genealogy.   After several decades, the Chinese still anticipate the return of their "brothers and sisters" of this prodigal province.  

The Straits Times has reported that since July 23, 2004, the People's Liberation Army of China has been running military drills across the Taiwan Strait, likely in mobilization for conflict with Taiwan.  Every year since their beginning, the Dongshan drills were run toward the Taiwanese mainland itself. This year, the drills are instead being run toward the Penghu archipelago, historically a stepping-stone toward Taiwan during times of war.  According to experts, if Taiwan takes any steps toward independence, China could overtake Taiwan in fewer than two days, seizing control of Taiwan, and its surrounding air space and sea channels, and then would deploy over 30,000 troops.

Hundreds, possibly thousands, of Chinese missiles are, even now, poised to strike Taiwan on command.

Despite its pledge to make the world safe for democracy, the US government has spoken out against Taiwan taking any steps toward independence from China.  This small island country, slightly smaller than the combined sizes of Maryland and Delaware, has expressed a strong desire for independence. With no prospective allies in the case of war with China, Taiwan is ill-prepared for war with the PLA.

In the ever-looming shadow of conflict, Taiwan has only become stronger.  The Taipei Towers, possibly the most visible symbol of Taiwan's accomplishment, was opened just as China began the Dogshan drills.  In this summer's Olympic Games, Taiwan was allowed to compete under the name "Chinese Taipei."  Shih Hsin Chen won gold in the women's taekwondo, and only moments later, Mu Yen Chu won the gold in men's 58- kilogram division.  These are the only medals ever awarded to Taiwan. 

It is unlikely that Taiwan will always be the holder of all of these records.   Within the next decade, the proposed 1,776-foot Freedom Tower (successor to the World Trade Towers) in Manhattan will likely steal the record for tallest skyscraper.  By that time, it is likely that Taiwan's case will enclose even more trophies, but only time will tell if the Taiwanese ever achieve their ultimate goal of true sovereignty.

Whitney Williams, 9/11/04