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Taiwan Presbyterians Risk Advocating Independence from China

Despite the opposition to Taiwan independence from majority of Presbyterians worldwide, Taiwanese Presbyterians determine to distinguish their nation.
( [email protected] ) Feb 13, 2006 11:45 AM EST

Despite the opposition to Taiwan independence from majority of Presbyterians worldwide, Taiwanese Presbyterians determine to distinguish their nation from China.

Currently, the island with a 22.7 million-strong population is being internationally regarded as a renegade province of China. Taiwan has formal diplomatic relations with only 25 countries and no membership at the United Nations or World Health Organization (WHO).

The voice of Taiwan independence in Taiwan has been rising since the first democratic president Chen Shui-bian began his first term in 2000, ending more than 50 years of Nationalist rule. Churches, both within and outside Taiwan, have debated on the issue.

According to the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A) (PCUSA) news service, the Presbyterian Church in Taiwan (PCT) - Taiwan's largest and oldest Protestant denomination- stands alone among Taiwanese Christian groups in its strong advocacy for independence.

"Self-determination means that Taiwanese are in the image of God, and Taiwan should be equal with other countries," says Andrew T. C. Chang, general secretary of PCT. "It means that we have dignity and full rights in the global village."

PCT’s stance on independence maybe closely related to the background of its church members. Most PCT members are descendants of people who began coming to Taiwan about four centuries ago from southeastern China. Independence supporters say those settlers had no intention of expanding China's territory, according to PCUSA.

The ancestors of the members in other Christian groups in Taiwan, however, are mostly the 2 million Chinese fled to the island in 1949 after the Chinese nationalist government of President Chiang Kai-shek was defeated by Communist forces.

PCUSA supports the unification of Taiwan and China. It has close partnership with Christian bodies in both Mainland China and Taiwan, such as the China Christian Council (CCC) and PCT, trying to hold them together by the bond in Christ.

PCUSA Worldwide Ministries Division (WMD) Director Marian McClure said in an address to a committee of the 2004 General Assembly, as quoted by PCUSA news service, "We have dearly cherished and honored partners in both Taiwan and China. It is not possible to talk about the political status of Taiwan without reference to both of these partners, because they disagree on this (independence) issue."

"We staunchly believe the reunification of the motherland is the common wish of the Chinese people," stated CCC, the official Protestant group in China, which has rejected the idea of Taiwanese independence, in a 2001 statement.

"We hereby admonish any and all groups or individuals seeking to separate our motherland and conspire to create 'Two Chinas' or 'One China, One Taiwan.' They must not attempt to turn back the clock and think they can ever slow the peaceful process of reunification of the motherland. If they insist on their own way, they will be condemned by history and our nation."

Many believe that the pursuit of independence imposes great risk on Taiwan. In terms of security, China is already prepared to start a war against Taiwan once Taiwan declares its independence. Just across the sea between China and Taiwan, near the Fujian province, hundreds of Chinese missiles are aimed at Taiwan. U.S., which has a defense treaty with Taiwan, would be among the nations drawn into the conflict.

PCUSA therefore tries its best to promote continued solidarity and partnerships with churches in both Taiwan and China, attempting to resolve the possible tragedy from the religious level. It also offers assistance and accompaniment to enhance justice and reconciliation between the people and churches of Taiwan and China.

National Taiwanese Presbyterian Council complained that the lack of WTO status of Taiwan slowed international aid to the nation during the SARS crisis. Acknowledged the concern of PCT over the people in need of services, PCUSA supports the definition of "self-determination" as "the ability of a nation, people, or state to make decisions about its political, economic, and social life free from external domination or compulsion."