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September 26, 2017

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The situation in Crimea and Taiwan is very different

Much has been said among political pundits in Taipei about a referendum — or to be more exact, a plebiscite — that may make Taiwan an independent, sovereign state like Crimea. On March 16, a referendum was held in Crimea and 93 percent of eligible voters voted for secession from Ukraine, within which it was an autonomous parliamentary republic governed by its own constitution.

Political pundits who favor an independent republic of Taiwan argue that Crimea has set an example for the people of Taiwan to follow in achieving independence from the Republic of China, which has ruled their homeland since it was restored to China by Japan in 1945 at the end of the Second World War. They point out that the situation in Crimea before its secession from Ukraine and the situation in Taiwan since 1945 are much the same. So, they ask, "If Crimea can, why can't Taiwan?"

The situations are alike, but not the same.

Crimea, a peninsula connected to Ukraine by a short isthmus, was the Bosporun Kingdom, a tributary state of Rome, in the first century BCE. Over the past 2,050 years, Crimea has been conquered by different peoples including the Goths, Bulgars, Tatars, Ukrainians, Italians, Germans and Slavs. In 1789, Crimea became part of the Russian Empire, and remained under Russian control until the breakup of the Soviet Union, except for a brief period during World War II.

In 1944, Joseph Stalin ordered the deportation of the entire Tatar population, which formed a large plurality in Crimea. The forced exodus of Tatars resulted in making the Russian Slavs a 58.32-percent majority of the Crimean Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic, with the two ethnic minorities being the Ukrainians (24.32 percent) and the Tatars (12.10 percent). However, the Soviets transferred Crimea to Ukraine in 1954, and after the collapse of the Soviet Union, Crimea voted to join Ukraine as an autonomous parliamentary republic.

Taiwan, however, has never been an independent state, though it declared independence in May 1895 and fought a war of independence against the Japanese occupation army invading the island to take it over as a colony. Koxinga drove out the Dutch colonialists to claim Taiwan for China in 1662. His grandson surrendered to Qing China in 1683 and the Emperor Kangxi annexed Taiwan as a prefecture of the province of Fujian. Taiwan was ceded to Japan in 1895 and the Japanese imposed their colonial rule until it was returned to the Republic of China as a province in 1945. Chiang Kai-shek lost the Chinese civil war and moved his Republic of China government to Taipei at the end of 1949. Taiwan has since been part of the Republic of China.

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