This is a guest report from Albert Tseng, a long-time volunteer and leader in the Taiwan advocacy community who, with Sean Su, promoted the Keep Taiwan Free theme and movement in 2008.
“Keep Taiwan Free!” The rally cry came loud and clear from Keep Taiwan Free Rally co-director Jenny Wang this past Saturday, September 13, in Times Square, New York. Approximately 200 supporters gathered for the annual rally organized this year by Outreach for Taiwan co-directors Eric Tsai and Jenny Wang. The Keep Taiwan Free movement emerged in 2008 from a rally against the Beijing Olympics, and in that year also became an important part of the United Nations for Taiwan (UN4TW) rally and movement. The Committee for the Admission of Taiwan to the United Nations (CATUN) first began the UN4TW movement in New York City in 1992, even before the ROC government on Taiwan itself began to apply for re-admission to the United Nations in 1993.
The Republic of China government, which held military dictatorship over the Taiwanese people after retreating to Taiwan after losing the Chinese Civil War to the Chinese Communists, was a charter member of the United Nations in 1945, representing all of China. However, by 1971 the international community had increasingly switched to recognizing the communist People’s Republic of China as the legitimate government of China. The ROC was expelled from the United Nations, and the PRC took over UN membership as China.
In the decades after 1971, through the activism and sacrifices of Taiwanese both in Taiwan and abroad, the ROC transitioned from military rule to the current democracy in Taiwan. In 1993, the ROC began to apply for membership to the United Nation. In the 20 plus years since, however, China has continued to block the application.
UN4TW (and later Keep Taiwan Free) is known as an annual rally in New York City’s Times Square that draws a coalition of organizations in the Tri-State Area. Throughout the years, the movement embraced a variety of tactics to promote Taiwan’s status. In 1996, in response to the United States’ refusing to pay its United Nations dues, a pro-UN NGO in the U.S. asked citizens to mail in checks for $4.40 toward the dues. CATUN collected one thousand $4.40 checks from Taiwanese Americans. CATUN then sent them to the United Nations along with a petition to the UN requesting membership for Taiwan.
The UN4TW movement continued until 2008, when the Times Square rally began to embrace the “Keep Taiwan Free” theme in order to draw attention beyond the UN admissions issue. “Keep Taiwan Free” has since then promoted Taiwan’s democratic achievements away from its authoritarian past. The movement calls attention to current struggles over social issues and human rights in Taiwan, as well as authoritarian threat from outside powers. Modern day private land rights issues in Taiwan, and media freedom concerns, demonstrate how vulnerable Taiwan’s young democracy can be to erosion of its core democratic values.
After decades of effort, the older generation has passed on the baton to the younger generation to continue the Keep Taiwan Free, and United Nations for Taiwan, movements. As CATUN founder Dr. Hong-Tien Lai expressed, the goals are “to keep Taiwan free and democratic and to let the Taiwanese people self-rule and decide their own future.” As a rally, Keep Taiwan Free is becoming a familiar sight in early autumn New York, attended by multiple generations of supporters for Taiwan.
This year’s Keep Taiwan Free Rally was a cooperative effort of several organizations besides Outreach for Taiwan (OFT), including: the Taiwanese American Associations of New York and New Jersey (TAA-NY, TAA-NJ), TAIUNA (Taiwan UN Alliance), Formosan Association for Public Affairs (FAPA), the North American Taiwanese Women’s Association (NATWA), TaiwaneseAmerican.org, and the Taiwanese American Council of Greater New York (TAC-GNY). Jack Hsu of the band Hsu-nami helped organize a concert event with OFT in the week before the rally. Members of Taiwanese American Professionals – New York (TAP-NY) also attended the rally, and supported a lead-up event with Outreach for Taiwan before the rally as well. The history of the UN4TW movement comes from material helpfully provided by Dr. Hong-Tien Lai, CATUN founder and chairman of TAC-GNY. Many thanks to Dr. Lai for his support and efforts for Taiwan.
Updated: Previously Keep Taiwan Free was reported to have began in 2007, but it was actually held in 2008, first in conjunction with the protest against Beijing Olympics, before officially becoming part of UN4TW.
(Feature photo from Keep Taiwan Free rally, by Stephanie Kao)