Taiwan commemorates 20th anniversary lifting of Martial Law

17 Jul

Less than 20 years ago, none of the Asian countries were considered to be democracies. Taiwan was one of them.

Ruled by the Nationalists or Kuomintang (KMT) then, Taiwan was under martial law, imposed by Chiang Kai-shek on 20 May 1949 and lifted only 38 years later on 15 July 1987.

Prior to that, the authoritarian regime banned political parties and tried civilians charged for sedition through the military courts without giving them attorney representation. The media was also tightly controlled with outspoken critics being blacklisted. As many as 25,000 Taiwanese were executed by the KMT military in what is popularly known as the 228 Incident of 1947.

Twenty years after the lifting of martial law, Taiwan is now regarded as a young democracy or democracy in transition where citizens enjoy universal sufferage and are able to engage in civil society and political participation without fear. The media is also free and robust within the region.

While the lifting of the martial law is mainly a political issue restricted within Taiwan itself, it also carries with it regional implications. This is best explained by Allison Hsieh, a researcher at the Formosan Association for Public Affairs, in her Taipei Times opinion piece, “The treaty trumps the communique”. She concluded that despite Taiwan being a democracy, it is still being passed over by China, shunned, and not recognised as a sovereign state by the majority of the international community.

I quote from her, “Western countries that claim to support democracy and freedom must be much more assertive in their support for Taiwan’s right to self-determination… Their prevailing lip-service to the status quo fails to recognize that China’s missiles are the destabilizing factor in the Taiwan Strait… their failure to support democratic referendums on Taiwan betrays their hypocrisy and cowardice.”


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