Sixty-five years ago the brutal beating of a female street vendor by the Republic of China’s monopoly tax agents triggered a spontaneous protest in Taipei the next day. On February 28, 1947, outraged islanders marched against the occupation ROC government only to be fired upon by the Chinese. The bloody response by the ROC led to an uprising against the occupation forces of Chiang Kai-shek.
The United States had imposed ROC troops on the people of Formosa, as Taiwan was commonly called, in October 1945 after the Japanese surrender in World War II. After installing Chiang’s soldiers the United States turned its attention to the growing Cold War threat of communism and left the island’s day-to-day administration to the forces of Chiang Kai-shek.
Following the shootings of demonstrators, the populace revolted and the Chinese Nationalist government officials fled to the hills. Chiang ordered Kuomintang troops, battle-weary from fighting in the Chinese civil war, to Formosa and the slaughter began at the docks as troop ships arrived across the Taiwan Strait.
The mass killings of island residents lasted for weeks while the United States did nothing to intervene. George Kerr, a U.S. Naval attaché turned diplomat, stationed in Taipei, was witness to the slaughter and repeatedly cabled Washington, D.C. with details of the carnage asking for assistance.
The 228 Massacre grew into a protracted White Terror period where executions and imprisonment became the ROC method of control. Forty years of harsh martial law kept political activity on lockdown status while Chiang Kai-shek’s regime became that of his son, Chiang Ching-kuo.
During the long decades of Chinese repression of the islanders it was even a crime to even mention the 228 Massacre in public. The event remains a defining moment in Taiwanese history and its anniversary sparks an annual discussion about the role of the Kuomintang in the killings and also about Taiwan’s continuing unresolved status that leaves a Chinese government in control of the Taiwanese people.
Ma Ying-jeou, President of the Republic of China in-exile, talks of “one China” and is pushing the island to a closer relationship with the communist People’s Republic of China. Ma is also the standard-bearer for the Kuomintang and the 228 anniversary is always uncomfortable for him. This year Ma has tried to downplay the number of deaths saying the actual number is unimportant in remarks made Friday.
Ma’s statement about the number of deaths has upset many including members of the Legislative Yuan who have made critical media comments.
The bitter irony of the 228 Massacre and Taiwan’s continuing unresolved status is that under the San Francisco Peace Treaty that ended World War II with Japan, the United States is the island’s “principal occupying Power”. In 2009, the District of Columbia U.S. Court of Appeals called on President Barack Obama to end Taiwan’s “strategic ambiguity” declaring the populace suffered in “political purgatory” imposed by the United States.
Self-determination for the people of Taiwan remains an unfulfilled promise and keeps the island from membership in the United Nations, out of security alliances, and even the World Health Organization.
President Obama has been quiet on Taiwan’s status for three years only breaking his silence to congratulate Ma Ying-jeou’s recent re-election in a White House reaffirmation of the strategic ambiguity that keeps Taiwan’s fate unresolved and the 228 Massacre war crimes unprosecuted.
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