Chanting "Taiwan? Yes! China? No!" several hundred demonstrators gathered near the Capitol Reflecting Pool yesterday to protest a law that would allow the Chinese government to use military force against Taiwan if the island moved toward formal independence.
The anti-secession law, passed March 14 by China's National People's Congress, reignited passions over the status of the 14,000-square-mile island 100 miles off China's southeastern coast.
Ted Kao, left, and Huei-mei Kao of New Jersey show support for Taiwan near the Capitol. Several demonstrations were held nationwide.
(Kevin Clark -- The Washington Post)
The communist-run government of Chinese President Hu Jintao has restated its position that Taiwan is a province of China, while the democratic government of Taiwanese President Chen Shui-bian asserts that Taiwan has never been a part of China. Chen says it is time for Taiwan to be recognized as an independent nation.
"Taiwan has a right to pursue freedom," said Judy Yeh, 56, who emigrated from Taiwan 29 years ago and works for a federal agency in Philadelphia. "We are not Chinese and never have been Chinese," she said in a refrain repeated in speeches and printed on signs.
"One Taiwan One China" read a green-and-white banner held by Tzong Shi, 35, a researcher at Harvard Medical School, and his wife, Chiung Pei, 28, a doctoral student in medical nutrition services at Boston University.
The color green -- ubiquitous at the rally on signs, flags, even hair -- represents one of two major political parties in Taiwan, Chen's Democratic Progressive Party, said the couple, who came on a charter bus with 50 others from the Boston area. Other demonstrators said they came from Georgia, Michigan, Tennessee, Illinois, New Jersey and elsewhere.
The couple said they have lived in the United States for a year and believe "that America and Taiwan are totally the same country," meaning they enjoy the same freedoms in Taiwan that they enjoy here -- including the ability to criticize government officials without reprisals.
The phrase reflects the rally organizers' belief that Taiwan and China are separate entities -- a repudiation of the "One China" policy that states that Taiwan is part of China, which countries must agree to if they want to establish diplomatic relations. The United States acknowledges the One China policy but is friendly with Taiwan.
At times yesterday, the rally took on a distinctively U.S. feel, with demonstrators singing "We Shall Overcome," a young man walking around dressed like Uncle Sam and six Taiwanese Americans marching in front of the stage holding large U.S. flags.
"We are American citizens trying to help Taiwan become independent," said Ing-Hour Lin, 58, of North Potomac, who was one of the flag-bearers. Taiwan wants peace and freedom and "can't be taken by force," said Lin, an engineer with the U.S. Patent Office.
Taiwan was inhabited before it was found in the 16th century by Portuguese explorers, who called it Ilha Formosa, or Beautiful Island. For four centuries it was governed by a succession of European and Asian rulers before being taken over in 1949 by Gen. Chiang Kai-shek and his Nationalist Party.
Chiang and his followers fled to Taiwan from communist-controlled mainland China and imposed martial law until the late 1980s. Since then, Taiwan has been run as a democracy, said Wen-Yen Chen, executive director of the Washington-based Formosan Association for Public Affairs, one of the rally's organizers.
Speakers and individuals applauded a resolution passed March 16 by the U.S. Congress condemning the law, saying it "provides a legal justification for the use of force against Taiwan, altering the status quo in the region, and thus is of grave concern to the United States."
The rally near the Capitol was part of an international effort called by Chen to gain support for Taiwan's policies and show solidarity with the Taiwanese. Other rallies took place in such cities as New York, Los Angeles, Seattle and Houston.
In the Taiwanese capital of Taipei, in one of the largest demonstrations in Taiwan's history, about a million people marched through the capital yesterday to protest the law.