Fresh off humiliating November 2018 regional election losses which saw President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) resign as Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) chairperson, Taiwan’s leader has started off 2019 with a bang.

Tsai gave a clear and forceful policy speech on New Year’s Day, just before Chinese leader Xi Jinping made the indecent proposal of offering Taiwan governance under a Hong Kong-style “one country, two systems” framework.

Tsai, often accused of vacillating on cross-Strait matters in the past, wasted no time in issuing a strong rejection of Xi’s offer. Her determination won her plaudits among Taiwanese of all political orientations along with policymakers across the globe. Naturally, this included Taiwan’s 17 remaining formal diplomatic allies, such as Belize:

It also included a bevy of supportive U.S. congresspeople:

There is little downside for U.S. legislators in signaling support for Taiwan – they are unburdened by the diplomatic rhetorical restrictions faced by the executive branch. However, senior White House official Garrett Marquis joined the fray, condemning Beijing’s “coercion” and urging China to resume dialogue with Taiwan:

French parliamentarian Jean-Francois Cesarini denounced Xi Jinping’s threat of using military force to unify China and Taiwan. Canadian MP Judy Sgro also signaled her support of Taiwan:

Catalonia leader Carles Puigdemont thanked Tsai Ing-wen for “using Catalan language” on her Facebook page, although the picture in question was submitted, along with dozens of others, by internet users unaffiliated with the presidential office.

The picture drew a rebuke from Shiany Perez-Cheng (鄭夏霓), a Taiwan lecturer at the University of Salamanca and visiting scholar at National Taiwan University (NTU).

In September 2018, Perez-Cheng told The News Lens that comparisons between Taiwan and Catalonia, which pursued independence in 2017 under the leadership of the now-exiled Puigdemont, play into the hands of Chinese propaganda:

Other observers pointed out that Catalans strike a kinship with Taiwanese as the two populations share a desire for self-determination.

However, Perez-Chang has a point. Regardless of how you feel about Catalonia’s right to self-determination, it is not Taiwan, which – despite being recognized by only 17 countries – is effectively independent. The country elects its own leaders, has its own military and uses its own currency. No wonder most Taiwanese prefer to “maintain the status quo” rather than voting to declare independence – currently forbidden by Taiwan’s Referendum Act.

In a November 2018 interview with The News Lens, an organizer in the autonomous region of Rojava in northern Syria told Taiwan it would be making a mistake to seek statehood. Kurdish people in Syria abandoned their own push for international recognition long ago, the organizer said, when they realized “their right to have their own state was a silly thing to want: they would only become oppressed by their own language and by their own brothers… by the nation-state.”

Some members of the DPP are still pushing Tsai to pursue formal independence. However, as Taiwan basks in international support (formal or otherwise), the “deep-Green” faction of the DPP might be well-served to look around the region – at China, Hong Kong and Macau for starters – and remember just how good they have it.

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Editor: Nick Aspinwall (@Nick1Aspinwall)

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