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  • From Independence to Interdependence:Taiwan Independence as Critique, Strategy, and Method toward Decoloniality
  • Wen Liu (bio)

Taiwan's precarious sovereignty has been centered on the discourse of being caught between the two imperial powers—the US and the rising Chinese Empire.1 The modern nation-state formation of Taiwan today, the Republic of China (ROC), would not have existed without the following: first, US imperial domination over Asia-Pacific during the Cold War, and second, the Chinese Kuomintang's (KMT) rule on the island after the Chinese civil war in 1945, with the military and financial support from the US.2 Historically speaking, Taiwan is inevitably entangled between Han Chinese settler colonialism and Americanism, and their continuously competing yet coexisting influences over the country's political economy, cultural practices, and national identity. To resist centuries of colonial rule on the island, Taiwan Independence, as multifaced movements that consist of heterogeneous ideologies from both the left and the right, is not necessarily equal to the present expressions of ROC nationalism. Whereas the stance on anti-Chinese imperialism, particularly on China's territorial claims of Taiwan, is generally shared among the Taiwanese Independence milieus, the defense of Taiwanese sovereignty in the current "New Cold War" global order continues to turn toward a conservative alliance with the US military and economic power. This tendency not only feeds into an increasingly right-wing US Empire but also marginalizes and erases the possibilities of leftist international support for Taiwan Independence.3

In seeking de facto independence from China's annexation attempt, the fetishism surrounding the nation-state form in the right-wing of the Taiwan Independence milieu often limits the vision of sovereignty within a Westphalian definition of modern nationalism and reproduces a Sino-American Cold War competition between democracy and authoritarianism. This dwelling discourse of being "between two empires," in fact, reproduces the normative [End Page 371] conditions of global capitalism as well as settler colonial knowledges of Han Chinese and Taiwanese domination over Indigenous Austronesian peoples in Taiwan.4 Therefore, in this essay, I assert that a leftist Taiwan Independence movement must be both anti-imperial and anti-colonial. Rather than seeking Taiwan Independence—the global recognition of Taiwanese national sovereignty—as an absolute end goal, a decolonizing practice of Independence is to become independent from Taiwan's role in sustaining a Cold War imaginary that is no longer productive against the increasingly authoritarian US and neoliberal China. Additionally, it necessitates a politics that situates Taiwan in the interdependent relations between the nation's anti-imperial resistance and de-Sinicization, and Indigenous peoples' struggle of decolonization. To put forth a left-oriented vision for our movement and practice toward sovereignty, I argue that it would be more productive to conceptualize Taiwan Independence as critique, strategy, and method toward a broader decolonial project that challenges both the imperial domination and settler colonial relations.

Critique of Sovereignty

Frequently, the discussion on Taiwan Independence is steered toward a debate around its state of sovereignty. From a "province of China" as claimed by the People's Republic of China (PRC) and an "administrative division" by the US Central Intelligence Agency,5 to an inconclusive recognition of self-ruled "island" or a de facto "civic nation"—scholars have argued both for and against the categorical recognition of Taiwan as a nation-state.6 Despite all these conversations around statehood, discussion has focused little on the notion of sovereignty itself, as it has been taken for granted as a postcolonial form of national governance. This phenomenon has significantly limited Taiwan Independence to a matter of international relations, instead of a deeper inquiry into imperial domination and ongoing coloniality in Taiwan.7

Whereas critical scholars on globalization have articulated the instability of sovereignty underneath forces of global capitalism, Yarimar Bonilla asserts that the notion of sovereignty is not specific to globalization but an ontological problem in relation to coloniality.8 As a particular form of postcolonial normative ideal about nations, rights, and citizenship, she argues that sovereignty is in itself a Euro-American colonial concept that is grounded in colonial treaties with Indigenous communities, marking territorial boundaries to justify the continuing practices of dispossession, disfranchisement, and legalizing differences between the...