TERMINOLOGY

The way a thing is described to us impacts our opinion of it. The Taiwan Policy Centre is disturbed to see a continuing use of outdated and misleading terminology in western media when referencing Taiwan. Below we offer a matrix of fairer descriptions which recognise the agency Taiwan has, and exercises, as a sovereign state.

Example #1

OLD FRAMING

Taiwan broke away from China in 1949

FAIR FRAMING

Taiwan became a contested territory in the Chinese civil war after 1949 when ...

After the escalation and export of the Chinese civil war to Taiwan in 1949 ...

REASONING

Taiwan arguably broke with China in 1895 when the Qing Dynasty relinquished sovereignty over Taiwan to Japan in perpetuity. When the Republic of China forces retreated to Taiwan after defeat in the Chinese Civil War in 1949, at that point Taiwan was still legally Japanese soil. Taiwan’s legal status from 1951 remains ‘to be determined’ as per the San Francisco Peace Treaty.

Example #2

OLD FRAMING

Reunification with China

FAIR FRAMING

Taiwan's annexation into China

REASONING

Using the term ‘reunification’ assumes and supports the PRC’s claim to be taking back something that is theirs. Aside from 1945~1949, Taiwan has not been governed by the same authority in both Taipei and Beijing for last 126 years, over half as long as the Qing Dynasty administered parts of Taiwan. Taiwan (ROC) is a sovereign nation state. Taking Taiwan by force to destroy that sovereignty is called annexation.

Example #3

OLD FRAMING

The self-governed island of Taiwan

FAIR FRAMING

Taiwan

REASONING

Taiwan is a ‘self-governed island’ in the same way that the UK, Iceland, Madagascar, and countless other island nations are. Taiwan meets all the definitions of a sovereign nation state as defined by the Montevideo Convention of 1933. References of this type adversely minimise and misrepresent Taiwan’s practiced sovereignty.

Example #4

OLD FRAMING

The NCCU poll shows a majority prefer the status-quo and reject both independence and unification in the near term ...

FAIR FRAMING

This poll shows that TW people overwhelmingly reject a union with PRC. However, they show ambivalence about moving beyond the ROC framework forced upon them in 1945, owing to the PRCs threat of war.

REASONING

Formulated by Taiwanese Twitter user @thechenster, this description avoids contextualising Taiwanese opinion in a false and misleading binary with independence and unification at polar extremes. The use of the word ‘unification’ in polls itself is a positive bias when many regard it as annexation, either voluntarily or under duress of war. This is a problem of polling of Taiwanese public opinion and specific terms used in that polling.

Example #5

OLD FRAMING

'the mainland'

FAIR FRAMING

the PRC

REASONING

In most cases up to now the phrase ‘the mainland’ in English language media has meant ‘mainland China’, and has been used to differentiate with Taiwan as ‘offshore China’. Since Taiwan no longer makes any territorial claim to areas under PRC governance, and the Republic Of China has become a legacy constitutional title, it is now only accurate to use the term ‘mainland’ when speaking from the perspective of e.g. Hainan or Hong Kong. 

Example #6

OLD FRAMING

'the island'

FAIR FRAMING

the country / the nation / the State

REASONING

Taiwan (ROC) is an archipelago of 166 islands administratively and geographically separated into seven groups: Taiwan, Penghu, Kinmen, Matsu, Wuqiu, Dongsha, and Nansha. It is therefore a misleading term which effectively renders invisible all Taiwanese not living on the main island of Taiwan. It is also deeply reductive and implies Taiwan is not a nation-state or country in its own right, the logical implication of which is that it does not deserve recognition and rights that other nation-states enjoy. The contorted absurdity of it becomes clear if media style guides were to insist on also referring to the United Kingdom as ‘the island’.

We will be updating this terminology briefing on a regular basis. If you have any other terms that you think need adding to this list, please do not hesitate to let us know. Journalists and anyone else who wants to use this resources can download a free PDF version here.