A different kind of Strait Talk

Chinese, Taiwanese, U.S. students try to mediate tensions

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

At the opening of the weeklong Strait Talk series, in which 15 student delegates from Taiwan, China and the United States try to mediate the tensions between the three nations, Associate Professor Jennifer Rudolph of the Worcester Polytechnic Institute described graffiti she had seen in Taiwan. “One China” and “One Taiwan” were phrases she saw scrawled on walls on the island.

The two phrases epitomize the uncertain position of Taiwan, which fellow presenter Professor Steven Phillips of Towson University called “a bundle of contradictions.” China claims Taiwan as its own, while some Taiwanese insist on the island’s sovereignty.

Monday’s presentation in the Sidney E. Frank Hall for Life Science 220 was titled the “Historical Roots of the Taiwan Strait Issue.” The two professors tackled the historical origins of the formation of the Taiwanese identity, examining Taiwan’s transformation from the Qing dynasty through the Cold War.

Rudolph said Taiwan had made an “evolution of identity” to become a “hub for international commodity trading” in the 19th century.

Phillips stressed the importance of studying the history of the region, saying that an analysis of the issue needs to take into account historical claims to the island. For example, the Qing dynasty in China claimed Taiwan as its own in 1684 merely for its geopolitical importance, Phillips said. Since China never truly utilized this land until 1885 when it became important for trade, Taiwanese separatists argue that China’s claim on the island is too weak to be legitimate, according to Phillips.

Matthew Reichel ’09, co-coordinator of Strait Talk, said Monday’s presentation was an opener to this week’s rounds of discussion and a “great start that provided solid background.”

Reichel said he felt that starting the series of events on a historical basis would provide both sides with an opportunity to understand the intricacies of the conflict more clearly before discussing it amongst themselves.

Strait Talk was founded by a group of undergraduate students led by Johnny Lin ’08 in 2005 and has the aim of “transforming an 80-year-old international conflict” between the nations on either side of the Taiwan Strait, according to the event program. The program seeks to promote constructive dialogue between participants from mainland China, Taiwan and the United States.

In its fourth year, this symposium is set to present the results of this week’s discussions to the board of the Asia Society, a New York-based organization that promotes understanding between Asian and American people, leaders and institutions. Beginning next semester, a separate chapter of Strait Talk will make its debut on the campus of the University of California, Berkeley.

Over the course of the next week, the delegates will hold closed-door discussions with a professional conflict resolution facilitator to “foster peace-building in an environment without political pressure,” said Paul Wozniak ’09, the U.S. delegation’s coordinator.

Wozniak said that many of the delegates at the symposium have not had the opportunity to voice their opinions and have not had direct contact with those from opposing sides of the debate.

The symposium is a combination of public and closed-door events. Public events with guest speakers will be held Wednesday through Friday.

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