Nineteen survivors of a Feb. 28, 1947 massacre in Taiwan by nationalist Kuomintang (KMT) troops under then Chinese President Chiang Kai-shek have warned of a second massacre, should the democratic island allow closer ties with Beijing.
"If Taiwan is subjected to unification with China, the Feb. 28 massacre will most likely happen again," the survivors warned in a statement.
"We Taiwanese are used to protesting and marching. We criticize the government, criticize the president, and we have freedom of speech."
"These are commonplace for us, but will Xi Jinping, the dictator of Beijing, allow them to happen?" said the statement, in a reference to Jan. 2 calls from Xi for the island's "unification" with China under the ruling Chinese Communist Party, which has never ruled it before.
History will repeat itself," the survivors said at a news conference in Taipei ahead of Thursday's massacre anniversary. "The Tiananmen Square incident on June 4  was a re-enactment of Feb. 28," they warned.
The Feb. 28, or "2.28," incident resulted in the deaths of an estimated 18,000 to 28,000 people in an armed crackdown that lasted into early May of 1947.
Further violence followed as the KMT imposed decades of martial law, including several waves of political purges of government opponents that saw 140,000 tried by military courts in an era known as the White Terror and thousands executed.
Handed back to China
Taiwan had been ruled as a Japanese colony in the 50 years prior to the end of World War II, but was handed back to China as part of Tokyo's post-war reparation deal.
The KMT government then relocated entirely to Taiwan in 1949 after losing a civil war to Mao Zedong's communists on the mainland.
The incoming war-hardened KMT troops and hardships triggered by massive post-war inflation were a stark contrast to the five decades of relative peace and prosperity the island had enjoyed as part of Japan, and the local people rose up against their newly imposed rulers.
The leader of the survivors' group, Wang Ko-hsiung, said the island's government should rule out any kind of treaty of peace or cooperation with Beijing.
"China will not abide by the treaty; it is conniving," Wang said. "We should not wait until another 2.28 massacre has happened in Taiwan."
No rule by Beijing
Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen, whose ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) sustained considerable losses in elections last November to more China-friendly candidates, has hit back at Xi's calls for "unification."
The island will never freely give up its sovereignty, and can consider rapprochement only with a democratic government in China, she says.
DPP lawmaker Wang Ding-yu said Taiwan can't afford to lose sovereignty, foreign aid, freedom, or peace.
He cited the examples of Tibet and Xinjiang, which were independent countries before being annexed by the People's Liberation Army (PLA).
He said that the Chinese Communist Party signed a peace agreement with Tibet in 1951, then annexed the region and killed more than 30,000 Tibetans.
He also cited the mass incarceration of at least one million Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities in camps in Xinjiang, widely reported since April 2017.
"[In 1949], China asked ... the leaders of East Turkestan to fly to Beijing to discuss the peace agreement," Wang said. "They were never seen again. According to reports received in Beijing, the plane crashed. After that, the PLA moved into Xinjiang."
He called on the KMT to expel any of its members who still think that signing a peace agreement with Beijing is a good idea.
President Tsai attended a memorial ceremony for the massacre victims on Thursday, and vowed to continue with the government's plans for "transitional justice," including the release of previously secret documents to the families of victims.
"Our goal in promoting transitional justice is to enable the people living in Taiwan to live with peace of mind every day, without worrying that the government will oppress them with violence ... or that they could be taken away by the police in the middle of the night," she said.
"You can read freely, express your opinions freely, and work together to build a better democratic society," she said. "Please rest assured that Taiwan will never forget 2.28."
But former KMT president Ma Ying-jeou hit out at activists who have defaced monuments to Chiang, protesting the public veneration of what many saw as an unwanted, violent, and colonial regime.
"The best way ... to cure the pain of the victims' families is through love and tolerance," Ma said. "We hope that all political parties will respect this spirit, so that we can truly redress the harm of the 2.28 incident."
Last year, the tomb of late Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek, who presided over the 2.28 killings, was covered by activists with red paint symbolizing blood.
Reported by Hsia Hsiao-hwa for RFA's Mandarin Service, and by Chung Kuang-cheng for the Cantonese Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.
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