Even with all the various versions of "state" being bandied about in Taiwan these days, it still comes as a surprise to hear someone actually talk about statehood. As in, American statehood.
Yet David Chou comes right out and says it: Taiwan should become the 51st state of the United States.
Chou is not joking. He has a plan. It may never work, but just try telling Chou that. He has been working on it for years.
Chou set up the 51 Club in 1994 to promote his idea. He admitted 51 members. But to him it is not a gimmick. It is a cause. With all the confusing explanations that Taiwan's government puts forth about whether it is part of China or something separate, Chou's unusual proposal is refreshingly straightforward.
"If we were a state, our most serious problem _ security _ would be solved," said Chou, 49, who looks and sounds considerably more normal than his proposal might suggest. "The current government can't solve it; neither can the opposition. But statehood can."
Taiwan has been drowning in political debate since July 9, when President Lee Teng Hui caused an uproar by saying that from now on talks with China should be held on the basis of equal states, in a "special state-to-state relationship." Beijing immediately denounced Lee for trying to thwart China's reunification with the island, while opinion polls in Taiwan show cautious support for Lee's statement.
"Special state-to-state relations, yes, as a U.S. state," Chou said. "That's the only state we should want to be, the state of Taiwan."
Face facts, Chou says. Taiwan would not exist without the United States. Ever since 1949, when Chiang Kai Shek's Nationalists retreated to Taiwan after losing China's civil war to Mao Zedong's Communists, they have survived by American protection, American trade and the education of countless Taiwan students in American universities.
Chou argues that most people here, if given a choice, would prefer to be American.
"A lot of people in Taiwan are embarrassed to say so," Chou said, whispering conspiratorially. "The government will never say so. But it's true."
Chou seems to fancy himself a visionary. He studied law in the United States but ended up as a businessman in the toy industry. He seems fiercely committed to the idea of statehood but is a bit weak on how to organize.
He needs money, he acknowledges. So in July he set up a foundation called the FormUSA Foundation _ a play on Taiwan's earlier name, Formosa. So far, it has 18 members.
"The Communist Party started with 12," he said.
Will it take as many decades to achieve his goal as it did for Communist leaders to achieve theirs?
Unlikely, Chou said, but exactly how long depends on Beijing.
"All the PLA has to do is lob a few missiles over, and people will be swarming to us," he said, referring to the People's Liberation Army.
Chou lived and worked in New York, Pennsylvania and California over a period of 10 years, and he fell in love with what he sees as a reliable legal system and an open-minded society.
"I know a lot of Taiwanese have reservations about this," he said. "They may worry that they'll lose their culture. But I tell them, you can still eat rice, no one will force you to eat hamburgers."