US Secretary of State Colin Powell's recent trip to Japan, South Korea and China shows that some deep-seated misconceptions exist with regard to Taiwan and its international status.
While it should be appreciated that Powell urged Beijing to ac-knowledge President Chen Shui-bian's (
In any case, the Chinese authorities rejected Chen's call for cross-strait talks, after which Powell gave them an earful about US plans to sell defensive wea-pons to Taiwan -- an obvious move to counter the military buildup on Beijing's part.
But it was his subsequent remarks which got him into hot water with Taiwan. In an interview with CNN Asia correspondent Mike Chinoy, he stated: "We want to see both sides not take unilateral action that would pre-judice an eventual outcome, a reunification that all parties are seeking."
This second part of this remark is simply false because the "party" that is most directly concerned -- the people of Taiwan -- overwhelmingly reject reunification. In most recent opinion polls, less than 10 percent of those interviewed supported reunification (even if China would become democratic). In any case, reunification is a misnomer, since Taiwan was never part of the People's Republic of China in the first place.
Furthermore, "reunification" has never been part of US policy either. It does not appear in the Taiwan Relations Act or in any other US policy statement regarding Taiwan. In fact, for the past six administrations, the US has been neutral on the eventual status of Taiwan. The US has only emphasized that it should be a peaceful resolution, and more recently added "with the consent of the people of Taiwan."
Of course, this is not the first time that a high-ranking US official has made this kind of error. In 1998, former president Bill Clinton fell into the same trap. During a speech at Pekjing University, he said that US policy is "no obstacle to peaceful reunification of China and Taiwan."
Every so often the US State Department emphasizes that US policy toward Taiwan is clear. Well, if it is so clear, then why do presidents and the secretaries of state make such blunders?
Adding insult to injury, Powell said in a later interview with Phoenix TV: "Taiwan is not independent. It does not enjoy sovereignty as a nation, and that remains our policy, our firm policy."
Someone needs to remind Powell that sovereignty as a nation does not depend on US recognition. This is stated in the Montevideo Convention on Rights and Duties of States, signed by the US on Dec. 26, 1933, which stipulates that "the political existence of the state is independent of recognition by the other states."
This convention contains the universally-accepted doctrine that a "state as a person of international law should possess the following qualifications: a permanent population; a defined territory; government and capacity to enter into relations with the other states."
Taiwan fulfills all of these qualifications.
The problem of Taiwan's non-recognition does not stem from the fact that it is not a nation-state -- it is a nation-state by any definition of the term -- but from the fact that for decades the previous Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) administration continued to claim itself to be the rightful government of all of China.