Richard Hartzell asks when the Republic of China (ROC) in Taiwan first became a sovereign nation (Letters, Nov. 8, page 8). I write to answer his question. Hartzell notes that, at one time, Taiwan's sovereignty was held by Japan. How did that happen? Well, the Empire of China gave Taiwan and its people to the Emperor of Japan. And who gave the Emperor of China the right to do so?
It was done under the "traditional model of sovereignty in which the king or ruler had the right to power" through his or her descent from a dynasty blessed by God.
It has been said that "In these systems of power based on the blessing of God, state authority was not vested in the people, but sanctified for reasons of background, tradition or religious beliefs, carried by mythical powers and structured in such a way as to deny access for citizens."
(For further discussion of this concept see: http://www.dadalos.org/int/Demokratie/Demokratie/Grundkurs3/wahlen/souveraenitaet.htm.)
However, "Every democratic constitution contains different wording to the effect that all state power is vested in the people and exercised by them. Therefore, state power is only legitimate when it is carried by the free will and with the agreement of the people. The principle of people's sovereignty replaced the traditional model."
In the 21st century, it is long past the time when "sovereignty" can be said to have been granted to kings by gods. The only genuinely sovereign government is one which has the freely-given consent of its people.
And the sovereign people of Taiwan granted legitimacy to the ROC government when the democratic reform of the government was completed by the direct election of Lee Teng-hui as the ROC's first democratically elected president. Thereafter, the ROC was the sovereign and legitimate government of Taiwan.
In short, sovereignty rests in people, not kings or gods, and the Republic of China in Taiwan became sovereign when it obtained the consent of the Taiwanese people in free and fair elections.
And, by the way, what does this say about the Chinese Communist Party-controlled government of the People's Republic of China (PRC)?
Well, obviously, it is an illegitimate government based on the oppression of its people.
In other words, US Secretary of State Powell had it backwards: it is the PRC which lacks legitimacy and sovereignty, not the ROC.