Tue, Nov 23, 2004 - Page 8 News List


Dangerous optimism

I appreciate your newspaper and especially the range and quality of opinions presented on your editorial page. But I feel the recent Liberty Times editorial, "Taiwan is sovereign but abnormal" (Nov. 21, page 8), makes some dangerous errors, ones which are not uncommonly heard in Taiwan.

Although the editorial is clearly set forth, it embodies three types of errors. The first is to present erroneous conclusions based on correct facts without distinguishing between the facts and the conclusions; the second is not to distinguish between de jure, de facto, and consensual independence and the third is to believe that "if I say it is so, then it must be so."

When Taiwan was relinquished by Japan at the end of World War II, the author correctly notes that the Japanese did not specify by whom it was to be governed. However, it is the author's assumption that this left the definition of Taiwan in limbo, and it seems to me highly unlikely that this was what any of the parties involved considered to be the case.

The most logical assumption would have been that Taiwan should have been returned to the entity which had governed it before the Japanese had controlled it -- even though the national identity of that state was currently in question. Since China had ceded Taiwan to Japan in 1895 by a treaty which many still feel to this day was unjust, the country to whom it was intended must have been China, regardless if that meant the Republic of China (ROC) or the People's Republic of China could not be determined at the time.

For occupied territories to be granted independence after their colonizers have been defeated is highly unusual, and as far as I am aware, was not the case with other territories at the end of the World War II.

At this point Taiwan is certainly acting as an independent and sovereign state, but the "abnormality" of this situation is that its de jure status is unresolved and there is no international consensus on its future course. The article states that Taiwan "has all the requirements of statehood," but it does not consider the latter two aspects of independence, without which de facto independence is likely to be only a temporary condition.

Finally, the article states that Taiwan should take on its own name, Constitution and UN membership. This may be a wonderful ideal, but it seems to ignore the political realities of the situation. Although Taiwan has been moving in the direction of self-determination for the past 50 years, China's views on the situation have not changed.

It is not unknown for a territory or a country to peacefully declare its independence, but by far the most common consequence is armed conflict -- as we have seen for many years. Chechnya is a good example.

I certainly do not mean to say that Taiwan should "hand the keys to the city gate" to China, and I have confidence that Taiwan's leaders are not lacking in diplomatic skills (despite recent remarks by the foreign minister). But I am concerned with what seems to be an epidemic of unrealistic optimism, as indicated by the article in question. This is an optimism which is not only unrealistic, but dangerous.

We might wish that the world respected and supported self-determination and individual liberties of sovereign states, but it appears the world does not work this way, as shown in Afghanistan, Iraq and other places too numerous to mention. Optimism is always necessary, but it must be supported by a more realistic view of the situation.

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