Sat, Mar 19, 2005 - Page 8 News List

Letter: Taiwan belongs to US

By Richard Hartzell

I enjoyed Frank Chiang's (江永芳) article ("Sadly, Taiwan is not a state," March 12, page 8). Chiang makes a number of excellent points. However, his conclusion is not powerful enough.

For a solution to Taiwan's current international identity crisis, he suggests that "All the government in Taiwan has to do is announce that the people of Taiwan have no desire to unify with China."

While no doubt well-intentioned, it is highly unlikely that such an announcement will have any greater effect than previous announcements opposing the placement of hundreds of Chinese missiles pointed directly at Taiwan. To my knowledge, such pleas to the international community, international organizations, human rights groups and so forth have been completely futile.

Before I outline how Chiang's arguments could lead to a much stronger conclusion, let me first review some basic history of the Spanish-American War. That war began in early 1898, and Cuba was completely under the authority of invading US military forces upon the surrender of Spanish troops there on July 17, 1898. The peace treaty (Treaty of Paris) was signed in December 1898 and came into effect on April 11, 1899. Spain ceded Cuba, but no "receiving country" was specified.

At the time, the consensus of the international community was that Cuba should be an independent country. Hence, the Cuban people were involved in nation building for the next few years.

On May 20, 1902, Cuban independence was recognized, the US flag came down, and the Republic of Cuba flag went up. In this simple sequence of events, we see an outline of how the sovereignty of Cuba was transferred from Spain to the Republic of Cuba via the US military administration.

More specifically, in the post-Napoleonic period, international law recognizes that "territory is considered occupied when it is actually placed under the authority of a hostile army." All military attacks against Spanish installations and fortifications in Cuba were conducted by US military forces, hence the US was the principal occupying power.

This is very close to Taiwan's situation after World War II, and so we can call this a "limbo cession." Unfortunately, the Taiwanese people don't understand how the sovereignty of Cuba was transferred from Spain to the Republic of Cuba between the period of 1898 to 1902. As such, it is impossible for them to understand Taiwan's current international legal status.

As a basic orientation, remember that "military occupation" is conducted under military government, and for the US this is the US Military Government (USMG). Military occupation may be conducted directly or delegated, and hence, the principal occupying power can be considered a subordinate occupying power. The subordinate occupying power is merely acting as an "agent."

For the Cuban people, it is important to note that "Cuban independence" was only one possible outcome of the Spanish-American War. Looking at three types of "limbo cession" scenarios, we see how Cuban independence might have evolved. In the first scenario, suppose that in early 1899, two separate groups began "nation building," by establishing a Congress, drafting a constitution, selecting presidential candidates, writing draft laws and so on. One group might have been in eastern Cuba while the other in western Cuba. In other words, two new "governments" emerged. Who would have decided which "government" is the lawful authority?

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