Wed, Mar 30, 2005 - Page 8 News List

Neutrality not the answer

By Jeff Geer

I am concerned about the fallacies behind the idea of Taiwan's neutrality in East Asia, supported by Arthur Waldron as a potential solution for Taiwan's security(Letters, March 23, page 8).

The concept of neutrality in international law differs from the neutrality which is a temporary condition during a particular conflict.

Like in the case of Switzerland, the notion of a disinterested state dates back to 1815 when five major European powers signed an agreement (the Act of Paris) which recognized the neutrality of Switzerland.

This type of neutrality means the concerned parties will recognize that a certain country is not to become part of an alliance, will forbid any foreign military bases on this territory and will guarantee not to compromise the inviolability of the neutral state.

It sounds like a great solution on paper and it was repeatedly tried in Southeast Asia.

The US secretary of state signed a neutrality agreement in 1922 with Japan and Britain to gain control of the Philippines and Guam, along with other island areas in the Pacific, provided the Japanese promise not to further expand fortifications in Taiwan, Bonin Island, or the Ryukyus.

The US war planners were thus forced into "War Plan Orange," which meant the US Navy had to sail from the east coast in the US through the Panama Canal to Guam, and then retake the Philippines in the event of a Japanese campaign in Southeast Asia.

Because of over-reliance on a demilitarization in the agreement, the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor resulted.

If this were not a sufficient lesson against neutrality, then the so-called "Laos question" of 1962 should be another lesson in dealing with the PRC through neutrality agreements.

Marjorie Whiteman wrote in the Digest of International Law in 1963 that "As the participating governments in the International Conference on the Settlement of the Laotian Question, held at Geneva from May 16, 1961 to July 23, 1962, Burma, Cambodia, Canada, the People's Republic of China, the Democratic Republic of Vietnam, France, India, Poland, the Republic of Vietnam, Thailand, the Soviet Union, the United Kingdom, and the United States have signed a Declaration on the Neutrality of Laos, which together with the statement of neutrality by the Royal Government of Laos in July 9, 1962, entered into force on the date of signature, July 23, 1962, as an international agreement."

The lesson here is while the US State Department did not recognize the People's Republic of China (PRC) or the North Vietnamese, it willingly entered into a multilateral agreement for their shared recognition of the neutrality of Laos in order to advance a rather naive containment of communist expansionism.

Only a few years later, the Democratic Republic of Vietnam violated the 1963 agreement by establishing a supply line through "neutral" Laotian territory for supplying the Viet Cong insurgency against the government of South Vietnam.

The appeasement of China through neutrality agreements would mean that Taiwan could never legally join any security alliance.

The PRC can never be expected to honor any neutrality agreement with regard to Taiwan when the US State Department's Office of the Legal Advisor habitually kowtows to Beijing.

The hawks should become aware that arms sales, such as those to Taiwan, are allowed in modern neutrality agreements. But a view of the history of such neutrality agreements shows that they are often ineffective.

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