As an American, I found Richard Hartzell's article quite thought-provoking ("Taiwan's Legal Standing," May 16, page 8). But outside proponents of a "new American Empire," I can't imagine very many people taking Hartzell's idea seriously. I don't appreciate the idea of giving US war hawks another reason for military adventure, but my larger concerns with Hartzell's letter rest with his ideas about international law and history.
True enough, there are many people who simply haven't got the patience for the niceties of law -- international or otherwise. In the US, lawyers are greatly disparaged and many civil rights are barely understood or appreciated. Likewise, many Americans have little use for international bodies, treaties and courts that seem to limit US sovereignty and often work against our interests.
But, unlike US and Taiwanese domestic jurisprudence, international law is really quite limited. That is why there are also at least a few Americans who are willing to suffer whatever inefficiencies and indignities the price of a strong UN might be. We realize what a thin and recent veneer international law places on the normal historical method of deciding issues between nations: military power.
Valuable though it may be, international law's contribution to the solution of Taiwan's problems will be quite limited. International law cannot decide the issue, but it can be a means of enforcing the world's position once it has decided Taiwan's fate. The problem, as I hope Hartzell will agree, is that the world is in the process of deciding things China's way, and there is very little visible global opposition to that point of view.
By law or simple logic, the US and the world would seem to be on fairly safe ground continuing with the assumption that Taiwan is part of China. This is what the "great powers" decided during World War II and none of them have stepped forward to change their minds since. Neither the people of Taiwan nor its effective government has ever declared anything to the contrary. The closest the Taiwanese have ever come to voicing their opinion was on Feb. 28, 1947, and that incident will be forever cloaked in controversy.
Why wasn't Taiwan given independence at the end of World War II? One answer is that Taiwan had never been independent before and that the Allies could not be sure that it had the means to govern itself, an argument that obviously no longer applies.
Why wasn't it put under a UN trusteeship or the like, until such time as it could either govern itself or vote on its disposition? The answer is probably that the Chinese leadership -- both Nationalist and Communist -- would have seen such a move as thinly veiled Western imperialism by the US and Britain.
It might be a great legal convenience that no recipient of Taiwan's sovereignty is named in the 1951 peace treaty. This fact might end up being an "escape clause" that could allow the world the legal means to enforce a declaration of Taiwanese independence. But the only reason that Chiang Kai-shek's (蔣介石) Republic of China (ROC) was not declared the recipient in 1951 was that the US and other powers didn't want to chance the People's Republic of China (PRC) taking over instead. The "man who wasn't there" in the San Francisco Treaty is not likely to step up now and make one of the world's tough choices on Taiwan's behalf.
International law doesn't provide much of a difference between "de jure" and "de facto"; they are, like beauty, in the eye of the beholder. In today's world, international law and the UN play an even smaller role than they did only a few years ago. The opinions of the world's "great powers," and most importantly the world's only superpower, will decide Taiwan's fate.
True enough, the powers of the world have a great interest in courting China's friendship. But they also have a great reason to want to limit its growth and powers. Moreover, most of the world's great powers are democracies. The people of the US, Europe, Japan, India and other countries have been well schooled in years of PRC and ROC propaganda. Taiwan needs desperately to get its story out. The world needs to be taught to think of Taiwan as a separate nationality; one whose unique history has disposed it toward peace and democracy.
The elements of that history, the historical forces that predispose the Taiwanese people toward democracy, happen to have a great many parallels to similar historical forces in US history, that is, our colonial past and our struggle to come out from under the shadow of our former colonizers. There is therefore reason to hope that the educational effort won't be that hard a sell.
In this regard, I honestly believe that Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) Chairman Lien Chan (連戰) and People First Party Chairman James Soong (宋楚瑜) have done the Taiwanese people a great service. What could they have done to make clearer to the world the commonality of pro-Chinese, anti-Taiwanese forces, whether Communist or Nationalist?
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