Mon, Jul 04, 2005 - Page 8 News List

Letter: Sovereignty a tough question

By Richard Hartzell

I read Dennis Hickey's letter (Letters, June 29, page 8) with much interest. Hickey has provided a very lucid analysis of some of the key international legal perspectives which have a great bearing on the Taiwan sovereignty issue.

From the content and tone of Hickey's letter, it is clear that he hopes that the Taiwanese people can have a bright future under a democratic government, and that peace, stability and prosperity in the Western Pacific can be maintained. I am sure that the readers of this newspaper, myself included, also share in these hopes.

Nevertheless, I must point out the arguments advanced in his letter are not persuasive. I have no doubt that Hickey is sincere. The problem does not rest with the thoroughness of his analysis, rather it rests with the underlying legal assumptions.

Specifically, Hickey and many other contributors to the Taipei Times editorial page before him have consistently made reference to the Montevideo Convention on the Rights and Duties of States. Perhaps it will come as a surprise to them that anyone could state that the formulation in this Montevideo Convention is "incomplete."

However, it clearly is. I believe that everyone who is interested in a democratic future for Taiwan should consider this aspect in some detail. An example is easily given as follows. Let us suppose that there was a war in Southeast Asia, and the military forces of Holland were fighting Indonesia. Further let us suppose that in the battle for Sumatra, Holland had been allied with Malaysia. Military forces from Holland and Malaysia were fighting together in the archipelago, and after several months of heavy aerial and naval bombardments by Holland, the Indonesian commanders on Sumatra agreed to surrender.

At this point we can imagine that Holland's military forces still had additional operations to take care of in nearby geographic areas. Hence, the Dutch general would direct that senior Indonesian commanders and all ground, sea, air and auxiliary forces within Sumatra surrender to Malaysia's military forces, and that Malaysia should take charge of the administration of the island.

Moreover, let us imagine that five years later (before the post-war peace treaty is written) there is a coup d'etat in Malaysia, and a number of high-ranking government officials and military personnel all flee to Sumatra. At this point it might be expected that the old Malaysian government which has established itself in Sumatra still has full diplomatic relations with thirty or more countries. An important question is: Can we consider "Malaysia in Sumatra" to be an independent and sovereign nation?

Consider the entire situation from the point of view of the local Sumatrans. What would they say about the legitimacy of the Malaysian government which has established itself in Sumatra? But with reference to Article 1 of the Montevideo Convention (which entered into force on December 26, 1934), "Malaysia in Sumatra" does indeed meet the four criteria of having (a) a permanent population, (b) a defined territory, (c) a government and (d) the capacity to enter into relations with other states.

A closer examination of the facts, however, shows that "Malaysia in Sumatra" is only a subordinate occupying power and a government in exile. It has effective territorial control over Sumatra, but does not have sovereignty. Indeed, the local Sumatrans would probably be glad for the Malaysians to move to Paris, Rome, London, or some other city and establish their government in exile there. However, it is unlikely the Malaysians would leave.

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