If we want to discuss Taiwan's national status from the perspective of international law, we must first separate the issue of Taiwan's sovereignty from the legal status of the Republic of China (ROC).
The former is a matter of territorial disputes under international law, while the latter is a matter of state or government theory. The two issues involve completely different discussions.
From the perspective of international law, the UN General Assembly adopted Resolution 2758 in 1971 to officially resolve the problem of which government was the legitimate representative of China, the old ROC or the new People's Republic of China (PRC).
The decision that the PRC government is the only legal representative of China was tantamount to declaring that the PRC government represents China in the international community. The ROC government thus passed on to the PRC.
However, the fact that the ROC is not a legal entity under international law is a different issue from the issue of Taiwan's status. The countries of the world do not, however, have the right to recognize Taiwan as a part of China. Since its establishment in October 1949, the PRC has never for a day ruled the island. Only the Taiwanese living here in Taiwan have the right to decide Taiwan's sovereignty. Neither China nor any other foreign country has the right to make that decision.
After Taiwan's democratization and direct presidential elections the Taiwanese have the ability to freely express their opinion. They have already removed the obstacles to their right to exercise self-determination, and it is now becoming difficult to continue to claim that Taiwan's legal status remains inconclusive.
Moreover, the view that Taiwan's legal status remains inconclusive cannot ensure Taiwan's independence from China.
It merely passively points out that the island does not necessarily belong to China. Taiwan remains an object that still has to be disposed of by China and the international community, and in the end, China will most likely get its way.
On Oct. 25, 2004, former US secretary of state Colin Powell commented during a visit to China that Taiwan "does not enjoy sovereignty as a nation" and is not an independent state.
This year, British academic James Crawford discussed Taiwan's status at length in the new edition of his book The Creation of States in International Law.
He cites various official Taiwanese documents to prove that Taiwan is not a nation, and his reason for reaching this conclusion is that "Taiwan is not a state, because it does not claim to be."
Back in Taiwan, both the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) and the People First Party and their supporters have always claimed that the ROC is an independent, sovereign state and that they will safeguard the nation's sovereignty.
Meanwhile, the ruling Democratic Progressive Party and its supporters also claim that the ROC exists independently of any other state and that Taiwan absolutely is an independent state whose national title is the Republic of China. Even those striving for independence claim that Taiwan has been long independent, and that sovereignty belongs to the 23 million people of Taiwan.
These claims and this kind of understanding are obviously very different from the international community's perspective, and this is the real reason behind Taiwan's diplomatic predicament.