Mon, Jun 18, 2007 - Page 8 News List

Taiwan is as much a nation-state as the US

By Gerrit van der Wees

An issue that seems to trip up many a statesman and civil servant around the world is whether Taiwan is a nation-state.

One often hears the misconception that Taiwan is not a state "because it is not recognized as such by the international community."

This is hogwash. From 1949 until 1979, the US did not recognize the People's Republic of China (PRC). Was China therefore not a state during that period? At present, the US doesn't recognize the Cuban government; is Cuba therefore not a nation-state?

The history of the US itself is a prime example of how fuzzy the issue can be.

Asked whether the US is a nation-state, most people would answer in the affirmative. However, when people are asked when the US became a nation state, most would emphatically answer 1776, when the Founding Fathers unveiled the Declaration of Independence.

Still, during the two years after the Declaration of Independence was signed, not a single country recognized the young republic. The first country to recognize the US -- France -- didn't do so until September 1778.

The second country -- Spain -- waited until a year later, and during its first 42 years of existence the US was recognized by only seven countries.

In the 1820s, a number of Latin American countries followed suit and in the 1830s European countries such as Belgium, Sardinia and the Two Sicilies also recognized the US.

Interestingly, the US did not attain 24 diplomatic recognitions -- Taiwan's present number -- until 1848, some 72 years after the Declaration of Independence.

Was the US therefore not a nation-state during that time? From this we might conclude that diplomatic recognition by itself doesn't determine whether a country is a nation-state or not. As has been pointed out by eminent academics such as Chen Lung-chu (陳隆志), the definition of a nation-state is provided in the 1933 Montevideo Convention, to which the US and Western European governments are signatories.

The convention defines nation-states as having a defined territory, a permanent population, a functioning government and the capability to enter into international agreements.

Taiwan possesses all these attributes -- indeed, it has diplomatic ties with 24 other states.

The question is thus not whether Taiwan is a nation-state -- it is. Rather, the question is how the nation is recognized internationally.

The government in Taipei now only claims to represent Taiwan and surrounding islands -- a major difference from 35 years ago, when the now outdated "one China" policy was established.

The US and most Western countries do not have diplomatic relations with the government in Taipei, but this stems from the fact that the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) administration maintained until 1991 that it was the government of all of China.

That claim, which was recognized by the US until 1979, fell by the wayside after the PRC's entry in the UN in 1971.

However, the US switch in 1979 did not change Taiwan's status in any way -- it only changed which government was recognized by the US as the government of China. The change did not mean that Taiwan had suddenly become a non-country.

In view of the fact that during the past two decades Taiwan has transformed itself into a democracy and now wants to be a full and equal member in the international community, it is high time for the US, Western European countries and China -- to reassess their policy of politically isolating Taiwan and move toward normalization of relations with one of Asia's most vibrant democracies.

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