Wed, Jun 20, 2007 - Page 8 News List

Letters: Is China the ultimate arbiter?

To follow up Gerrit van der Wees' excellent account ("Taiwan is as much a nation-state as the US," June 18, page 8), may I propose the following thought experiment?

Suppose a Martian visited Taiwan and I asked him if it was a nation state?

I suspect he would say: "Well, it has a self-identified population, clearly defined territory, a flag, a national anthem, substantial military forces, regular elections, a long history, a legal system, a president, a police force and so forth.

"When I landed one of their officials stamped my passport. So if the phrase `nation state' means anything, then Taiwan is certainly a nation state."

I would then explain that, according to many countries, Taiwan is not. Why? Because China says it is not. If China recognized that Taiwan was a state, then the rest of the world would agree. So evidently China has the power to decide if Taiwan is a nation state.

My question is this: Does China have this power only with respect to Taiwan? Or do we have to check with China if other places are in fact nation states? Mongolia, for example? Or Canada (which was part of undivided British North America)?

If the answer is "yes," but only with respect to Taiwan, then the question that follows is why is there such a limitation? If "no," and China turns out to be the ultimate arbiter of statehood, then international law will be in for some substantial revision.

Arthur Waldron

Lauder Professor of International Relations

University of Pennsylvania

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