Thu, Nov 01, 2007 - Page 8 News List

Defining the abstract language of sovereignty

By LIN CHO-SHUI 林濁水

Chinese president Hu Jintao (胡錦濤) has said that the two sides of the Taiwan Strait share a common fate. Despite Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) presidential candidate Frank Hsieh's (謝長廷) almost conciliatory statement that there is a "one China" framework in Taiwan's Constitution and the pan-blue camp's position that peace negotiations must be predicated on an acceptance of the "one China" principle, the prospects of a peace agreement between China and Taiwan are slim.

Both China's "one China" principle and Hsieh's and the pan-blue camp's "one China" stance address the issue of Taiwan's sovereignty. Yet China uses the phrase to clarify its position on sovereignty, while Hsieh and the pan-blue camp use the phrase to blur their stands on sovereignty.

Although linguistic ambiguity can serve a difficult political environment, terms like "peace negotiations" are much less abstract. For this reason, it is necessary for the legal relationship between parties to be clear. That's why China and Taiwan first have to agree on the core meaning of sovereignty.

Is there a party among them or above them that has sovereignty over both? Do both countries agree that they don't represent each other internationally? Should they create a new higher institution to represent both? These issues cannot be avoided.

In 1972, East and West Germany signed a Basic Treaty rejecting the use of force against each other. It was basically a peace treaty. Although the two sides had different positions about sovereignty, they eventually agreed to recognize that their highest legal powers did not include the other party's territory and that the jurisdiction of each part of Germany was confined to its own territory.

Negotiators avoided using the term "sovereignty." They also promised that neither could represent the other internationally. It looked like they had avoided the issue of sovereignty, but outside of the territory of both Germanies, there was no higher jurisdiction above the two. In practice, the jurisdiction mentioned in the treaty was the same as sovereignty.

After the two parties again declared that each had kept its position on the definition of the country, both parties signed the basic treaty with their respective names of Bundesrepublik Deutschland (BRD) and Deutsche Demokratische Republik (DDR) and both simultaneously entered the UN.

Such a detailed approach to the issue of sovereignty is absolutely necessary for a peace treaty. China has refused to accept the concept of two Chinas, or one China and one Taiwan peace agreement Hu is proposing reflects his views on sovereignty.

China cannot accept the approach taken by the two Germanies. Whether it is Hu at the Chinese Communist Party's 17th National Congress talking about "one country, two systems" or the language contained in the "Anti-Secession" Law (反分裂國家法) saying that Taiwan would be granted some international space, it is all very clear that Taiwan would not have the sovereign jurisdiction the two Germanies agreed on in their Basic Treaty.

So as soon as a peace treaty is signed, Taiwan's status will at best be a little better than Hong Kong's. As soon as a peace treaty is signed, Taiwan's international space will be a lot smaller than what it is now.

There are people in Taipei who long for a peace treaty with China. But such an agreement would give Taiwan's sovereignty away. Taiwan wants to be autonomous and therefore will have to assess any peace offer from China very carefully. Unless China magically becomes a lot more rational, peace negotiations are not to be expected in the near future.

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