The government is backing the establishment of a Republic of China 100th National Day Foundation. Vice President Vincent Siew (蕭萬長) wants this event to let “the world see Taiwan, and Taiwan see the future.”
Solid sentiment, and commendable. It might have been better to keep quiet about it, though, because as far as international law is concerned, it might make things more difficult for Taiwan. If the government is not careful, the world will not only lose sight of Taiwan, but Taiwan will also lose sight of its future.
In international law, the Chinese state has never ceased to exist. Prior to 1912 it was officially the Empire of the Great Qing. After that, a small band of revolutionaries led by Sun Yat-sen (孫逸仙) overthrew the internationally recognized and legitimate Manchu government of China through violent and illegal force.
The new leaders renamed the country the Republic of China (ROC) and redesigned the national flag: It was now five horizontal stripes of different colors. The government was officially established in 1912.
In 1927 a small band of revolutionaries operating out of southern China, led by Chiang Kai-shek (蔣介石), overthrew what was, at the time, the one and only internationally recognized legitimate government of China, the Beiyang government, through illegal military force. This time the name of the country stayed the same, but the new leaders changed the pentacolor national flag to one with a white sun on a blue sky set on a red background.
In 1949, another band of revolutionaries, led by Mao Zedong (毛澤東), overthrew what was, at the time, the one and only internationally recognized and legitimate government of China, the ROC government, again through illegal military force. They established a communist regime, not only renaming the country to the People’s Republic of China (PRC), but also changing the national flag to five gold stars arranged in the top corner on a red background.
Thus the state of China has never ceased to exist, though in the space of less than 40 years it has been renamed three times and had its national flag changed four times. God only knows how many times real power has changed hands.
There is no basis in international law for limiting the origin of the “Republic of China” to 100 years ago. China goes back thousands of years, from the pre-imperial days of the ancient sage-kings Yao (堯) and Shun (舜) and the dynastic rulers Yu (禹) of the Xia Dynasty, Tang (湯) of the Shang Dynasty and the kings Wen (文) and Wu (武) of the Zhou Dynasty to the times of the Duke of Zhou (周公) and philosophers like Confucius (孔子) and Mencius (孟子). These figures laid down the core foundations of Chinese culture that we know today and produced “the savior of mankind” and “the greatest person in the whole world” — dictator Chiang Kai-shek.
Has this all come to an end? I can imagine there are some out there who feel loyalty to the ROC government and who, educated under the party-state system, get confused with the difference between the recognition of a nation and the recognition of a change in government. This is why they can talk of celebrating the centenary of the ROC.
It was precisely this confusion that led members of the international community back in the 1970s to choose only one government to represent China. In international law this is essentially a conflict between regimes. When the late paramount leader of China, Deng Xiaoping (鄧小平), said: “If the Kuomintang [Chinese Nationalist Party, KMT] on Taiwan is looking to fight us for [territorial] control, then they have bitten off more than they can chew,” that might have been rather hard to take.