During the Martial Law era from 1949 to 1987, Taiwanese independence activists in exile separated Taiwan from the Republic of China (ROC) and advocated using every means possible to overthrow the ROC government, which seemed entirely fair and just at the time.
However, after the end of martial law and the democratization of the 1990s, the World United Formosans for Independence and the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) both transformed, adopting the view that Taiwan is already an independent nation.
It is now 40 years since the representatives of Chiang Kai-shek (蔣介石) were expelled from the UN and the UN General Assembly’s resolution 2758 recognized the People’s Republic of China (PRC) as the only legitimate representative of China on Oct. 25, 1971. How the UN handled the issue of which government should represent China in 1971 and how the ROC dealt with the crisis provides a chance to ponder the dialectical relationship between Taiwan and the ROC. It will also aid the understanding of the “status quo” and what sort of decisions can be made in future to get us out of this situation.
While the US was dealing with changes in the international arena and adjusting its policies toward China, it was forced to face reality — the PRC was the new China. However, at the same time it also sought to maintain the ROC’s seat in the UN by proposing dual representation. As late as March 9, 1971, Winthrop Brown, then-deputy assistant secretary for East Asian and Pacific Affairs in the US Department of State, came to Taipei to talk with then-deputy foreign minister Yang Hsi-kun (楊西崑) about how the US believed dual representation would be the best way to ensure the ROC’s seat in the next session of the UN General Assembly.
Then, on April 23 that year, then-US president Richard Nixon sent diplomat Robert Murphy to Taiwan as his personal representative to meet with Chiang at the Sun Yat-sen Memorial Hall in Taipei. Murphy also suggested the dual representation model as a replacement for the proposed vote to make the issue a so-called “Important Question,” a device requiring a two-thirds majority in the UN General Assembly before any change could be made to the issue at hand. Chiang told Murphy that as long as the ROC could keep its place on the UN Security Council, he would accept any strategy the US proposed.
However, in the process of garnering support for the proposal from its allies, the US soon realized that a simple dual representation solution that did not mention the Security Council seat was impossible. Thus, then-US secretary of state William Rogers formally announced on Aug. 2 that Beijing would be given China’s seat on the Security Council, which was the more complex model of dual representation.
On Sept. 3, Rogers formally notified then-ROC ambassador to the US Chow Shu-kai (周書楷) that in order to obtain the least amount of resistance from other UN member nations, the US had already decided to implement a vote for the complex dual representation model and asked for the ROC’s understanding and continued cooperation. This was followed by the ROC resolutely opposing any suggestion that its seat on the Security Council be given to the PRC.
It is clear that while Chiang’s government was able to swallow that bitter pill — two Chinas simultaneously existing in the UN — it was unable to accept the PRC getting China’s permanent seat on the Security Council. Thus, Chiang eventually decided to leave the UN, saying that “gentlemen cannot stand together with thieves.”
Following the US’ calculations, a US State Department spokesperson said in April that the status of Taiwan remained unsettled, which according to the US’ then-national security advisor Henry Kissinger was meant to serve as a legal basis for dual representation. If that was successful, Taiwan and the Pescadores could have been successfully combined to constitute the ROC, but in the end, this attempt failed and the status of Taiwan and the Pescadores continued to be undetermined. However, if the ROC would have admitted that it only represented Taiwan and the Pescadores when the UN announced that it no longer represented China, it would have continued to gain international goodwill.
From this perspective, President Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) view that there is “one China with each side having its own interpretation” and the blurred delineation of sovereignty geared toward mutual non-recognition of each other’s sovereignty is even less responsible and unrealistic than Chiang’s approach in 1971.
DPP Chairperson Tsai Ing-wen’s (蔡英文) remark at one of her presidential campaign rallies that Taiwan is already an independent nation and that the ROC is indeed now the nation of Taiwan — or vice versa — at least gives a clear definition to the issue of the nation’s sovereignty and is not simply some scheme to get elected next year. Tsai’s statement rings true to historical fact — not fiction.
Chen Yi-shen is an associate research fellow at Academia Sinica’s Institute of Modern History.
Translated by Kyle Jeffcoat
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