Looking at the timeline of changes in Taiwan’s sovereignty, both the 1943 Cairo Declaration and 1945 Potsdam Declaration made a political promise that Taiwan should be transferred to the Republic of China (ROC). This means that the ROC ruled Taiwan between 1945 and 1949, while waiting for the signing of a peace treaty transferring Taiwan to the ROC. For Taiwan, the ROC was a “foreign regime,” and thus Taiwan’s sovereignty remained undetermined.
The Allies were unwilling to keep their promise after the ROC lost control over China in 1949. However, they were also unwilling to sit idly by as the Chinese Communist Party grew stronger and so they continued to support the ROC government’s right to represent China internationally, treating it as China’s sole legal representative. Before the Treaty of Peace with Japan, also known as the San Francisco Peace Treaty, took effect on April 28, 1952, sovereignty over the Taiwanese territories legally remained with Japan. However, Taiwan’s sovereignty remained undetermined even after the treaty came into effect. In other words, for a considerable period of time, the ROC government became a government-in-exile as it set up government in a territory to which it did not belong.
Although the ROC continued to claim the right to represent China on the global stage even after the ROC withdrew from the UN in 1971, that claim was no longer recognized, although the regime continued to effectively rule Taiwan. Following this, the cross-operations of international and domestic law have meant that the ROC and Taiwan have been gradually fused into one entity. In 1996, Taiwanese directly elected their national leader for the first time and Taiwan scrapped its claim to represent all of China in the international community. Through domestic presidential elections, its assertions to the outside world and practical implementation of public self-determination during this period, Taiwan and the ROC were closely linked together.
Through the changes from a “foreign regime” to a “government-in-exile” and a “de facto government,” the concept that “the ROC is Taiwan, and Taiwan is the ROC” gradually developed. The effort to build and consolidate Taiwan as an independent and sovereign state through internal change and external assertions lasted until 2008. After the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) regained power that year, these efforts came to an abrupt end, as Taiwan once again started to lean toward and then further strengthen an identity as part of China.
Like the Constitution domestically, international law attaches great importance to practical strength. Given current international law, we should follow the path that brings minimal change to the so-called “status quo” to be able to develop independence and sovereignty for Taiwan as a country. As for the national title, there is a lot of room for flexibility. In the UN Charter signed in 1945, the ROC and the USSR are still listed among the five permanent members of the UN Security Council. No one would think of that Republic of China as the ROC that now exists in Taiwan, just as no one would deny that Russia is a permanent member of the Security Council. The key issue is substantive representativeness.
If we care about Taiwan’s national sovereignty, we should make every effort to prevent the current KMT government from making any legal promise to recognize Taiwan as being part of China, thus hurting its sovereignty, instead of arguing about what title a Taiwanese state should use in the international community.