Perhaps it is because he used to teach and is himself well-educated that President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) pays a lot of attention to academic research. On May 23, Ma attended a conference to commemorate the late legal scholar Chiu Hungdah (丘宏達). The next day, he attended a symposium on international comparative law. Over the past few years, Ma has taken part in a great number of academic conferences, showing more interest in academia than any of the nation’s former presidents. As an academic, I admire this and hope history notes it. It really is something rather special.
However, when Ma attended the conference to commemorate Chiu, he said that Chiu was the first ever to propose the idea of China and Taiwan being political entities that practice “mutual non-denial.”
Ma also said that the concepts of “mutual non-recognition of sovereignty” and “mutual non-denial of authority to govern” he mentioned in his inauguration speech came from Chiu’s ideas.
Ma added that he was glad to see that in 2009, the fifth edition of the best-known textbook on international law in the US, International Law, Cases and Materials, started to change the way it referred to Taiwan. The book previously referred to Taiwan as a special case, but in 2009, there was a paragraph which said that in the 2008 Taiwan presidential election, Ma proposed the idea of “mutual non-denial.” However, it is strange that Ma should be glad about this.
The sentence directly following the part cited by Ma reads: “As such, the likelihood of Taiwan seeking independence appears to have diminished.” It is therefore clear that authoritative academic works also believe the idea of “mutual non-denial” Ma has proposed is actually harmful to Taiwan’s sovereignty and independence. So what is there to be glad about?
Moreover, in the past, this book did not group Taiwan with Hong Kong or Macau, but in the fifth edition, after the part about Taiwan, it immediately moves on to discuss Hong Kong and Macau. Lumping Taiwan with Hong Kong and Macau is something very worrying indeed.
In the discussion about Taiwan’s legal status from pages 341 through 344, the book still views Taiwan as an entity with special status. Page 343 specifically mentions how in 2000, the year Taiwan elected the pro-independence Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) as president, Chen carefully used his inaugural speech to stop any direct conflict with China and said that unless China attacked Taiwan, Taiwan would not declare independence. In 2007, the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) passed a resolution that made a clear distinction between Taiwan and China. It said that “Taiwan” would be used as a general term to refer to Taiwan, but Taiwan would not relinquish the use of its official name of the “Republic of China.” The textbook was quite positive about what the DPP did for Taiwan’s status as a nation after coming to power in 2000.
Cross-strait relations are a complicated issue and progress is tricky. However, if we act only to please China and to make things easier for us in dealing with them, denying Taiwan’s sovereignty in the process, then we would only be sabotaging ourselves. This is especially true after Ma’s talk about his concept of “one Republic of China and two areas” in his re-inauguration speech.
Given Ma’s comments, it would not be so strange if in the future, mainstream legal textbooks from the West start viewing Taiwan, Hong Kong and Macau as the same — “special administrative regions” of China.