Moreover, Japan did not recognize Taiwan as part of China, on the grounds that doing so would infringe on its obligations under the San Francisco Treaty.
While Japan fully “understood” and “respected” the PRC’s declaration that Taiwan was an “inalienable” part of its territory, it did not recognize the claim in accordance with international law. The two countries simply agreed to disagree over Taiwan’s legal status. In other words, Japan renounced Taiwan without reassigning it.
To date, China has been silent about the implications of the San Francisco Treaty for its claims in the South China Sea. This may simply reflect a dearth of international legal expertise in this field or the state of China’s segmented, stove-piped policy communities. However, it could also stem from concerns that using the treaty’s legal reasoning, which conflicts with China’s stance on Taiwan, to resolve today’s territorial disputes would undermine its credibility and weaken its position.
If left unchecked, China may use the South China Sea disputes to gain effective hegemony over weaker claimants. All parties to the disputes, including China, can cite geographic and historical connections to the islands to back their claims, but none of them has solid legal title under the San Francisco Treaty.
The US and other extra-regional powers should take advantage of this fact, invoking their latent collective custody of the Spratly and the Paracel islands in accordance with the San Francisco Treaty, and internationalize separate bilateral diplomatic processes between China and regional claimants. The treaty’s parties could even hold a conference to deliberate on the matter. Given that it would exclude China, such a discussion alone would be a game changer.
Masahiro Matsumura is a professor of international politics at St. Andrew’s University (Momoyama Gakuin Daigaku) in Osaka, Japan.
Copyright: Project Syndicate