China has long claimed that Taiwan is an inalienable part of its territory.
The Chinese government has regularly demonized anyone who has advanced an alternative point of view, even when those points are backed by international law.
However, in a rather ironic fashion, China’s government made a strong argument for Taiwan’s self-determination in 2009.
Beijing posited that the doctrine of self-determination is a right in certain circumstances based on international law arising in two different geopolitical circumstances in history: territories under foreign rule and those under colonial rule.
While the right to self-determination has expanded since that time, it is worth looking at the merits of Beijing’s argument.
The Chinese government asserted that the people of territories under foreign rule have the right to self-determination. That right arose out of former US president Woodrow Wilson’s “Fourteen Points” speech and was enshrined in some specific instances in the Treaty of Versailles.
While imperfectly implemented, it gave several peoples under the rule of alien neighbors the right to decide which state they wanted to be a part of.
In some instances, these territories had been ceded to larger, more powerful neighbors prior to World War I.
Another assertion made by Beijing was that the doctrine also arose from those seeking freedom from colonial rule. Beijing’s argument here is that colonies of imperialistic powers had the right to self-determination.
While this development came decades after the genesis of the concept of self-determination in modern international law, the argument is still valid because during the 1950s and 1960s, former colonies became independent of their mostly European colonial overlords and began to chart their own courses.
Looking at history, and specifically Taiwan’s status during the 20th century, there are clear parallels. Taiwan was under foreign rule from the time of the Treaty of Shimonoseki in 1895 until the time of the Republic of China Occupation on behalf of the Allied powers, beginning in October 1945.
As Taiwan was under foreign rule, does not this meet Beijing’s criteria for self-determination?
There is debate as to whether Taiwan was a colony of Japan. Administratively, it was not.
However, in other ways it certainly met the standards that many would use to regard Taiwan as a colony of Imperial Japan.
With this in mind, would this not also meet Beijing’s declared standard for self-determination?
China’s government made these arguments for self-determination in both written arguments and oral statements before the International Court of Justice (ICJ) regarding the advisory opinion over Kosovo’s declaration of independence.
While the ICJ upheld the legality of the declaration, it failed to address some of the other issues brought up not only by China, but also by the US and other nations that made presentations to the court, a fact lamented by at least two other judges on the court.
China’s arguments before the court strongly buttress the legal right of Taiwan and its people to pursue a course of self-determination.
Surely, the irony of China’s argument must be lost on it, but it is very clear that Taiwan meets China’s own declared historical and legal criteria.
It is clear by Beijing’s own statements that its ideology is consistent with Taiwan’s right to determine its own future.