Following the Sunflower movement, the idea of Taiwanese independence has at last lost its bad name.
Some pundits maintain that young people are simply acknowledging the “status quo,” and not seeking a declaration of independence, as Taiwan already has de facto independence, its name being the Republic of China (ROC). This reasoning is flawed and ill-informed.
It is simply not true that advocacy of independence can be considered maintaining the “status quo.” In international law, there are only two categories: The de jure state and the de facto entity. There is no such thing as a country with de facto independence. Public law theory and international practice hold that the “status quo” is that Taiwan is a de facto entity, or even a regional government, or that legally speaking, it remains a part of China. Visa exemption agreements, reciprocal judicial assistance, consular privileges, and any participation in international organizations, albeit under a different name, that Taiwan enjoys are due to allowances made unilaterally by other countries, not because these countries recognize the nation as independent.
Malcolm Evans’ International Law is very clear on the matter: Whether an entity can become a state is determined by whether that entity itself claims to be a country and wants to be recognized as such.
That is, Taiwan will never become a country until it actually declares independence.
A declaration of independence will also have the result of bidding farewell to the old system and choosing a new set of values. If this were anything short of a thorough overhaul and restructuring of the system and a psychological shift that includes transitional justice, to bring about a diverse culture and put human rights back on track, what would the point of independence be?
When in power, the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) not only failed to launch an investigation into past wrongs, it even employed swathes of bureaucrats who had worked for the old totalitarian regime and were complicit in it. It also followed in many of the old ways of the previous regime, doing things such as forbidding Yoshinori Kobayashi, author of the Japanese comic book On Taiwan (台灣論), from entering the country. The DPP administration also failed to push through on the 40-year-old Guanghualiao Estate (光華寮) case thrown out of Japanese courts because the original plaintiff had the China UN seat; did not know how to respond to China’s enactment of the “Anti-Secession” law; refused to remove radioactive waste from Orchid Island (Lanyu, 蘭嶼); and shied away from renaming China Airlines, of which the state owns more than a 70 percent stake. These instances of serious violations of democratic values were the result of expediency and of maintaining the “status quo.”
Declaring independence could also give Taiwan’s disillusioned young people renewed vision and hope, and wipe away the bad press they have been given about their supposed inability to engage with the world. Who knows how many opportunities will be created for them to go out into the world and engage with the international community simply by our joining the UN?
Former colleagues of mine, more erudite than myself, from Germany, France, the Middle East and Southeast Asia, are now all posted overseas or hold positions as department heads in UN institutions. Will young Taiwanese be afforded such opportunities by relying on the independence the nation has in the “status quo”?
Chris Huang is an associate professor in National Tsing Hua University’s Institute of Law for Science and Technology.
Translated by Paul Cooper
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