On Tuesday last week, Panama established diplomatic relations with China and ended its ties with the Republic of China (ROC). The general public and newspapers have called it a “breaking off of diplomatic relations between Taiwan and Panama,” but at no point in history did Taiwan and Panama establish diplomatic relations, so how could they be broken off?
What Panama has actually done is cut off relations with the ROC, which only occupies Kinmen and Matsu out of all the territory that belonged to China when it established diplomatic ties with Panama in 1910.
Nonetheless, the ROC still claims to represent the whole of China, including Mongolia. Given this reality, Panama breaking ties with the ROC is a way of normalizing its international relations.
From the ROC’s point of view, it is a major diplomatic setback, but from Taiwan’s point of view, it just means that the ROC, which usurped Taiwan, has lost one diplomatic partner. So the incident means different things depending on how you look at it.
Why say that the ROC usurped Taiwan? Following Japan’s surrender in 1945, the ROC sent its forces to Taiwan in accordance with then-US Army general Douglas MacArthur’s General Order No. 1 to accept the Japanese armed forces’ surrender on behalf of the Allied Powers.
Strictly speaking, at that time Taiwan was a post-war trust territory of the US-led Allies, and it was not until a peace treaty was signed that a final decision could be made as to who held sovereignty over it.
In 1951, Japan signed the Treaty of San Francisco, in which it renounced its sovereignty over Taiwan, but the terms of the treaty did not determine to whom Taiwan would belong thereafter.
This was followed in 1952 by the Sino-Japanese Peace Treaty, which also did not decide who would hold sovereignty over Taiwan. This peace treaty represented an adjustment to the views expressed by the Allies in the 1943 Cairo Declaration.
Based on the UN Charter’s principle of self-determination, Taiwan’s sovereignty should naturally be in the hands of Taiwanese. According to convention, the ROC should have withdrawn from Taiwan, but Chiang Kai-shek (蔣介石) refused to leave.
Since the Allies did not want to fight among themselves, there was nothing that could be done and Taiwan remained under the Chiang regime’s unjust occupation. It was not until 1996, when the first direct presidential elections were held, that Taiwanese achieved their sovereignty.
However, in the face of China’s obstruction and interference, and the entrenched position of Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) forces, Taiwan could still not become a normal country. One example of this is that when it establishes diplomatic relations with other countries, it still does so under the name of the ROC, which was replaced in the UN by the People’s Republic of China through UN General Assembly Resolution 2758 in 1971.
The latest break in diplomatic relations could therefore be a necessary step on Taiwan’s way to becoming a normal country, which would make it a blessing in disguise.
The best thing to do in a crisis is to turn it into an opportunity. The government could therefore consider the following two steps:
First, the government should declare that Taiwan has never been part of China. During the controversy over Taiwan’s bid to participate in last month’s World Health Assembly, China’s permanent mission in Geneva, Switzerland, sent a letter to all other nations’ permanent missions, saying: “The Chinese government has decided that Taiwan Province of China shall not participate in the 70th World Health Assembly.”
The government responded by saying: “Taiwan is not a province under the rule of the People’s Republic of China.” This response is a typical expression of the mindset of the “old pan-blue men” who linger in the civil service.
At first glance it appears to be a robust response, but it carries the unspoken implication that “Taiwan is a province under the rule of the Republic of China.”
For countries that care about Taiwan, this response was a bit vague. Why not simply say: “Taiwan has never been part of China?” Such a standpoint would be in keeping with what the US calls its “one China” policy, and it would not change the “status quo.” Rather, it would be an accurate description of the “status quo,” as well as being the historical truth. It is not Taiwan, but China, that is guilty of disrupting the “status quo.”
Second, the government should get on with formulating two referendum laws for Taiwan: one for general issues and the other for constitutional matters.
That Taiwan cannot coexist with China just by accepting the so-called “1992 consensus.” China will not be satisfied until Taiwan is part of its territory.
Hopefully the establishment of diplomatic relations between China and Panama, and the immense pressure that Beijing will continue to exert can gradually reinforce Taiwan’s determination and courage to exist in its own right.
Huang Tien-lin is a national policy adviser and former managing director and chairman of First Commercial Bank.
Translated by Julian Clegg
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