Sun, Mar 04, 2018 - Page 6 News List

An evolving US-Taiwan relationship

By Huang Tien-lin 黃天麟

During a meeting of the US Senate Committee on Foreign Relations on Feb. 15, US Senator Marco Rubio asked US Acting Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Susan Thornton about the disappearance of the Republic of China’s (ROC) flag from the Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs’ new Web site. Thornton said: “We don’t recognize, of course, Taiwan as an independent country and we don’t recognize the flag of the ROC as a country where we have official relations. Our policy is to not display the flag of the ROC on US official government Web sites.”

Taiwan’s pan-blue media picked up on the story and interpreted the flag’s removal as evidence that the US-Taiwan relationship is degenerating under President Tsai Ing-wen’s (蔡英文) administration. This is not the case: The correct explanation is that US discourse on Taiwan is becoming clearer.

On Jan. 1, 1979, the US broke formal diplomatic ties with the ROC. Since the US no longer recognizes the ROC, the flag that represents the ROC should be removed from all US government Web sites.

To this day, the ROC claims sovereignty over China, Mongolia and Taiwan. Therefore, if the ROC flag were to remain on US government Web sites, visitors would be left with the impression that the US acknowledges Taiwan to be part of China, as represented by the ROC.

US-Taiwan relations began when the US in 1979 switched its diplomatic recognition from the ROC to the People’s Republic of China (PRC). The US’ Taiwan Relations Act has been the basis of this relationship.

The act is a piece of domestic US legislation, but what many observers outside of the US do not realize is that the cornerstone of the act is the 1952 Treaty of San Francisco. The treaty does not treat Taiwan as a part of China, but it does not state to which country Taiwan — then called “Formosa” — should be returned, simply calling on Japan to relinquish its claim of sovereignty.

Since Taiwan does not belong to China, Taiwan is not a matter of China’s “internal affairs,” as Beijing likes to claim. Neither does it encroach on China’s sovereignty. Based on the peace treaty, the US has a right to speak and make decisions on the matter.

Following the switch of diplomatic recognition, US discourse on Taiwan was at first rather vague, because the act was drafted in such a way as to deliberately avoid the question of Taiwan’s sovereign status.

Furthermore, as a condition of opening diplomatic relations with China, the US had to acknowledge China’s position that “Taiwan is a part of China,” although it remains unclear whether the US actually did so.

In March 2007, then-president Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) applied for the nation to become a UN member state under the name “Taiwan.”

However, then-UN secretary-general Ban Ki-moon sparked a dispute when he rejected Chen’s application based on UN General Assembly Resolution 2758, which, according to Ban, established that Taiwan was part of China.

Various nations, including the US, Japan, Canada, Australia and New Zealand, raised objections, and under pressure from the US government, Ban finally admitted that he had made a mistake and agreed that the UN would never again use the phrase “Taiwan is part of China.”

This had the result of further clarifying the US-Taiwan and US-China relationships, but it also strengthened the legal foundation of the act.

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