Mon, Apr 16, 2018 - Page 6 News List

John J. Tkacik, Jr. On Taiwan: Sovereign, independent and mutually non-subordinate

It was refreshing. Not twenty days into his tenure, on Sept. 26, 2017, at a Legislative Yuan interpellation, Taiwan’s new Premier of the Executive Yuan, Dr. William Lai Ching-te (賴清德), explained in plain language to the elected representatives of Taiwan’s people who he was and what he believed.

The former physician and Harvard-trained master of public health, now one of Taiwan’s most admired political figures, stated flatly, “I am a political worker who advocates Taiwan’s independence.” For anyone interested in what he meant by “Taiwan’s independence,” he continued: “We already are a sovereign, independent country by the name of ‘The Republic of China’ and are mutually non-subordinate with China.” In the six months since, Dr. Lai has shared his position with anyone who has asked.

The new Premier’s words transported me back a quarter of a century to Nov. 22, 1993, when I supervised all China intelligence at the State Department’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research from the eighth floor of the decrepit “Main State” building on 21st Street. Late that afternoon, the fax machine outside my office hummed with a flimsy from my old friend, James Wang (王景弘) in Seattle during the first “leaders summit” of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC). “Sovereign, independent” and “mutually non-subordinate” were prominent among the lines scribbled in an unfamiliar shorthand cursive grass-script. James was covering the APEC meeting for the United Daily News group, and had faxed me the hand-written press release, prepared by a now-forgotten Taiwan economic ministry member of the APEC delegation, of exactly what Taiwan economic minister Chiang Pin-kung (江丙坤) had recited, word-for-word, from a prepared text. (The unknown transcriber omitted, perhaps purposefully, lines about a “transitional Two China Policy.” James added the words in his own handwriting at the end of the fax.) Minister Chiang cleared his throat and, if I recall from James later, proceeded nervously to denounce Chinese President Jiang Zemin’s (江澤民) declaration — just an hour earlier — that “Taiwan is a province of the People’s Republic of China.”

Minister Chiang’s voice firmed noticeably: “China” he said, “is an historical, geographical and cultural term, and in this sense Taiwan is a part of China as is Mainland China; but ‘China’ does not equal ‘The People’s Republic of China,’ nor is Taiwan a part or a province of the ‘People’s Republic of China.’” He continued: “Within a geographical ‘China,’ the Republic of China and the People’s Republic of China are two mutually non-subordinate countries.”

The terminology “two sovereign, independent and mutually non-subordinate countries” was new to me in 1993. I knew that President Lee Teng-hui (李登輝) was extremely upset with US president Bill Clinton who had invited President Lee to Seattle earlier in the year, and then withdrew the invitation when Chinese President Jiang threatened to boycott the summit. APEC was founded on “a commitment to open dialogue and consensus, with equal respect for the views of all participants,” and under these principles both China and Taiwan were admitted in 1991. Yet, President Clinton hosting the very first APEC leadership summit, repudiated that “commitment” by disinviting President Lee.

I admit to profound private sympathy in 1993 for Taiwan’s new declaration of “sovereignty, independence, and mutual non-subordination” to China. And that description of Taiwan’s international status has resonated with me ever since.

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