From the end of World War II until now, Taiwan has developed a complicated, dual identity entangled in a history that can be difficult to grasp. As long as this situation persists, the enemy can manipulate it and spread misinformation to the world, thus suppressing the political, social and even human rights of Taiwanese.
Taiwan was once part of the Japanese Empire and was occupied by the Allies after the war.
In 1946, the supreme commander for the Allied powers divided up the Japanese government’s administrative areas with Directive No. 677, and Taiwan became a territory waiting for a peace treaty to be signed to determine its new status.
Its people were waiting for a new nationality that would guarantee their rights. However, the goal of the occupying authorities was “economic recovery” and “political reconstruction.”
After the war, the Cold War framework immediately developed, and in April 1949, the Republic of China (ROC) government led by Chiang Kai-shek (蔣介石) — who occupied Taiwan as the military representative of the Allied forces — was defeated by the Chinese Communist Party.
In January that year, Chiang resigned as president and passed the job onto his then-vice president, Li Tsung-jen (李宗仁).
He promulgated a temporary constitution — the Temporary Provisions Effective During the Period of National Mobilization for Suppression of the Communist Rebellion (動員戡亂時期臨時條款) — so that the ROC Constitution became ineffective and lost its legitimacy, and was essentially reduced to a historical document.
When Chiang arrived in Taiwan in December that year, he was no longer the president of China, but was still the military governor of Taiwan.
Taking advantage of this position, Chiang in March 1950 took back the power to govern and administer Taiwan. Chiang even turned the ineffective constitution into a political billboard for Taiwan during the Cold War era.
The Treaty of Peace with Japan signed in San Francisco did not resolve the issue by specifying ownership of Taiwan and deciding the legal status of Taiwan has been postponed to this day.
Due to the Cold War standoff, Taiwan was viewed as the Pacific frontline for the free world’s containment of the spread of communism. The military occupation of Taiwan turned into a valuable anti-communist asset, and because of this, the Allies’ occupation and military rule of Taiwan was no longer correctly understood.
Instead, the Allies stressed that the ROC, an already perished state, was the “free China,” and the ROC Constitution was used as the organic law required by the occupying rulers and has remained in effect until now.
According to international law, signatories to political and alliance treaties recognize the other signing party’s governmental status. As the “principal occupying power,” the US played the leading role in the signing of the treaty of San Francisco and pressured Japan into signing the Sino-Japanese Peace Treaty — effective from 1952 to 1972.
By doing so, the US recognized the ROC government as the Taiwanese authority, as was demonstrated by the signing of the Sino-American Mutual Defense Treaty, which was in effect from 1954 to 1979.
Although Japan and the US recognized the ROC government as the Taiwanese authority, they cautiously restricted its effective area of jurisdiction to Taiwan and Penghu. The move effectively severed the practical pre-1949 relations between the Taiwanese authorities and the Chinese government.
It followed the logic behind then-US president Harry Truman’s decision following the outbreak of the Korean War in 1950 to declare the neutrality of the Taiwan Strait in compliance with the laws of war, a policy that recognized the authorities on both sides of the Taiwan Strait as equal, belligerent parties.
The US even established a liaison office in Beijing between 1973 and 1979, temporarily practicing dual recognition based on the understanding that neither country fell under the jurisdiction of the other. In the eyes of the US and Japan, Taiwan is different from China.
Despite this, when the US discreetly proposed its “one China” policy” in 1972, it meant that the Taiwan issue was unresolved. However, Beijing declared its “one China” principle, insisting that Taiwan is Chinese territory yet to be returned.
Taiwan, as a result of the ROC government and Constitution, is misunderstood by most countries as being a Chinese territory.
The key to legitimate sovereignty lies in the transition of power. In 1895, sovereignty over Taiwan was transferred from the Qing empire to the Japanese empire. When Japan surrendered in 1945, the question of sovereignty over Taiwan was shelved by the UN in accordance with the laws of war and Taiwan was temporarily placed under the trusteeship of the occupying authorities, the US-led Allies.
Once the political reconstruction was finished, sovereignty was supposed to return to the people of Taiwan. In other words, the ROC government, which suddenly appeared in Taiwan in 1950, five years after the war ended, does not fit into the trajectory that Taiwanese sovereignty was on.
For a long time, international society has ignored this drastic difference and allowed Beijing to completely block Taiwan’s right to meaningful participation in international organizations.
Just recently, Beijing expanded domestic regulation regarding residence permits, originally applicable only to Chinese citizens, to also include Taiwanese living in China, forcing Taiwanese applicants to recognize themselves as Chinese citizens.
Beijing is now demanding that international organizations recognize Chinese residence permits as the only valid travel documents and is attempting to invalidate passports issued by Taipei.
The status of Taiwan used to be uncertain and its people were stateless. Now, due to the nominal ROC government and its Constitution, Taiwan’s affairs are incorrectly perceived as China’s domestic affairs and its population as Chinese citizens.
When Beijing claims that such falsehoods are true, there is no law Taiwan can cite to protect itself, allowing communist China to bully democratic Taiwan. This is inhumane.
It should be clarified that the Chinese symbols left by Taiwanese authorities and the ROC Constitution are no more than an expedient decision made during the Cold War. From 1945 until now, even after democratization, Taiwan’s territorial status and the status of Taiwanese has essentially remained undecided.
We must recognize that the Taiwanese authorities are not a Chinese government, that the “constitution” is not a “basic law governing Taiwan” and that Taiwanese are not Chinese citizens. The US is obligated to take the lead in resolving these issues and return to Taiwanese the rights that belong to them.
HoonTing is a political commentator.
Translated by Chang Ho-ming
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