Mon, Dec 24, 2018 - Page 6 News List

John J. Tkacik On Taiwan: The ‘Fifth Criterion’ and Taiwan’s diplomatic future

It is a delightful paradox when you think about it now: before 1979, Taiwan had a permanent population, secure borders, effective government and sovereign foreign relations, the four attributes of a “state as a person in international law.” But, alas, the United States did not recognize Taiwan’s “statehood.” Yet under American law, on January 1, 1979, as America “de-recognized” the “Republic of China,” Taiwan formally became its own “country, nation, state, government, or similar entity.” Thus was it ordered by President Jimmy Carter (on December 30, 1978): all US government “departments and agencies shall construe those terms (country, nation, state, etc.) to include Taiwan.”

“Taiwan,” mind you, not “the entity formerly known as the Republic of China.”

Forty years ago last week, I was at the US Liaison Office on a sunny, wintry Saturday morning in “Peking” (北京) when the announcement came that the United States and China would soon establish diplomatic relations. Beginning January 1, 1979, the United States would recognize the People’s Republic as the “sole legal government of China.” “Within this context,” the US announcement read, “the people of the United States will maintain cultural, commercial, and other unofficial relations with the people of Taiwan.” The Chinese Communist Party was so ecstatic with the news that its official newspaper, People’s Daily, issued an “extra edition” (號外) printed in vermillion ink, proclaiming the event to 800 million Chinese readers. I still have a framed copy upon my wall.

My first thoughts of December 16, 1978, upon hearing the news of “normalization” were of Taiwan where I had served the year before with the US embassy. The US side’s words “…and other relations” were a comfort. “Other relations” was the term our chief of mission, Ambassador Leonard Woodcock, and Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping (鄧小平) agreed upon to encompass America’s continuing security relations with Taiwan; Chinese Premier Hua Guofeng (華國鋒) had to admit at his December 16 press conference that 1) “the US side mentioned that after normalization it would continue to sell … arms to Taiwan…”; 2) “We … absolutely could not agree to this…”; and 3) “nevertheless, we reached an agreement…”

In fact, Vice Premier Deng unsuccessfully demanded that Washington also nullify all US treaties with the ROC government; yet all were to remain in force, including the mutual defense treaty (which was terminated more than a year later). President Carter’s December 30 Presidential Memorandum declared that “existing international agreements and arrangements in force between the United States and Taiwan shall continue in force.” There’s that word, again: “Taiwan”! not “Republic of China.”

In the 1979 Taiwan Relations Act, the United States Congress ratified President Carter’s order to treat Taiwan as a “state” with which the US maintained treaties and international agreements, engaged in commerce and partnered in defense.

Forty years later, in 2018, Taiwan is still that same country, richer, more populous, with a heavily amended constitution that defines Taiwan’s as the freest and most open democratic system in all Asia. The United States has a brand new embassy in Taipei (although it’s not called an “embassy”) and carries out commercial, cultural, defense, security and consular relations with Taiwan, and a political section that performs all diplomatic functions (except they’re not called “diplomatic”). Scores of other countries have similar offices in Taipei while recognizing that Beijing is the seat of the “sole legal government of China.”

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