Taiwan’s position in the world once again came into sharp focus this month as the US and Taiwan celebrated the 40th anniversary of the implementation of the US’ Taiwan Relations Act (TRA). This happened as the US officially opened its new multimillion-dollar American Institute in Taiwan (AIT) compound — read unofficial embassy — in Taipei’s Neihu District (內湖).
Not lost in this was the fact that leading the US delegation to Taiwan for the celebrations was former US House of Representatives speaker Paul Ryan.
Ryan, technically, and one might say purposely, had avoided being classified as the highest ranking US official to visit Taiwan since the TRA, because he retired from the US Congress in January at the age of 49.
Nonetheless, despite the festivities, the event resurrected a thorny problem that the US has left “undecided” since the San Francisco Peace Treaty of 1952.
In his presentation, Ryan correctly focused on how China still refuses to renounce the use of force in its ambitious plan to take control of Taiwan.
He said this was the “most destabilizing element” of peace in the region.
Yet, as he spoke, his words once again resurrected the issue of how a game of brinkmanship continues to be played out in Asia.
The US and others would like matters to be handled in a simple, straightforward manner like a game of checkers. China, on the other hand, wants it to be a more complicated game — one with strategic and deceptive long-term moves such as chess.
A pertinent example of how these two sides differ was exposed when Ryan expressed the US mantra that Taiwan and China should engage in “peaceful dialogue” over their issues.
How can there be any dialogue, peaceful or not, if China emphatically states that Taiwan belongs to it, and Taiwan states that it does not. What is there to discuss with such diametrically opposed positions?
The US unfortunately still finds itself trapped in its situational rhetoric from the 1970s, when Taiwan was ruled as a one-party state by the fleeing Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT).
It was a time long before Taiwanese — and not the Chinese on Taiwan’s side of the Taiwan Strait — achieved democratic multiparty self-determination. That freedom of choice was a right that they should have been given by the UN at the end of World War II and certainly after the San Francisco Peace Treaty.
Symptomatic of this preference for checkers and chess is the verbiage used by the US in how it regularly speaks of its “one China” policy, while China insists that the game revolves around a different verbiage, the “one China” principle.
Few listeners understand the differences involved here, particularly since the words “one China” are used in both phrases and Taiwan or Taiwanese are never directly mentioned in either.
In simple talk, the US apparently thinks that if it states that it has accepted that the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) won the Chinese Civil War on the continent, it does not have to bring up the separate and unrelated issue of the freedom of Taiwan. Nothing is farther from the truth.
The US needs to begin to clarify matters by adding that when it references its “one China” policy, that policy in no way contains a belief that Taiwan is or has ever been a part of “one China.”
By using this political expression, the US continues to foster the ambiguity that it created with the San Francisco Peace Treaty. At that time, the US was a war-weary country that had just helped win a war in Europe and led the way to winning a war in the Pacific.
Thus, it might be excused from not knowing or at least not completely understanding all that was happening in Taiwan, China and Asia. That excuse is no longer valid.
The CCP, on the other hand, has always been clear on what game it is playing. It continues to press for new territory and wields its chess pieces to profess how under the “one China” principle, Taiwan belongs to China and Beijing cannot put off forever waiting for the situation to be rectified.
Related here is a separate weak and similarly confused position of the US: namely that it supports Taiwan’s participation in all organizations that do not require statehood as a qualification for membership.
Is the US not aware of the Montevideo Convention, which it signed and which Taiwan fulfills all four requirements of?
Taiwan has defined boundaries and a defined population; it also has a political authority and has entered into agreements with other states. To throw in an added benefit, Taiwan is also a thriving democracy.
As found in the convention, a state does not need or require recognition by other states to be a state, but despite this qualification Taiwan is a state that is recognized by other states.
However, the US remains lost, wandering in its self-created limbo rhetoric of the 1970s. What holds the US back from realizing this problem and catching up with the changing reality? Why does it still puzzle over how China and others are playing chess, while it still desires a game of checkers, a game with simple moves where there are only two sides that are easily distinguished by color?
Other nations are also caught in this limbo. They want Taiwan to be in organizations, such as the WHO and its World Health Assembly, but they cannot see that the connection depends on them admitting to the Montevideo Convention.
They are the ones that must ignore China’s economic blackmail, which pressures them to not “officially” recognize Taiwan as a state.
The UN also fits in here and cannot be used as an excuse, for it is not a determiner of statehood. The UN is simply a club of states. The UN can deny nations or states such as Taiwan from being club members, but it cannot determine or deny whether they are states.
The UN club is hampered by China’s permanent membership in the UN Security Council. It can veto any application Taiwan would make to join the club. China did so in 1972, when it initially denied UN membership to Bangladesh.
Taiwanese also have problems to settle. They need to change the name of the state to show that they are not the ejected followers of Chiang Kai-shek (蔣介石), because in UN Resolution 2758 of October 1971, it was the “representatives of Chiang Kai-shek” that were specifically tossed out of the UN and not Taiwanese, who had been forced to live under martial law by Chiang and the KMT.
Taiwanese were not involved in the founding of the UN.
Taiwanese must realize that there are people in Taiwan who still consider themselves representatives of Chiang. Those “loyalists” are the reason that Taiwan has never received its right of self-determination under the UN Charter.
As Taiwanese seek to jettison the ill-begotten name of the Republic of China, they must examine closely who the enemies of their democracy are.
The CCP is an obvious enemy. However, within Taiwan there also are enemies. Some are those KMT members who relentlessly cling to the dream that got them kicked out of the UN in the first place and seek a semblance of unification with China.
Those dreamers express their belief in the bogus “1992 consensus,” a consensus that remains a key KMT fantasy. It perpetuates the belief that the KMT never really lost the Chinese Civil War when it fled and occupied Taiwan.
True Taiwanese have no interest in pretending that there is one China “with two interpretations” or that they are the legitimate rulers of China.
Returning to the US and the AIT, some are finally beginning to realize that the US is playing a naively far more simplistic game than China.
The US needs a new game plan. It is good that it has opened the new AIT compound, but that will do little good if the US does not state more clearly that its “one China” policy is totally separate from the reality of Taiwan.
Jerome Keating is a writer based in Taipei.
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