Taiwan’s status still undetermined

By Chen Yi-shen 陳儀深  / 

Sat, Feb 27, 2010 - Page 8

On Aug. 31, 1993, the Chinese government published a white paper titled The Taiwan Question and Unification of China (台灣問題與中國統一), which was made available in seven languages at the same time. The white paper repeated China’s old tricks of altering Taiwan’s history and making twisted interpretations of international law, claiming that “Taiwan has belonged to China since ancient times.”

The Taiwan Association of University Professors (台灣教授協會) responded by assembling a group of historians and experts in politics and law, who together wrote a book titled Peaceful Coexistence: Two Countries, Two Systems — The fundamental view of the Taiwan people regarding the relationship between Taiwan and China (兩國兩制,和平共存,台灣人民對台灣與中國關係的基本主張), which was published in Chinese and English versions in 1994.

The historical part of the book refutes the claims of China’s white paper by quoting the following passage from the Qing Dynasty Chronicle of the Yung-cheng Emperor (雍正實錄): “Taiwan, historically not part of China, was conquered and became Qing territory under the great power of the Kangxi (康熙) Emperor.”

Nevertheless, it must be borne in mind that, although Taiwan was “historically not part of China,” it was incorporated into China’s territory during the reign of the Kangxi Emperor, and was ruled by the Qing until it was ceded to Japan in the Treaty of Shimonoseki in 1895.

Recently, President Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) administration said this treaty, in its Chinese version, ceded the right of administration, but not sovereignty, over Taiwan. Pro-Taiwan academics have rebutted this argument by pointing out the different wording of the treaty’s English and Japanese versions. In fact, if Japan had not later been defeated in the Pacific War and been forced to renounce its claim to sovereignty over Taiwan and the Penghu Islands, Taiwan today would still be a part of Japan, and there would be no need to argue about different versions of the treaty. This is an example of political decisions taking precedence over legal ones.

My second point is that in recent years, quite a lot of pro-Taiwan figures have said that the Cairo Declaration, signed at the Cairo Conference in 1943, has no authority, and they draw various conclusions based on that idea.

However, following the end of World War II, Republic of China (ROC) dictator Chiang Kai-shek (蔣介石), acting on instructions from the Allied Forces, sent Chinese armed forces to occupy Taiwan and Penghu. Chiang’s officials determined the nationality of Taiwan’s inhabitants without consulting other Allied countries.

Not long afterward, Chiang evacuated his central government into exile on Taiwan. Despite its status as principal occupying power in the Pacific, the US did nothing to stop this from happening.

In January 1950, former US president Harry Truman decided to abandon Taiwan, based on the wording of the 1943 Cairo Declaration — on this point, those who claim that Taiwan is a territory of the US do not have a leg to stand on. Half a year later, the outbreak of the Korean War induced Truman to return to the principles of international law, taking the position that Taiwan’s status was undetermined, and he sent the US Seventh Fleet to reinforce Chiang’s defense of the Taiwan Strait. Who knows what would have come of Taiwan otherwise?

Since that time, US governments have taken great care to separate the issues of government recognition and territory. The San Francisco Peace treaty, the Sino-Japanese Peace Treaty (the Treaty of Taipei) and the Mutual Defense Treaty between the US and the ROC at least held to the position that Taiwan’s status was undecided, but the US was made well-aware of Beijing’s hard-line stance on the Taiwan issue.

In 1972, US president Richard Nixon and his special envoy Henry Kissinger held negotiations with Chinese premier Zhou Enlai (周恩來), and the two sides issued the Shanghai Communique. In 1979 the US broke off diplomatic relations with the ROC. Since 1979, the US’ relations with Taiwan have been regulated by the Taiwan Relations Act. The questions of the Soviet Union and Vietnam were among the main political factors behind these developments. The main concern of the US has been that China should agree not to use military force against Taiwan, but China refuses to make such a pledge.

Only on the question of arms sales to Taiwan has the US retained some degree of freedom to maneuver. As to the Beijing government’s one-sided insistence that there is only one China and Taiwan is a part of it, why has the US refrained from objecting? One of the reasons publicly given by the US is that Taiwan’s government holds to the same position as China.

These days Taiwanese people’s chances to express their point of view are not restricted, as they were in the days of martial law, to the occasional appearance at US congressional hearings, street protests and people held in the Taiyuan (泰源) and Green Island (綠島) prisons. The government of Taiwan must speak up for its people. We need a president who genuinely identifies with Taiwan, in command of armed forces that identify with Taiwan, to uphold Taiwan’s sovereignty and interests in the international arena. If we can’t be clear about this aim, then all kinds of political movements, from street protest to parliament, within or outside the system, will amount to nothing but word games.

Chen Yi-shen is chairman of the Taiwan Association of University Professors.

TRANSLATED BY JULIAN CLEGG