The Gambia, a small country in West Africa, announced earlier this month that it was severing diplomatic ties with the Republic of China (ROC). The ROC now has 22 diplomatic allies remaining, a number that is even lower than that of Manchukuo, the Japanese puppet state in northeast China between 1932 and 1945.
According to Article 1 of the Montevideo Convention on the Rights and Duties of States: “The state as a person of international law should possess the following qualifications: a permanent population; a defined territory; government and capacity to enter into relations with the other states.” Based on these standards, a country should at least possess a clearly defined territory where its people can stay permanently and it should establish a political body with exclusive jurisdiction over that territory and receive recognition from other countries.
In today’s world, several entities have failed to be recognized as independent and sovereign states due to their lack of the above four prerequisites. Examples are the nomadic people in Western Sahara and the Palestinian autonomous authority. They either lack a territory or an effective governing body. The ROC, which is also not recognized by the international community, only has a few allies, and they are all relatively weak. As a result, its status as an independent and sovereign state is being questioned.
The Saharan nomadic people and Palestinians are sovereignties to be. Eventually, they will turn into independent and sovereign states, just like East Timor or Kosovo, which have already declared their independence. However, the ROC is gradually turning into a “failed state.” No matter which party is ruling the country, it dares not declare that Taiwan is a new, independent and sovereign state separate from China.
Taiwan’s 22 diplomatic allies choose to play a different tune to the more than 170 other countries in the world by firmly recognizing the ROC. Since they are member states of the UN, an organization which recognizes the People’s Republic of China as the sole representative of China, their recognition of the ROC shows that these states regard this nation as a new country — not just a second country that also represents China.
This is a noble choice that we should do all we can to protect. However, in Taiwan, despite his extremely low approval rating, President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) publicly states that according to the Constitution, cross-strait relations are not international relations, thus belittling Taiwan and turning the government into an illegitimate body. Even the opposition camp echoes Ma by proposing the concept of “one China under the Constitutions” of Taiwan and China, and the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) is actually attempting to remove the goal of Taiwanese independence from its party platform.
Such tendencies toward collective self-destruction can only be described by recalling the remarks of professor Colin Warbrick at the University of Birmingham, who says that the first element in determining national status is for a state to declare that it is a state and that it has the willingness to be recognized as a state. Taiwan seems to be the only place in the world that is able, but unwilling, to do so.
If Taiwan itself is unwilling to declare that it is an independent and sovereign state separate from China, on what ground can it ask its diplomatic allies to continue to recognize the ROC? Please do not defame the friendship of our noble allies for not recognizing the nation, since Taiwan itself does not recognize it.
Huang Chu-cheng is an associate professor in National Tsing Hua University’s Institute of Law for Science and Technology.
Translated by Eddy Chang