Almost a decade ago, US Senator Tom Daschle spoke in one of the basement rooms in the US Capitol about Taiwan. Within 20 minutes, the senator referred to Taiwan as "Taiwan," as "the Republic of China," as "the Republic of China on Taiwan," "Republic of Taiwan" and even as "the People's Republic of China on Taiwan."
During the question-and-answer session, one of the members of the audience stood up, reminded the senator of the different ways in which he had referred to the country, and asked the senator why he did not just refer to it as "Taiwan." "That is a good idea," the senator answered and vowed to do so from now on.
Rectifying the name of Taiwan would not only clarify the world's confusion about how to refer to the nation, it would also clarify US policy and open the door to full international diplomatic recognition of the independent democracy the 23 million strong Taiwanese people have built.
It is already US policy not to call Taiwan the Republic of China. A Sept. 26, 1996, State Department memo states, "Consistent with the unofficial nature of US-Taiwan ties, the US Government does not refer to Taiwan as the `Republic of China' or the `Republic of China on Taiwan.' Neither does the US Government refer to Taiwan as a `Country' or a `government.' We refer to Taiwan simply as `Taiwan' and to its government officials as `the Taiwan authorities.' We use `Taiwanese' only in reference to the ethnic/linguistic group which was on the island prior to the late 1940s, as opposed to the `Mainlanders' who arrived later."
The US has been quite consistent in referring to Taiwan as "Taiwan" and not as the Republic of China.
The Taiwan Relations Act is the law of the land that established the firm basis for continued US-Taiwan relations after 1979. The unofficial State Department branch that deals with Taiwan is called the "American Institute in Taiwan." There is a Taiwan Desk at the State Department.
Congress has also been consistent in using "Taiwan" in legislation. In the April 30, 1994, the Foreign Relations Authorization Act for Fiscal Years 1994 and 1995, Section 132, the text reads, "For purposes of the registration of birth or certification of nationality or issuance of a passport of a United States citizen born in Taiwan, the Secretary of State shall permit the place of birth to be recorded as `Taiwan.'" Neither the Republic of China nor the Republic of China on Taiwan can be listed as place of birth in the passports of Taiwanese-Americans.
Since the official US position has always been that Taiwan's status has yet to be determined and the US has never recognized either ROC or PRC sovereignty over Taiwan, rectifying the name of the nation to Taiwan would clarify the US position.
The historical record on this question is quite clear. When discussing the offshore islands in 1954, then-secretary of state John Foster Dulles made a clear distinction between Quemoy (Kinmen) and Matsu being Chinese territory on the one hand and the unsolved status of Taiwan and the Penghu Islands on the other:
"The legal position is different, by virtue of the fact that technical sovereignty over Formosa and the Pescadores has never been settled. That is because the Japanese Peace Treaty merely involves a renunciation by Japan of its right and title to these islands. But the future title is not determined by the Japanese Peace Treaty nor is it determined by the Peace Treaty which was concluded between the Republic of China and Japan. Therefore the juridical status of these islands, Formosa and the Pescadores, is different from the juridical status of the offshore islands which have always been Chinese territory."
Perhaps we should qualify the above statement that it is not US policy to call Taiwan the Republic of China.
The US position makes a distinction between "Formosa and the Pescadores" and the "offshore islands which have always been Chinese territory." So, one could argue that the US does recognize the ROC insofar as it has sovereignty over the offshore islands, but does not recognize the ROC as having any sovereignty over Taiwan.
Former president Lee Teng-hui (李登輝) would have to qualify his statement, then, that the ROC does not exist any more. The juridical position of the US would seem to be that the ROC exists, but only on Kinmen and Matsu.
Rectifying Taiwan's name would force "international action" to determine the status of the island and give Taiwanese citizens the opportunity to argue that they have effectively exercised their right to self-determination, provided for in the UN Charter, by creating a full-fledged democracy on Taiwan.
And it would surely make life easier for Daschle and his 534 colleagues in the US Congress.
Wu Ming-chi is president of the Formosan Association for Public Affairs.
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