On March 27, Japan's Supreme Court reversed a second Osaka High Court ruling over the ownership of a student dormitory in Kyoto, saying Taipei had lost its right to file a claim for ownership as the representative of China when Tokyo decided in 1972 to recognize Beijing instead of the Republic of China (ROC). This verdict crushes the illusions for anyone who still tries to deal with the cross-strait issue based on a "one China" framework.
Technically, Taiwan has not lost. The Supreme Court's decision leaves room for Taiwanese ownership of the dormitory, since it only deals with the right to file a claim as the representative of China. The main reason Taipei lost this right was the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) government's claim to represent China.
The second ruling, which was in favor of Taiwan's claim, was based on the fact that the ROC on Taiwan still had effective jurisdiction over part of China, and since there thus was no concern over any assets belonging to a third sovereign nation, the ROC did not lose its ownership of the dormitory. That decision, then, ruled that the ROC was qualified to bring a lawsuit, and this has later often been called "partial inheritance." The recent verdict's denial of the ROC's right to file a claim as the representative of China thus recognizes that "one China is the People's Republic of China" (PRC) and subverts any claim that there is "one China, two governments."
This ruling once again shows that the international community stands behind its "one China" consensus that "one China" refers to the PRC. Former KMT chairman Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) believes that the "one China, with each side having its own interpretation" dictum is a cure all for all cross-strait problems. As this idea claims the ROC can also represent China, it leads to the further suppression of Taiwan's space in the international arena and removes any legal basis for defending Taiwan's independence.
From the perspective of international law, this means that Taiwan has become the subject de jure annexation by the PRC and it also legitimizes Beijing's "Anti-Secession" Law. In other words, China's de facto annexation of Taiwan is only a few steps away.
The "one China, with each side having its own interpretation" and the the "one country, two governments" dictums will also lead to other problems. If Beijing asks that property purchased in a third nation with ROC funds be transferred to its ownership based on the "one China" principle, then Taipei will not only obtain no diplomatic recognition, but national assets purchased with Taiwanese taxpayers' money could be confiscated by Beijing.
In the 1960s and 1970s, Taiwan always had to worry over whether it would be able to protect its embassy property every time a country severed diplomatic ties with Taipei. The KMT government even registered some national assets as private property to try and keep them safe. All these incidents are related to the country's past insistence on the "one China" principle. It is this insistence that has led to Taiwan's diplomatic decline and the theft of its national assets.
To avert conflict with Beijing, some China experts have been trying to think up schemes under which Taipei could accept the "one China" premise. However, if Taiwan accepts any of these suggestions, it will immediately face the possibility of China's de jure annexation.
Anyone politician with the ambition to lead Taiwan must step out of such narrow cross-strait thinking and look at the issue from an international perspective. Whether they are sucking up to the China experts or want a technical acceptance of "one China," the Japanese ruling shows that the "one China" illusion is no match for international law.
Lai I-chung is the head of the Democratic Progressive Party's Department of Chinese Affairs.
Translated by Lin Ya-ti and Daniel Cheng
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