Given Taiwan’s idiosyncratic international situation, it is often — and understandably — tempting to turn to the past for clarity and proof in pronouncements made by political leaders, or written in official documents, that Taiwan is not part of the People’s Republic of China (PRC), as Beijing claims.
Over the years, many ardent supporters of Taiwan have unearthed a variety of documents to demonstrate that Taiwan was never a part of what is now known as China, or the PRC. Some have made the case, and not unconvincingly, that Taiwan could not be considered to have ever been part of China since the height of the “mainland’s” influence occurred at a time when the latter was itself a Manchu colony.
Others have turned to historical documents to make the case that after Japan’s defeat in World War II, Taiwan became a protectorate of the UN, part of the US’ territory, or that its status remained in limbo, that it was never officially “returned” to the Republic of China (ROC) government, let alone communist China.
The effort continues and only last week, Taiwan supporters were excitedly clamoring over the release of a declassified CIA document from 1949 which said that from a legal standpoint, Taiwan could not be considered to have been part of the ROC. All that is fine, but in the end, no amount of legal documents, historical findings, maps, obscure quotes or other materials will convince Beijing to abandon its longstanding claim that Taiwan is a renegade province of China that needs to be “reunited,” by force if necessary.
Beijing’s recent behavior with regard to its territorial claims in the South China Sea, or the even sillier contention made more than once during the past weeks in the Chinese Communist Party-controlled media that Okinawa, Japan, might also be part of Chinese territory, should be enough to drive home the reality that historical facts and international law will not influence Chinese thought. Furthermore, international law has a poor track record of preventing even democracies from savaging the sovereign rights of other countries.
Put simply, if the only thing that Taiwan’s supporters can summon to protect Taiwan’s sovereignty, way of life, and future as a democracy are dusty archival documents, then this nation’s prospects are indeed bleak.
More than ever, as China’s economic, political and military might continues to grow, Taiwan must look to the future and come up with creative ways to counter Chinese voracity. Relying on prayers and entertaining fantasies about a Eureka document that will succeed in deflating Beijing’s claims where everything else has failed serves no purpose other than delaying an outcome that should not be inevitable. Intellectual pursuit aside, digging further for the magic bullet buried in years long past is an exercise in futility and is of little help to Taiwan.
Instead, as the nation looks to an uncertain future, every effort should be made to ensure that Taiwanese overcome their systemic political differences and work together to develop the necessary prophylactic to meet the China challenge: Consolidating civil society; increasing awareness about the realities of authoritarian China; making the government and political parties accountable and transparent; bolstering national defense; and integrating Taiwan further into regional and international forums are all components of a strategy for the future.
None of this is easy, but that is par for the course. The challenge that the nation faces is immense, though not insurmountable. However, Taiwan should not kid itself — old maps and declassified missives are a waste of time, no matter how valid the cases they make.
Czechs, Slovaks, Poles, Russians, the French and others would have been foolish to sit and wait for the Nazis as they advanced across Europe armed only with legal documents and maps. Yes, they had the law and history on their side, but sometimes the enemy is such that something far greater is needed. Taiwan should take note.
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