Minister of Foreign Affairs Joseph Wu (吳釗燮) on Tuesday appealed to the international community for support in the face of Chinese military planes ever more frequently crossing the median line of the Taiwan Strait.
However, responding to the appeal is difficult, as Beijing does not acknowledge the median line, so it cannot be accused of encroaching on Taiwan.
From a constitutional perspective, the Republic of China (ROC) and the People’s Republic of China claim sovereignty over territory administered by the other. Even if Taipei and Beijing were to recognize each other’s independent sovereignty, China could say that it is transiting the Strait’s international airspace or waters — legitimate activities that other nations regularly do. For example, US Navy vessels have this year made several passages through or near the Strait.
Crossing the median line also does not violate international law. Even though the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea grants nations jurisdiction over their territorial airspace, the UN does not recognize Taiwan’s sovereignty.
Essentially, Taiwan and China are on opposite sides of a war that never formally ended, or even saw a ceasefire deal signed, and neither side has rescinded its territorial claims.
The US might have mitigated the continuation of hostilities through its Taiwan Relations Act (TRA), which opposes any unilateral steps by either side to alter the “status quo” in the cross-strait relationship on the principle that all issues regarding Taiwan’s future must be resolved peacefully.
In the absence of a formal agreement between Taiwan and China, the act has largely served as a deterrent to Chinese aggression, but it is unsure how far the US would go militarily to enforce it.
However, China has consistently said that its “Anti-Secession” Law legitimizes its potential use of military force against Taiwan and it has not rescinded its threat, should Taiwan formally declare independence.
Wu and President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) should communicate with US authorities about the possibility of pressing China to enter into a truce with Taiwan, which would not require either side to relinquish territorial claims and would not equate to a declaration of Taiwanese independence, but be a formal, internationally recognized agreement that would add weight to the TRA. This would be akin to the Korean Armistice Agreement — which China co-signed — and would be an expression of goodwill on the part of Beijing, at a time when regional and US-China tensions are at an all-time high. This would also add some international legitimacy to the idea of a median line in the Taiwan Strait, just as the 38th parallel serves as the de facto border between North and South Korea.
If China refused to sign such an agreement, it would demonstrate its insincerity in maintaining regional peace and elucidate its hostility toward Taiwanese. In that scenario, the US would not be bound by the “one China” policy and could consider the establishment of formal relations with the ROC, without concern for retaliation from Beijing. The next step would likely be the installation of US military bases in Taiwan, much like those in South Korea and Okinawa. This would not bode well for China and further strain its relations with Taipei, Washington and US allies.
China has demonstrated through its military buildup in the South China Sea that it does not consider itself bound by international conventions, or by unwritten agreements with other countries. Just as it has there, it will continue to push boundaries in the Taiwan Strait unless Taiwan and the US take concrete action.
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