On Monday last week, Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平) signed a set of “outlines” on military operations “other than war,” to take effect two days later.
The outlines provide a legal basis for deploying troops overseas for purposes other than war. Xi aims to fight a civil war without allowing foreign intervention. His political ingenuity and ambitions should not be underestimated.
Here in Taiwan, calls for independence have grown quieter. The government can call for unity within Taiwan, but it cannot stop China’s political maneuvering in the international arena. The key factor at play is China’s claim of sovereignty and jurisdiction over Taiwan, but international law does not grant sovereignty or jurisdiction to China.
In an interview on the US’ National Public Radio on May 24, Minister of Foreign Affairs Joseph Wu (吳釗燮) agreed with the interviewer that it would be best not to have a war. When the interviewer noted: “Taiwan does not formally claim its own independence,” Wu said: “We will definitely maintain the ‘status quo.’”
Will the foreign minister’s meek strategy of “We will not declare independence; you will not resort to military force” be effective in dealing with Beijing? Why does Wu not advocate for Taiwan’s sovereignty in the international media based on international law and the US’ Taiwan Relations Act?
As a Taiwanese, I am puzzled by Wu’s acceptance of the statement that Taiwan is not seeking formal independence. Did the US draw a red line? If so, that should still leave some wiggle room and allow Taiwanese the right to be heard. Surely President Tsai Ing-wen’s (蔡英文) “two-state theory” is not just a plan about a second republic for the Republic of China that only counts within Taiwan, but cannot reach the level of international law to achieve the nation’s normalization?
After transitions of power between political parties became possible in Taiwan, even Peng Ming-min (彭明敏), an expert on international law, argued that the issue of Taiwan’s sovereignty no longer needs to be discussed, because what would be the point of talking about Taichung when the train has reached Tainan?
There are also some politicians in the pan-green camp who say that “when it comes to powerful countries, the issue of sovereignty cannot be solved by international law, because might is right and international law can only restrain small countries.”
However, China is poised to pounce. Xinhua news agency, as quoted by the Global Times, reported that the “outlines” signed by Xi “standardize the basic principles, organization and command, types of activities, activity support and political work, providing the legal basis for the troops to carry out military operations other than war.”
As China progressively encroaches on Taiwan, Taiwan must study Israel’s way of building its own strength. While Xi constructs a legal basis for invading Taiwan, Taiwan should be using international law to protect itself.
Taiwan’s sovereignty and statehood are issues that the international community has been unable to resolve. Xi’s signing of the “outlines” is a good time for international law and the International Court of Justice in The Hague to step in. If China launches a war, Taiwan must immediately dispatch experts in international law to take the case to the International Court of Justice. It cannot afford to be unprepared to do so.
How should Taiwanese respond to such a change in a time of great changes? As well as making adequate military preparations, it is essential to use judgements of the International Court of Justice to keep the Taiwan question in the international arena.
Chu Meng-hsiang is an adviser to the Lee Teng-hui Foundation.
Translated by Julian Clegg
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