The State of Taiwan

First of all, let me come clean: like many people I know, I take sides. I believe that Taiwan’s citizens have a right to determine their future, and that China has no legitimate reasons to interfere with Taiwan’s affairs.
However, you may be aware that not everybody sees Taiwan this way. China’s Communist Party (CPC) doesn’t only want to rule Hong Kong, Macau, and “the mainland”, as the People’s Republic is often referred to by mainlanders, Hong Kongers, Macauans, and by many Taiwaners alike. Rather, the CPC wants to rule Taiwan, too.

taiwanren_are_also_chinese

“Taiwanese are also Chinese, aren’t they?” A tourist from Hong Kong visiting Taiwan on “double-ten” day, in 2009

In the end, China will most probably try to occupy Taiwan, either by laying siege – a naval blockade – to it, or by trying to invade it right away. In either case, China will probably have its way unless Taiwan’s (probably substantial) military resistance gets support from America, and maybe from Australia, Japan, and other countries. So, if lucky, China would gain control over Taiwan by military force, and that would be that (apart from a rather unpredictable Taiwanese population under occupation – Taiwaners could turn out to be rather unruly).

A. Image concerns

But success by naked force, however tempting it may be in the eyes of many Chinese citizens, isn’t the preferred means to achieve the goal of what the CPC refers to as „reunification“. That’s true for a number of economic and military (including nuclear) reasons, as even a successful invasion and a rather smooth occupation might come at heavy opportunity costs, imposed by countries that wouldn’t accept China’s annexation of Taiwan.

This is also true for image reasons, While China appears to have abandoned the idea that it could convince the Taiwanese that „reunification“ with China would be in their best interest, it apparently still hopes to achieve the goal of „peaceful reunification“ by coopting Taiwan’s economic and political elites, and by intimidating a sufficient number of Taiwan’s citizens so as to push them over.

But if the need for military action to achieve „reunification“ would arise (from China’s point of view), China would like to justify its military aggression, just as it has tried to justify its efforts to isolate Taiwan internationally (hint: the never-ending Taiwan-WHO saga, or pressure on governments of third-party  countries to threaten Taiwan’s economic lifelines.

On Twitter, you are faced with a lot of Chinese propaganda, carried forward by the CPC’s official mouthpieces as well as its useful minions (some of them may be paid by China, others may act out of mere fanatism). Some free samples:

Table 1

“Taiwan is an inseparable part of China” (Reality shows that this is not the case.)
“If Taiwan declares independence, we / China will go to war right away.” (We are looking for an excuse – we’ve decided to annex Taiwan anyway.)
“Taiwan has always been a part of China.” (Only during the Qing era, and only if the Qing cared to say that there was “one China” including Taiwan. They probably didn’t care.
“There is only one China.” (Yes, and thank God for that.)
“Taiwan is part of China because Taiwan’s official name is “Republic of China”. If so, which Congo is part of the other? There are two Congos, the “Republic” and the “Democratic Republic”.China’s logic probably prescribes that the Republic must annex the Democratic Republic, because it’s always the democratic countries that get annexed.
You / your country have committed yourselves to the one-China principle. This is probably the case in a number of bilateral declarations of China and third governments – but by no means in each of them. For example, “one-China” policy basically means that you somehow handle China’s “once-China” principle, not necessarily that you agree with it.
Besides, you can always walk away from it – it has happened before.

So, a lot, if not all of the mouthpiece talk on “social media” is hollow words, suitable for propaganda, and maybe not even that. But China has to make do with the excuses it can find to gloss over its aggressiveness.

Did I mention that China applies pressure on third-party governments to deny Taiwan international space? Well, it isn’t just the World Health Organization, or the Nigerian government who accept that pressure, because it comes with good business. Many other third-party countries do likewise, to varying degrees. We’ll have a look at the examples of America and France later on.

But first, let’s take a look at the nomenclature that is flying around when people talk about China-Taiwan relations. To that end, I might use some pseudomath (it isn’t really that scientific).

B. Chinamaths

Table 1

table_one_mainland_china

or the other way round,

Table 2

table_two_orc
Then there’s that One China – or more than one idea of what that is. But wide swathes of mainland Chinese people, plus uncertain numbers from Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan, will have this kind of math on their mind:

Table 3

table_three_orc

From the CPC’s perspective, it can’t be
table_must_not_exist
because that would imply that Taiwan’s political system would be the emperor of the whole Congo.
Now, when we are talking about Taiwan, we usually refer to everything that is governed from Taipei, not just the island of Taiwan itself, although that’s where Taiwan’s (or the ROC’s, etc.) citizens live.

Table 4

table_four_taiwan
That’s my definition of Taiwan, too – when you read “Taiwan” in this post, this table-4 definition is the definition of it.

C. Taiwan: one country, two positions

Position 1 (pan-Green, more or less)

It may be more than two just as well, but these are the two I can think of.
One is that, when Japan relinquished sovereignty over Taiwan, it didn’t transfer sovereignty to anyone else. Two authors, Michal Thim and Michael Turton, described that position in an article for “The Diplomat” in 2017 – they are themselves supporters of this position, I believe.
Under international law and practice, only an international treaty can settle the status of specific territories, they wrote, adding that the San Francisco Peace Treaty, and the Treaty of Taipei between Japan and the Republic of China on Taiwan fell under that category. If those two had contradicted one another on the matter of Taiwanese sovereignty, the San Francisco Peace Treaty would have outweighed the Treaty of Taipei, but both treaties were silent on the issue of who owned Taiwan, merely affirming that Japan gave up sovereignty over Taiwan.

Position 2 (pan-blue, more or less)

Another position, also widely spread among Taiwanese citizens (if they care about what might be the legal superstructure of their statehood) is the Republic of China.
Now, there are probably many sub-positions to this one, like Taiwan equals the Republic of China, or that Taiwan can somehow claim mainland China (plus Hong Kong and Macau)  as well (that would be a minority, I guess). There is also a an interpretation of what the RoC is that seeks common ground between the San Francisco Peace Treaty supporters, and the RoC guys. Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen adopted (and possibly coined) it when she ran for president for the first time, eleven years ago: the ROC, having lost all its territory in 1949, found shelter on Taiwan.

“Taiwan Independence”

In practical daily life, globally speaking, China and Taiwan are two separate countries. The rest is silly political squabble. But the silly squabble is accompanied by the clouds of war, and that’s why the rest of the world tries to take it into consideraton.
Obviously, wanting to please China (because it might be great business) is another reason to care about the “one-China” noise.

Supporters of the San-Francisco-Peace-Treaty version may argue that Taiwan is independent because Japan gave up sovereignty over it, and because there was nobody entitled to pick it up.

The “Taipei Times”, a paper from Taiwan’s “pan-green” political camp, led by the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), described it this way, in 2017:

Former president Lee Teng-hui (李登輝) changed the constitutional system and became the nation’s first directly elected president.
By “vesting sovereignty in Taiwanese,” he acknowledged that Taiwan had become an independent state via democratic elections.

This, from Taiwan’s pan-green point of view (or the “Taipei Times” rendition of it), means that Taiwan’s independence is the status quo. Taiwan is independent, and the above is the legal reason.

Position 2, the pan-blue one, basically, may be best summarized by what former Taiwanese President Ma Ying-jeou told an American audience in 2017:

On the question of Taiwanese independence, Ma recalled once being asked by a reporter why the island doesn’t formally declare. “Have you ever heard of a country declaring independence twice?” he replied. “We were an independent country back in 1912 — how can I declare independence again?”

1912 refers to the declaration of the Republic of China in the aftermath of the 1911 Xinhai Revolution. Ma therefore sees Taiwan as an independent state in the continuity of the mainland RoC from 1912 to 1949. That is pretty much in line with the general KMT view.

And if any version of “Taiwan independence” was palatable to the CPC in China, it would be this second one, because it is somehow about “one China”. The official reason for Beijing to be mad at Tsai Ing-wen and her DPP is that they would rather consider Lee Teng-hui the founding father of Taiwan’s sovereignty, than RoC founder Dr. Sun Yat-sen.

They ignore, however, that President Tsai’s position is somewhere between those two positions, and probably leaning towards position 2. It would be hard to ignore the RoC superstructure when you want to become Taiwan’s President – in fact, you are sworn in on the RoC’s constitution, in front of a large picture of Sun Yat-sen. That’s a tradition left behind by the KMT’s dictatorship era when there was only one legal political party on Taiwan anyway – the KMT itself. The RoC had, for many years, been a one-party state.

What is noteworthy is that both positions – pan-green and pan-blue alike – avoid another declaration of independence. What either camp would do if there wasn’t a threat of war from China is a question for another day. China’s reading of Taiwan’s status is that there hasn’t been a Taiwanese declaration of independence (yet).

How does the rest of the world deal with the “one-China” noise (mostly from China, not from Taiwan)? Let’s have a look at two third-party governments that have established diplomatic relations with the People’s Republic of China (PRC), and severed (official) diplomatic relations with the Republic of China (RoC). Some countries either switched official diplomatic relations from Taipei to Beijing at some point in time, and some others – like the Federal Republic of Germany – hadn’t had diplomatic relations with Taipei anyway, and therefore found it rather easy to establish theirs with Beijing.
The two examples I know a few things about are the American and the French positions concerning Taiwan’s status.

D. Third-government positions

Sample 1: America

The frequently-quoted Joint Communiqué of the United States of America and the People’s Republic of China (aka the “Shanghai Communiqué”), issued in February 1972 on a visit by then U.S. President Richard Nixon to China, says that

The Chinese side reaffirmed its position: the Taiwan question is the crucial question obstructing the normalization of relations between China and the United States; the Government of the People’s Republic of China is the sole legal government of China; Taiwan is a province of China which has long been returned to the motherland; the liberation of Taiwan is China’s internal affair in which no other country has the right to interfere; and all U.S. forces and military installations must be withdrawn from Taiwan. The Chinese Government firmly opposes any activities which aim at the creation of “one China, one Taiwan”, “one China, two governments”, “two Chinas”, an “independent Taiwan” or advocate that “the status of Taiwan remains to be determined”.

As far as the withdrawal of U.S. forces and military installations are concerned, the U.S. appears to have obliged (although there may be varying, and unconfirmed, numbers of U.S. military staff plus equipment in Taiwan from time to time, or permanently, or whatever).

But Washington did not agree with China’s definition of Taiwan’s status – the 1972 Joint Communiqué basically says that the Americans listened to what the Chinese said about it during the talks:

The U.S. side declared: The United States acknowledges that all Chinese on either side of the Taiwan Strait maintain there is but one China and that Taiwan is a part of China. The United States Government does not challenge that position. It reaffirms its interest in a peaceful settlement of the Taiwan question by the Chinese themselves. With this prospect in mind, it affirms the ultimate objective of the withdrawal of all U.S. forces and military installations from Taiwan. In the meantime, it will progressively reduce its forces and military installations on Taiwan as the tension in the area diminishes. The two sides agreed that it is desirable to broaden the understanding between the two peoples. To this end, they discussed specific areas in such fields as science, technology, culture, sports and journalism, in which people-to-people contacts and exchanges would be mutually beneficial. Each side undertakes to facilitate the further development of such contacts and exchanges.

Nearly seven years later (save one month), Washington and Beijing established diplomatic relations. That was accompanied by the Joint Communiqué on the Establishment of Diplomatic Relations of January 1, 1979. Here,

The United States of America recognizes the Government of the People’s Republic of China as the sole legal Government of China. Within this context, the people of the United States will maintain cultural, commercial, and other unofficial relations with the people of Taiwan.

This is followed by a bilateral reaffirmation of the principles agreed on by the two sides in the Shanghai Communiqué. Also,

The Government of the United States of America acknowledges the Chinese position that there is but one China and Taiwan is part of China.

When you have read some “legal papers” before, you’ll probably think that in the 1979 Joint Communiqué, Washington didn’t accommodate Beijing’s positions any further than in the 1972 Shanghai Communiqué. I also think so.

The United States acknowledges that all Chinese on either side of the Taiwan Strait maintain there is but one China and that Taiwan is a part of China (1972) only says that Washington understands that Chinese people in China and Taiwan see it that way.

The Government of the United States of America acknowledges the Chinese position that there is but one China and Taiwan is part of China (1979) doesn’t even acknowledge that an unspecified number of Taiwaners (“all Chinese”) sees it that way.

Sample 2: France

France went a step further than America in pleasing China – in 1994, that is, not in 1964 when Paris and Beijing established official diplomatic ties, and when Paris didn’t mention Taiwan at all, according to a piece by France-Info, published in August this year.

In 1994, France stated in another communiqué with China that (my translation)

The French side confirmed that the French government recognizes the government of the People’s Republic of China as the only legal government of China, and Taiwan as an essential part of Chinese territory.
La partie française a confirmé que le gouvernement français reconnaît le gouvernement de la République Populaire de Chine comme l’unique gouvernement légal de la Chine, et Taïwan comme une partie intégrante du territoire chinois.

Now, I would think that this states explicitly that Taiwan, from France’s point of view, is under China’s jurisdiction. But Antoine Bondaz, a Research Fellow and the Director of both the Korea Program and the Taiwan Program at the Fondation pour la Recherche Stratégique (FRS), points out that (my translation)

France doesn’t say explicitly that Taiwan is part of the People’s Republic of China, there isn’t any such declaration.
La France ne dit pas explicitement que Taïwan fait partie de la République populaire de Chine, il n’y a eu aucune déclaration.

Sounds like logic applied by a bunch of weasels, but that’s diplomacy. And if this assessment is correct, you can be pretty sure that China’s diplomats knew that, and still didn’t squeeze France to make further concessions (because that would have meant no communiqué at all, I suppose).

E. Some cold hard facts

All this is mostly about superstructure – cream on a cup of coffee that wouldn’t go away even if there was no cream. What remains as a fact is the existence of Taiwan (and its semiconductors, of course), and a Chinese disposition towards violence against Taiwan.
So if there are two Chinas, just as there are two Congos, why would China believe that it has a right to harass, invade and/or annex Taiwan?
Former Chinese foreign minister Yang Jiechi probably said it best, at the 17th Meeting of the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF) in Hanoi in July 2010, reportedly: “China is a big country and other countries are small countries and that is just a fact”.

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Note

Thanks to Multiburst who suggested that this topic deserved some more attention than what a few tweets would allow.

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Related

Some people, March 23, 2022
China-Deutschland, “Beijing Rundschau”, Oct 11, 2017

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