A closer look at the island's history shows that Taiwan was only very briefly a part of Imperial China (from 1887 until 1895). Before that time, it was a loose-lying area, not ruled by anyone. In fact, when the Dutch East India Company established a settlement in the southern part of the island in the 1620s, they found no signs of any Chinese administrative structure.
In 1895, the island became Japanese territory, having been ceded "in perpetuity" to Japan by the Chinese Manchu rulers under the Treaty of Shimonoseki in 1895. For the following 50 years, it was an integral part of the Japanese Empire.
In 1945, it was "temporarily occupied" by the Chiang Kai-shek's troops on behalf of the Allied Forces. When Chiang lost his Civil War in 1949, he moved the remainder of his troops and government to Taiwan, and ruled with an iron fist. In the "February 28" incident of 1947, his troops massacred between 10,000 and 20,000 Taiwanese elite. The Taiwanese people, who comprise 85% of the population, were thus oppressed, and became unwilling pawns in a bigger chess-game between the two Chinese adversaries.
In 1951-52, the United Nations San Francisco Peace Conference which formally concluded World War II, decided that Japan would give up its sovereignty over the island, and that the future status of the island would be decided "...in accord with the purposes and principles of the United Nations charter: self-determination."
From the second half of the 1940s until the late 1980s, the Kuomintang authorities ruled the island under a pervasive system of Martial Law. At the same time, they attempted to maintain the fantasy that they ruled all of China, and would some day "recover" the mainland.
President Lee: "How come people don't understand my position on independence versus unification? ... well, actually I am rather confused myself."
The KMT's dreamworld started to fall apart in 1971-72, when Messrs. Nixon and Kissinger made their opening to Beijing, and the PRC replaced the Kuomintang authorities as China's representative in the United Nations. The situation further deteriorated for them in December 1978, when the United States switched its diplomatic recognition from the Kuomintang regime to the Beijing regime.
This switch in recognition gave the impetus to the growth and evolution of a democratic opposition movement in the late 1970s and early 1980s, which started to question the KMT's continuing claim to represent China, and began to work towards ending the Martial Law and the accompanying restrictions on freedom of the press and of expression. In September 1986, it began its growth to a full-fledged opposition party, when the Democratic Progressive Party was formed.
The Martial Law was dropped in 1987, but replaced by a less stringent National Security Law. However, it wasn't until 1991 that the claim to rule China was dropped, and that aging legislators -- elected on the mainland in 1947 -- were sent into retirement. Since then, the island has made major further strides in the direction of a fully democratic political system, but the KMT authorities continue to cling to the outdated claim that "Taiwan is part of China."
Taiwan fulfills all requirements of a nation-state: a defined territory (the same size as the Netherlands), a population of 21 million (greater than that of 3/4 of the member states of the United Nations), and a government which exercises effective control. It is a de-facto independent nation-state, and deserves to be recognized as such by other nations.
All signals on the island point to the fact that they certainly do not want to be "unified" with China, although this unification has been standard propaganda fare by both the Communist authorities in Peking and the Nationalist authorities in Taipei. This propaganda from both sides of the Taiwan Straits also allows the international media to unwittingly repeat canards such as "Both Taiwan and China say they want reunification, but on different terms" over and over again.
These platitudes have become outdated. Over the past decade a political transformation has occurred in Taiwan, which makes it a different country altogether. The Taiwanese have their own identity, language, and culture, and have worked very hard during the past decade to achieve their democratic political system. The transition towards this democratic system is a political miracle, which outshines the island's economic miracle.
Will the other nations, and particularly the United States and Western Europe, deny Taiwan its rightful place in the international community of nations just because a repressive, belligerent, bullying China is making a lot of noise ? Some appear to be saying that we should pay more attention to China than to Taiwan, because it is big and noisy. If the United Nations, and particularly the West would do this, it would be in flagrant violation of its own principles of freedom and democracy.
When we read the charter of the United Nations, then we see that it attaches great importance to the principle of self-determination. In accordance with that principle, the Taiwanese people have the right to be a free, democratic and independent country.
We realize that these days the principles of the United Nations don't mean much anymore, but we certainly hope that other democratic nations, and particularly the United States and Europe, support Taiwan's aspirations. These aspirations are the same which lead the US to its independence from Britain 200 years ago, and independence of the Netherlands from Spain 400 years ago.
During the debate about what to do about the relations with both Taiwan and China, frequent reference is made to the "One China" policy. This has become a confusing concept. It has become so confusing in fact, that State Department and White House spokesmen regularly stumble on the formulation, leaving the newsmedia and regular earthlings in utter -- well -- confusion. For example, on 13 July 1995, White House spokesman Mike McCurry stated that the US had "accepted" the Chinese position (that Taiwan is part of China). After strong protests from the Taiwanese community, he retracted his statement.
The confusion is created both by the shortsighted policy of the Kuomintang authorities described above, and by the "creative ambiguity" of the formulation chosen by the United States and most other nations in 1971/72. In the 1972 Shanghai Communiqué, the US and China listed a number of issues on which they disagreed. One of these was Taiwan. The US thus simply stated that it "acknowledged" the Chinese position, that there is but one China, and that Taiwan is part of China.
However, the Shanghai Communiqué of 1972 becomes debatable if one learns how it came about. In a 1985 Rand Corporation report written for US intelligence agencies, Mr. Kissinger is reported to have agreed to the text of the document "late at night after a banquet of Peking duck and powerful 'mao tai' liquor." Mr. Kissinger is quoted as telling his hosts: "After a dinner of mao tai and Peking duck, I'll sign anything" ("Manipulation of the Presidents, scripted by Beijing", by Jim Mann, International Herald Tribune, 14 June 1994).
"After a dinner of mao tai and Peking duck, I'll sign anything"
Henry Kissinger on the occasion of the Shanghai Communiqué, 1972
Does the wording of the Shanghai Communiqué mean that the US, and most other nations which used similar wording, recognized or accepted that Taiwan is part of China? The answer is unequivocally no. These nations simply took note of the Chinese position, but did not give their own position on the matter itself.
The only international treaty which does apply to the status of Taiwan is the San Francisco Peace Treaty of 1952, in which Japan formally renounced sovereignty over Taiwan. As indicated earlier, at San Francisco the signatories decided not to allocate sovereignty over Taiwan to any one government, but agreed that the status of the island would be decided at some future date, "... in accord with the purposes and principles of the Charter of the United Nations."
In any case, for the people of Taiwan any communiqué's between other countries such as the United States and China are not binding and of little relevance, because they were made without any involvement or representation of the people of Taiwan.
Of course a new Western "One China, One Taiwan" policy would not alter international recognition of the government in Beijing as the rightful rulers of mainland China, but it should specifically state that according to the basic principles agreed upon in the context of the United Nations, it is up to the Taiwanese people themselves to determine their own future. It is up to the international community to guarantee that this is done freely, without any coercion by China.
How can this all come about ? The first step is for the authorities on Taiwan to take: they should drop the anachronistic links with their Chinese history and stop claiming to be China. The present title "Republic of China on Taiwan" (still the official title of the country according to the Kuomintang authorities) would be similar to calling the USA "The United States of Britain in America."
A second step is for the United States and other nations to look at relations with Taiwan on its own merit. The country has a defined territory, over which China never ruled, even for one day. It has a population of over 21 million and an increasingly open and democratic political system -- all necessary prerequisites for recognition as an independent nation. The United States, the rest of the world, and particularly China, should thus acknowledge, respect, accept, and recognize that the present-day Taiwan is totally different from the old "Republic of China" of the repressive Chiang Kai-shek regime.
The Taiwanese people had nothing to do with the Chinese civil war, and do not want their future as a free, democratic and independent nation to be a hostage to that civil war. It is therefore time for the international community to discard the old "One China" policy and move progressively towards a new "One China, One Taiwan" policy.
At present China is still opposed to Taiwan independence, but in time, the leaders in Peking will come to see that it is in the interest of peace and stability in the region, and certainly in their own interest to live peacefully side-by-side with their smaller neighbors. Taiwan wants to be a free, democratic, and independent nation, which lives in peace with all its neighbors, including China.
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