Taiwan Communiqué No. 84, December 1998

Lighter Notes

United Nations Resolution 2758

In a recent letter to the editor of the Washington Times, the press counselor of the Chinese embassy in Washington repeated a series of the usual Chinese falsehoods and distortions. One, on which we want to focus here, is an assertion about United Nations Assembly Resolution 2758 of October 1971, which decided that the PRC regime in Beijing was the rightful representative of China instead of the Kuomintang regime in Taipei.

According to the Chinese press spokesman this Resolution reconfirmed "... that Taiwan has been part of China since ancient times." We of course doubt that the UN General Assembly, in 1971 or now, could accurately assess the status of Taiwan in "ancient times", but we decided that a closer look at the text of resolution might shed some light in this matter.

Below is the text of the resolution. As we suspected, the resolution doesn't say anything about Taiwan. It merely settled the question which regime was the legitimate representative of China. Taiwan's status is thus unaffected, and needs to be resolved on the basis of the principle of self-determination, as decided at the San Francisco Peace Conference of 1951-52.

Resolution on Restoring the Rights of the PRC, 25 October, 1971

The General Assembly,

Recalling the Principles of the Charter of the United Nations,

Considering that the restoration of the lawful rights of the People's Republic of China is essential both for the protection of the Charter of the United Nations and for the cause that the United Nations must serve under the Charter,

Recognizing that the representatives of the Government of the People's Republic of China are the only lawful representatives of China to the United Nations and that the People's Republic of China is one of the five permanent members of the Security Council,

Decides to restore all its rights to the People's Republic of China and to recognize the representatives of its government as the only legitimate representatives of China to the United Nations, and to expel forthwith the representatives of Chiang Kai-shek from the place which they unlawfully occupy at the United Nations and in all the organizations related to it.

Source: 25 Yearbook of the United Nations, 1971, p. 136.

A comparison with the American Civil War ?

In the above-mentioned letter to the editor, the Chinese press counselor makes a comparison with the American Civil War, and states that similarly, China wants to "...preserve the unity of the state." Of course any comparison of this type is imperfect, but if one wants to make the comparison between China-Taiwan now and the American Civil War of 1861-1865, then it should go along the following lines:

Suppose that after the American Civil War, the defeated Southern generals and administration evaded arrest, and had been able to escape to the Bahamas (which was under British administration at the time). There they declared martial law, established a corrupt regime, oppressed the local population, and declared that they would "recover the United States."

After a standoff of a few decades, the local Bahamian people succeeded in pushing through a democratization, the distinction between the Southerners and the Bahamians diminished, and the democratic political entity evolved, striving for a full and equal membership in the international community under the name The Bahamas.

Would this course of history have given the United States the right to claim the Bahamas as United States territory ? Of course not. Under the Charter of the United Nations, the people of The Bahamas — just like the people of Taiwan — have the right to determine their own future. The only difference is that there are only 275,000 people on the Bahamas -- which is recognized as an independent country -- and 21.8 million people in Taiwan -- which is not (not yet, anyway).

PBS: Tug of War, the Story of Taiwan

In December 1998, Public Broadcasting TV Station around the United States started airing Tug of War: the Story of Taiwan, an important new documentary about Taiwan and its history. It was produced by Mrs. Judith Vecchione of WGBH Boston, who earlier produced important documentaries about history in Asia.

The following text is based on information provided by WGBH in Boston:

{short description of image}All of these events took place on an island that most Americans know very little about: Taiwan. Until recently, many Taiwanese did not know about these incidents either. For almost forty years after World War II, the Taiwanese lived under martial law, unable to learn their history, afraid to ask. Now, their stories are told in Tug of War: The Story of Taiwan, airing on PBS in December 1998.

This new historical documentary draws on remarkable archival footage and on-side interviews to survey a century of tension across the Taiwan Strait. Scenes includes the Japanese colonial era, the tragic 1947 massacre of the Taiwanese by Chiang Kai-shek's Chinese Nationalists, stories of harsh government repression, and vibrant cultural revival.

Taiwan has had a long history of being tugged, twisted, and manipulated by superpowers. For years, Chinese emperors maintained that the small island ninety miles off its shores was part of China. Yet in 1895, when China lost the Sino-Japanese War, it gave the island away to Japanese victors.

After WWII, Taiwan was occupied by the Chinese Nationalists. But only a few years later, as the Nationalists lost to the Communist, Taiwan and China separated again — and again, their experiences diverged.

Weaving together personal testimonies and rare archival film, Tug of War examines these forces that shaped Taiwan's past and present - and continue to make it vulnerable to major power confrontations in the near future.

Today, Taiwan possesses some of the largest exchange reserves in the world and is one of the most active members of the world's trading community. It has a democratic political system that is unique in Asia, boasting several vocal political parties.

Still, Taiwan is isolated in the world community — without official recognition from the US and without a seat in the UN — because its neighbor, the People's Republic of China, still considers Taiwan a "breakaway province" and determinedly blocks international support for the island's independence.

"China is like Jupiter", says the Director of movie, Judith Vecchione. "Because of its size, China will always have a gravitational pull on Taiwan, but many people on the island also feel they have a story separate from mainland China. They have rediscovered their Taiwanese identity, but at the same time remain ethnically Chinese."

For the past half-century, Taiwan has been a flash point in the Pacific. Several times it has brought the US and China perilously close to war....... But it was a grim reminder of how closely connected America is with the stories that unfold in Tug of War.

"When and if the next conflict over Taiwan's independence emerges, have we thought out what America's position should be?" Vecchione asks. "How far are we willing to go in support of Taiwan's democratic aspirations — up to the point of independence? To the point of conflict with China? Are we willing to commit America lives in support of Taiwan? Or do we believe there are limits to democracy?

The answers Vecchione explores in her film are both complex and fascinating, with elements of history, politics, and personality; with generals and presidents maneuvering, and the "weaker" partner often holding the stronger hand; with America, Chinese, and Taiwanese interests coming together and apart in a shifting array of alliances; with issues as seemingly inconsequential as the arrest of a woman selling cigarettes illegally and as global as the threat of nuclear confrontation.

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