Twofish's Blog

May 24, 2007

Response to Lung Ying-Tai

Filed under: china, politics, taiwan — twofish @ 3:17 am

Here is a good link to Lung Ying-Tai’s speech at Cambridge University.  While Lung argues that the international community does not understand Taiwan, I think that one major problem is that many in Taiwan do not understand the constraints of the international community.

The international order is based on relations between “states” and “statehood” is a status that involves recognition by other states and it is something that is rarely given.  The problem is that if you look at any international boundary, it is one that is the result of historical accident and random circumstance.  Question one boundary, and they all are questioned.  Recognize one state over the objections of another state then this opens the door to all groups which aspire to statehood to have their claims recognized.  Taiwan can come up with some good arguments why it should be recognized as a state, but so can hundreds of other groups.  Recognize Taiwan, then this gives the green light for everyone else to press their claims, and since almost every existing state has some secessionist claim, this would create a threat to existing states.

The second issue is that international law is an effort to create some global rules that prevents raw power from constantly being used.  The trouble is that the rules that are created while they can regulate and the direct raw power, they cannot ignore power, and to create rules of international behavior that ignores the political, military, and economic strength of the People’s Republic of China simply ignores reality.  What many in Taiwan would like to see is an appeal to abstract international rules that ignore these political realities, and this is unworkable.

Finally, in trying to appeal to the international community but yet ignoring the real concerns of the community, Taiwan is increasing finding its position more and more ignored.  By insisting on participation in the global community on terms that unambigiously recognize Taiwanese statehood, and rejecting forms of participation that leave the status of Taiwan ambigous, Taiwan presents itself as simply unwilling or unable to understand the real concerns of the international community, and that decreases sympathy for Taiwan in diplomatic circles.  Participation in the international community involves not only rights but also responsibilities, and many of the actions of the government on Taiwan give the impression that Taiwan does not recognize the serious responsibilities that being a global citizen involves.

What I find disturbing is the existence of a bad cycle.  Because Taiwan is isolated from the international community, Taiwan is unable to understand the concerns and realities of the international community, and this leads to further isolation.  To be blunt, Taiwan thinks that is it more important than it really is, and that abstract principles of “human rights” and “democracy” carry more weight in the international community than they do, and underestimates the importance of political, military, and economic power in determning what actually happens.

The truth is not that the international community does not understand Taiwan, the truth is that they do not care that much about its aspirations.  Taiwan is merely one of dozens of flashpoints and hundreds of regions with aspirations to statehood.  Any effort to unilaterally push statehood upon the world rather than undertake joint problem solving will only add to Taiwan isolation, and people on Taiwan really need to understand this.



  1. Everyone here understands these constraints, Twofish. The problem is the aggressive actions of China, and Chinese colonialism (if China did not exist, the international community would recognize Taiwan immediately regardless of its fumbling inability to deal with the outside world).

    You also misunderstand the Taiwan issue. Taiwan does not belong to China and never has, and so it cannot “secede.” The issue is getting the world community to recognize an independence that exists in all but name. Nobody in Africa or India cites the Taiwan case in support of their own succession; the problem is that China is an empire masquerading as a state, and eager to further expand, meaning that letting reality intrude on even a single claim is out of the question.

    The problem isn’t between Taiwan and the international community, but between the international community and China. Taiwan cannot do much because it has no control over the cause of the problem.


    Comment by Michael Turton — May 24, 2007 @ 1:30 pm

  2. The problem is also there are international law ramifications of recogizing Taiwan which a lot of people in Taiwan don’t recognize.

    The argument that the PRC uses to claim sovereignty over Taiwan is an international law argument. You can dispute the argument. You can argue against the argument. The problem is that if you reject the argument then it has implications for other political issues in the world. Taiwan’s argument for recognition is based on either the principle of “self-determination” or the principle that the PRC has never exercised effective jurisdiction over Taiwan. The trouble with that argument is that there are lots of places in the world where a government claims legal sovereignty but does not have effective jurisdiction (Sri Lanka, Burma, Somalia, the northwestern areas of Pakistan, Georgia, most parts of Africa).

    China may be an “empire masquerading as a state” but so is pretty much every other nation in the world. No one in the third world cites the Taiwan case in support of their secession, because pretty much no one recognizes Taiwan, and most countries would like to keep it that way.

    If you have the international community accept the principle that “the PRC has never ruled Taiwan and therefore Taiwan really isn’t seceding” then this opens the door wide open for all sorts of territorial claims. Accepting the claim that “Taiwan is a democracy and therefore it deserves to have international recognition” is another principle that most nations simply cannot accept. Most nations in the world are not democracies.

    Even those that are have trouble accepting this claim, because it is a rule of international law that an invasion of one sovereign state by another sovereign state is grounds for military and economic intervention by the international community. Once you accept that a state is a recognized sovereign state, then an invasion by another state *requires* international reaction. The implication of this is that if boundaries can easily be changed, then the developed world will constantly be sending military troops overseas to defend claims of sovereignty.

    As long as Taiwan’s status is ambigious the United States has a choice as to how to respond to threats to Taiwan. If Taiwan’s status is unambiguously a recognized state, the United States would be forced under international law to defend Taiwan. (Conversely, if Taiwan was not a recognized states, the United States would be forced under international law *NOT* to defend Taiwan.)

    The United States wants to maintain the ability to decide what to do in case of a crisis, and therefore the United States wants to keep Taiwan’s status ambigious. Beijing finds this acceptable. They might not like it, but they aren’t openly challenging it. Chen Shui-Bian does not, since he thinks that this renders Taiwan an “abnormal country.”

    The one thing that Taiwan *can* do is to maintain some sympathy within the international community for its claims. The problem is that the actions of Chen Shui-Bian has eroded this advantage. One thing that Taiwan *can* do is to seek international contact on terms that would leave its status ambigious *AND AGREE TO MAINTAIN THE AMBIGIUITY*. The problem with Chen is that he is trying to make Taiwan’s status clear, and this is unacceptable to the international community. It is particularly troubling to the United States, because if Taiwan were a recognized state, the US would be *forced* to come to Taiwan’s aid in a crisis. While the US would likely come to Taiwan’s aid in a crisis, it does not want to be a situation where it had no choice in the matter, and it certainly does not want to be in a situation where Taiwan can control US foreign policy.

    For example, Chen appears unwilling to discuss participation in WHO on terms that would leave Taiwan’s status ambiguous.

    By contrast, Beijing is not trying to force the international community to unambiguously recognize its claims or to attempt to “clarify” the situation, and this has gained sympathy and influence in diplomatic circles.

    One problem is that people in the Taiwan independence community think that Beijing’s claims are “obviously” silly and that Beijing is being “obviously evil”. Therefore, the reaction of the international community is interpreted as them not “understanding” Taiwan’s situation.

    What is not recognized within independence circles is the degree to which the international community sympathizes with Beijing’s situation and interprets Beijing has being on the right side of the argument and Taipei as being on the wrong side, and how Taiwan’s situation of a relatively democratic government having “de facto” sovereignty over an area of the world that is different from the sovereignty that can be argued from legal arguments *IS NOT UNIQUE*.

    This means that Taiwan has much less leverage and sympathy than it otherwise could. Personally, I think that this is one reason to vote pan-blue since the KMT understands the situation a lot more than people in the DPP do.

    Comment by twofish — May 25, 2007 @ 1:10 pm

  3. One note about a global perspective. I once mentioned that I learned a lot about China by studying Hungary. The most important thing that I learned was now *non-unique* China was. The appeals to historical glory, the resentment over “lost” territories, the fact that you have a government composed of lots of different people that in a lot of cases don’t particularly like each other and want out, the differences between elites and the masses, the borders that were formed by historical accident, the interactions between the “majority” group and the “minority” groups, the desire to be left alone, the desire not to leave other people alone. All that you find in China, Hungary, Indonesia, Russia, and ever other nation. Even the Chinese claim to uniqueness is not unique.

    China has a relatively a poor, authoritarian governments, with bits that are brutal, nasty and sometimes even evil. Most nations in the “world community” are like that, and so appealing to the “world community” on democratic and human rights grounds is going to give you relatively little sympathy.

    In the United States, it went through a period in which it felt like it would spread democracy and freedom throughout the world, and Taiwan’s message had some effect. However, the United States is tired now. It just wants to get the troops home from Iraq.

    Comment by twofish — May 25, 2007 @ 1:24 pm

  4. Beijing is not trying to force the international community to unambiguously recognize its claims or to attempt to “clarify” the situation

    Huh ? It seems like China pushes the “One China” ( with them as China ) line every chance they get in the international community.

    Comment by Wenzi — May 26, 2007 @ 12:43 am

  5. Twofish, if you want to say that might is right, go ahead and say it, but the fact that the international community has not recognized Taiwan has nothing to do with international law, and everything to do with China’s power in the world system. Taiwan satisfies all criteria for internal sovereignty according to international law, the only missing part being external sovereignty, i.e. international recognition. Taiwan is far more prepared for independence than any of the post-Yugoslav states were in 1990-91. The only difference is that Yugoslavia/Serbia was weak in 1991 whereas China is strong and threatens war if Taiwan cuts all ties to China.

    You argue that if Taiwan is recognized as an independent state, then the whole world order will collapse, but you fail to elaborate on that point. What other regions will follow suit? I don’t know of any region in the world that is more ready for independence than Taiwan.

    Dual recognition of Taiwan and the PRC by no means prevent future unification of China. Germany did not give up the aim of unification after it abandoned the Hallstein doctrine. And even though South and North Korea are still technically at war, it is perfectly possible to recognize both countries. It is the government of the PRC that as painted itself into a corner by its rigid policy on reunification. Only when that changes is any solution to the “Taiwan problem” possible. You don’t want Taiwan to rock the boat, fair enough, I am with you. But it is the PRC that is threatening Taiwan with war, not the other way around. If the PRC attacks Taiwan, the responsibility rests with the PRC and no one else. Make no mistake about that.

    Comment by Amban — May 27, 2007 @ 8:31 pm

  6. Twofish wrote:

    ‘By contrast, Beijing is not trying to force the international community to unambiguously recognize its claims or to attempt to “clarify” the situation, and this has gained sympathy and influence in diplomatic circles.’

    This is factually incorrect. Just one example: in 1999, the PRC used its veto to prevent a UN peace keeping mission to Macedonia in order to punish the small nation for having established diplomatic relations with the ROC. If that is not bullying a small country to recognize the claims of the PRC – what is?

    Comment by Amban — May 27, 2007 @ 9:44 pm

  7. Amban,

    You need to get a text on basic international law. Like any form of law, there are areas where people can argue about and one of the basic controversies in international law is “what constitutes a state?” Remember that the principles of international law were created to regulate the interactions between kings and potentates in medieval Europe, and the principles of international law do not include much respect for concepts of human rights.

    Recognition by PRC of Taiwan makes invading Taiwan a war crime. Non-recognition by the PRC of Taiwan makes invading Taiwan a legitimate right of self-defense. Recognition of Taiwan requires that the United States go to war with Beijing if it invades. Non-recognition of Taiwan requires that the United States *not* go to war with Beijing if it invades.

    If the PRC attackes Taiwan tomorrow then yes the international community would line up against the PRC, however, the PRC is not likely to invade Taiwan in the absence of a declaration of independence, and given that condition, it makes Taiwan look like a trouble-maker.

    Comment by twofish — May 27, 2007 @ 11:00 pm

  8. I do have a text on basic international law. So here we go:

    “The internal sovereignty of a state does not require the recognition of other states to confirm its internal sovereignty. The existence of the state de facto is sufficient in this respect, to establish its sovereignty de jure. It is a state because it exists.

    “The external sovereignty of any State, on the other hand, may require recognition by other States in order to render it perfect and complete. So long, indeed, as the new State confines its actions to its own citizens, and to the limits of its own territory, it may well dispense with such recognition…” Henry Wheaton, Elements of International Law, 6th ed. (Boston, 1855), p. 30f.

    Can it get more basic than this?

    You also wrote:

    “Non-recognition by the PRC of Taiwan makes invading Taiwan a legitimate right of self-defense.”

    There is a huge leap in the logic here, I think you realize that yourself.

    Comment by Amban — May 27, 2007 @ 11:29 pm

  9. A lot has happened since 1999…. There were some major changes in PRC policy after Chen Shui-Bian’s election, and more recently, the PRC hosted a conference with African leaders and those recognizing Taiwan were invited without preconditions.

    The two big changes were that handshakes between Hu Jintao and Lien Chan with the “one China, different interpretations” and the Iraq war. These two changes with the effort by Chen to keep pushing the independence issue have left Taiwan much more isolated than it was in 2002. The problem is that since 2002, Beijing has *seemed* constructive while Taipei has *seemed* non-constructive.

    You can argue that this is an act. You can argue that Beijing is really less constructive than it appears. You can argue that Beijing is at fault for all of these problems. You might be right, but we are talking about the *perception* of the international community, and if things were going good for Taiwan there then why was Lung Ying-Tai making the speech?

    There are two things that Taiwan could do:

    1) stop whining and start doing something pro-active. Taiwan has been whining a lot and trying to get sympathy by being a martyr. This isn’t going to work. There are things that Taiwan can do to *unilaterally* increase its profile on the world community. Start spending lots of money looking for a cure for AIDS or global warming. Send teams of doctors to the third world with no strings attached.

    2) stop isolating itself from the mainland. In isolating itself from the PRC, Taiwan is isolating itself from the world. This isn’t the 1990’s when Taiwan was rich and the PRC was poor.

    3) stop talking about being a “normal nation.” Taiwan seems to want to be a early 20th century nation-state with a 20th century identity, and instead of living in a global world in which everyone has some sort of mixed identity and weird jumble of political and cultural allegiances.

    Chen Shui-Bian’s policies have made the global situation for Taiwan much worse than it would have otherwise been. “Blame China” is not an effective policy. Fortunately, Chen is going to leave office shortly, and his successor (Ma or Hsieh) is likely to be less incompetent than he is.

    Comment by twofish — May 27, 2007 @ 11:40 pm

  10. You didn’t really answer any of the questions here, I wonder why.

    “Start spending lots of money looking for a cure for AIDS or global warming. Send teams of doctors to the third world with no strings attached.”

    What does that have to do with Taiwan’s international status? Are you implying that the PRC is doing these things and Taiwan isn’t? Shall Taiwan sign the Kyoto protocol, you mean? How is that going to take place without statehood?

    Comment by Amban — May 27, 2007 @ 11:52 pm

  11. ‘stop talking about being a “normal nation.” Taiwan seems to want to be a early 20th century nation-state with a 20th century identity, and instead of living in a global world in which everyone has some sort of mixed identity and weird jumble of political and cultural allegiances.’

    Again, you are turning the tables in a curious way here. Or are we to assume that the PRC has quit using primordialist arguments to justify its claims on Taiwan. You can hardly read any statement from the PRC, without it making claims about Taiwan being an inalienable part of China. It hardly gets more early 20th century than that.

    Comment by Amban — May 28, 2007 @ 12:12 am

  12. Amban:
    It’s going to take a lot more than one quote from an ancient text to establish your case. If you take a representative sample of international law texts, you’ll find that there is a lot of argument over what constitutes a “state” and whether or not a “state” can exist in the absence of recognition. In practice, it can’t.
    !“Non-recognition by the PRC of Taiwan makes invading Taiwan a !legitimate right of self-defense.”
    !There is a huge leap in the logic here, I think you realize that !yourself.
    I didn’t say non-recognition by the PRC. I said that non-recognition. If Taiwan were not a recognized state, then invasion by the PRC would be an act of legitimate self-defense. What would happen in practice is that the United States, if it wanted to intervene, would recognize Taiwan two minutes before it sent the troops. The United States has been *very* careful not to do or say anything that would prevent it from doing this. If the United States ever said “We recognize Beijing as the sovereign power over Taiwan” then it couldn’t recognize Taiwan without breaking all sorts of international rules. It, however, has never said this.
    As long as the PRC doesn’t recognize Taiwan, there is some room for argument, and as long as no one else important recognizes Taiwan, then there is a lot of room for argument. Once other countries start recognizing Taiwan, then the room for argument decreases. If the PRC recognizes Taiwan, then there is *NO* room for argument.
    As far as Taiwan’s international status, doing nice global citizen things helps Taiwan get international sympathy which can get it more friends and allies.
    One final thing, I didn’t answer many of your questions because I think your questions may be irrelevant. The thing about law is that there are usually five or six ways to argue something, and the thing that trips up a lot of political advocates (myself included) is the idea that none of the arguments that contradict you are worth anything.
    In fact, it is easy to come up with legal arguments why Taiwan is/should be a recognized state, and if you come up with those arguments, I’ll nod my head because they are perfectly valid ones. There are also perfectly valid reasons why Taiwan is not/should not be a recognized state, and if you can’t respect the arguments of the other side, then you are doing your side a disservice (not that this bothers me much). I like to think that I can write an a very convincing article justifying why Taiwan should be independent under international law.
    What happens in practice is in law and politics, you come up with arguments that justify your case, and present them to the people whose opinions matter (which in this case are the diplomats and political leaders of the major powers).
    In my case, you don’t have to waste your time trying to convince me that there are very good arguments why Taiwan should be an independent state under international law. I’m convinced. The thing is that I can also see the other side, and I can look at the dynamics of the situation to see what arguments end up mattering and what arguments don’t.
    The fact is that Taiwan’s presence in the international community has been eroded over the last five years, and this concerns me because I happen to love Taiwan. The concern that Lung brings up that isolation from the global community leads to anger on Taiwan is a valid one, but my original point is that the current administration in Taiwan misunderstands the international community and the reasons why they take the actions in the way that they do.
    What is devastating is the idea that somehow the rules are objective, when in fact the rules of international law are quite subjective. That’s why you need a good lawyer.

    Comment by twofish — May 28, 2007 @ 12:30 am

  13. Ah, so now international law is all just subjective and mumbo-jumbo. Let me remind you that I didn’t bring up international law, you did by saying – and I quote – “that international law is an effort to create some global rules that prevents raw power from constantly being used.” Now, which entity is exercising “raw power” towards the other? According to which interpretation of international law can you make a case that the PRC can invade Taiwan in self-defense, failing an attack by Taiwan on the Mainland? Give me a quote.

    Comment by Amban — May 28, 2007 @ 12:44 am

  14. Here are a couple of quotes from the Montevideo convention (1933):

    “Article 1. The state as a person of international law should possess the following qualifications: a ) a permanent population; b ) a defined territory; c ) government; and d) capacity to enter into relations with the other states.”

    Comment: by maintaining relations with an admittedly small number of states, Taiwan does have the capacity to enter into relations with other states.

    “Article 3. The political existence of the state is independent of recognition by the other states. Even before recognition the state has the right to defend its integrity and independence, to provide for its conservation and prosperity, and consequently to organize itself as it sees fit, to legislate upon its interests, administer its services, and to define the jurisdiction and competence of its courts.

    The exercise of these rights has no other limitation than the exercise of the rights of other states according to international law.”

    “Article 10. The primary interest of states is the conservation of peace. Differences of any nature which arise between them should be settled by recognized pacific methods.”

    Comment by Amban — May 28, 2007 @ 12:56 am

  15. Beijing has not justified its sovereignty over Taiwan on the basis of primordalist arguments. Primordalist arguments have almost no standing in international law, and if primordalist arguments were the main basis of Beijing’s claim on Taiwan, they wouldn’t be taken seriously.

    The arguments that Beijing uses that have international standing are based on a reading of international treaties. Taiwan is an “inalienable part” of China because (by this view) sovereignty of Taiwan was transferred to the ROC from Japan in 1945 and the PRC is the successor state of the ROC. There are lots of weaknesses in this argument, and you don’t have to point them out since I know them.

    As far as becoming a 21st century global nation, I think you underestimate Beijing and the PRC. I was born in West Virginia. Beijing sees me as a “patriotic overseas Chinese” who is willing to use his skills to benefit the motherland. The KMT sees me pretty much the same way. The United States sees me a “patriotic American” willing to defend, protect, and uphold the Constitution of the United States and do what I can to spread American values of democracy and freedom in the world. Multi-national corporations see how I can move between cultures and see this as a useful skill for which they are willing to pay me lots of money.

    Now the DPP looks at me and sees me as a “freak of nature” with “divided loyalities.” If Taiwan is “normal” then I am “abnormal” since I don’t salute one flag, but have to juggle between two or three.

    The thing about legal arguments is that they can be argued in many ways. But in the end, the side that I end up spending the most time defending is the side that appeals to my heart and my soul.

    Now who am I going to choose, the sides that see me as a useful and valuable human being, or the side that sees me as abnormal, a freak, and a monster.

    Comment by twofish — May 28, 2007 @ 12:57 am

  16. I cannot answer for the DPP, the KMT or the CCP, so I don’t really see why you bring that up.

    Now, as for arguments for reunificaton, can it get more primordialist than this:

    “China has a long history of 5,000 years. The Chinese people have lived and multiplied on this land where all ethnic groups have mixed together, in the course of which they have developed a powerful cohesiveness, and the values of cherishing and safeguarding unity. Over the long course of history, the Chinese nation has witnessed changes of dynasties, transfers of governments, local separatist regimes, and foreign invasions, especially the untold invasions and dismemberment by foreign powers in modern history. However, unity has always been the main trend in the development of Chinese history. After every separation, the country was invariably reunified, only to be followed in its wake by rapid political, economic, cultural, scientific and technological development.”

    Comment by Amban — May 28, 2007 @ 1:06 am

  17. Law is not all subjective. It is not all objective. In the case of Taiwan, the situation is ambigious because a lot of people have put a lot of effort in making it ambiguous.

    Beijing could justify an invasion of Taiwan on the basis of internal affairs and non-invioability of borders. The important point is that Beijing has never signed anything that implies that it doesn’t have sovereignty over Taiwan. It couldn’t use this argument over Mongolia or Vietnam, for example, since it has signed papers that say that it doesn’t have sovereignty over either of them.

    Also, just as a logical point, a state should possess A, B, C, and D, but that doesn’t mean that some thing that possesses A, B, C, and D is a state. Even if you argue in general terms that a state can exist without recognition, that doesn’t mean that Taiwan is a state under international law.

    Comment by twofish — May 28, 2007 @ 1:16 am

  18. Justify an invasion on the basis of internal affairs? Well, then Beijing has to show that it exercises a modicum of sovereignty over Taiwan.

    “Also, just as a logical point, a state should possess A, B, C, and D, but that doesn’t mean that some thing that possesses A, B, C, and D is a state. Even if you argue in general terms that a state can exist without recognition, that doesn’t mean that Taiwan is a state under international law.”

    I don’t see where you are going with this. The only thing standing between Taiwan claiming statehood is not formal logic, but the existence of a military threat. And that threat goes in one direction, not the other. If you want to argue that might is right, go ahead and do so. But don’t bring in international law, because it is pretty clear.

    Comment by Amban — May 28, 2007 @ 1:29 am

  19. Amban,

    The paragraph you presented has no absolutely standing under international law and it does not give the PRC any standing under international law to claim sovereignty over Taiwan.

    However, you pulled one paragraph out of a long document that contains arguments that *do* have some standing under international law are in the other sections of the document you quoted from.

    Also the reason I bring up the KMT, CCP, and DPP is to try to give you a good idea of why I have the views that I do. What I find is that people (and this includes myself) starts out with some deep emotional attachments to some belief or cause and *then* they mold the legal arguments around the emotion. The dangerous part is when people believe that their views are the only objective or rational ones possible and that everyone that believes something different is stupid or evil.

    If your point is that there are good legal arguments to justify Taiwan independence, then I don’t know why we are arguing since I agree with you. The point that I’m trying to make you aware of is that there are persuasive political and legal arguments against Taiwanese statehood. You might not agree with them, and I don’t expect you do, but my point is that those arguments do have a lot of influence on the “people whose opinions matter.”

    One thing that was really useful for me was to look at legal arguments for a dispute (is Transylvania really Hungarian or Romanian) that I really don’t have an emotional attachment to. When people start arguing political issues that they feel passionate about, it is easily to look stupid in front of people that don’t care about them.

    What I find useful in that case is not trying to explain to people the legal arguments since most people don’t care, but rather to explain why I ended up passionate about the issue to begin with.

    Comment by twofish — May 28, 2007 @ 1:38 am

  20. [q]The only thing standing between Taiwan claiming statehood is not formal logic, but the existence of a military threat. And that threat goes in one direction, not the other. If you want to argue that might is right, go ahead and do so. But don’t bring in international law, because it is pretty clear.[/q]

    I think this is where you misunderstand international law. If Taiwan is a sovereign state then any military threat against it is illegitimate. If Taiwan is not a sovereign state, then military threat against it by the sovereign authority is legitimate. It is a war crime to use or threaten to use force against another state except in cases of self-defense. It is permissible to use force to prevent secession.

    Taiwan can claim that notwithstanding its non-recognition, it is a state and therefore Beijing has no right to threaten it. Beijing disagrees. The major powers have (intentionally) not done anything to signal their views one way or another.

    International law is important. Because of the current situation in which Taiwan is not 100% indisputably a state, Beijing can use threats against Taiwan that it could not use against Nepal or Bhutan, which are 100% indisputably states. If Beijing were to recognize Taiwan, then it would be subject to the protections that states have, and Beijing could no longer threaten Taiwan in the way that it has been doing.

    Comment by twofish — May 28, 2007 @ 1:49 am

  21. And this is where “might” has its limits. Take Bhutan. It has no army, and the People’s Liberation Army could probably take it over in two hours, but for the PLA to invade Bhutan would cause the entire world to unite against the PRC. Why? Because Bhutan is a state. Everyone agrees that Bhutan is a state. The PRC agrees that Bhutan is a state. There is no argument, because there is no argument, if the PRC were to invade Bhutan or Kygyizstan, the entire world would react to defend Bhutan, and the leaders of the PRC would be subject to international war crimes tribunals for invading Bhutan.

    The other extreme is Tibet. When the PRC does something bad in Tibet, people complain, but no one is going to consider military action. Why? Because no one recognizes Tibet as a state.

    Taiwan is in between. People argue about whether or not Taiwan is a state. So what would happen is that people would pick the legal theory that would be most consistent with what they wanted to do.

    Comment by twofish — May 28, 2007 @ 1:58 am

  22. I agree with you that ambiguity is the key to maintain stability in the Taiwan straits. I also agree with you that the PRC has some valid arguments to claim Taiwan under international law. The question is what kind of ambiguity and how those valid arguments are being pursued.

    Europe is a case in point, but I don’t think you have understood Europe. For decades, West Germany claimed not only the GDR but also territories in Poland. Similarly, the constitution of the Republic of Ireland stated that the six counties were an inalienable part of the Republic. Valid arguments on the basis of international law could be raised in favor or against these claims. However, the official policies of these two states did not prevent them from maintaining diplomatic relations with Poland or the United Kingdom. And as far as I am aware, neither of these countries threatened to throw Europe into yet another conflagration over their claims. Now both Germany and Ireland have resolved most of their claims not by resorting to war or threats, but by diplomatic give-and-take.

    I think that I can speak for many Europeans when I say that the irredentism of the PRC looks more of a pre-1939 variety than anything else. Personally, I don’t feel very strongly about either independence or reunification. For years, I did not pay much attention to Taiwan and I have spent most of my time in China on the Mainland. What opened my eyes to the issue was not exposure to DPP propaganda, but the aggressiveness with which the PRC pushes its agenda. The events in 1995-96 were a profound shock to me.

    I can understand and sympathize with the feeling that Taiwan should belong to China. I can understand many of the arguments in favor of reunification. What I cannot accept is the fact that the PRC threatens to invade Taiwan to enforce its claims. That is why I find your ire against Taiwan and Lung Ying-tai misdirected, because to me, it looks like you are blaming the victim.

    Comment by Amban — May 28, 2007 @ 2:25 pm

  23. The current proposal that Beijing is advancing as a basis of discussion is “one China, different interpretations.” This proposal has the support of one of the major parties on Taiwan, and it has the advantage of making it ambiguious what exactly China is and whether or not Taiwan is a state or not. The problem with this proposal is that some people on Taiwan want to have nothing to do with the idea of China at all. My hope is that the “one China, different interpretation” scheme be approved on Taiwan in the legislative and presidential elections on Taiwan next year.

    The situation between PRC and Taiwan is different from Germany in that the constraints on Germany were primarily external. Also, in the case of Germany, “Ost-politik” was a semi-stable solution, while in the case of Taiwan, it is clear that some of the political leaders in Taiwan have the intention of taking any concession by the PRC and turning it into permanent independence. “Two states” might be workable if it were a semi-stable situation that allowed relations between the Mainland and Taiwan to develop similar to East and West Germany, but it is obvious to me that the supporters of the “two state solution” on Taiwan have no such intention, and will use this only as a very temporary situation to push for full and permanent independence.

    The situation also is different between the East Asia and Europe in that in the case of Europe there is an outside external power (the United States) that benignly keeps the peace. In the case of China, there isn’t an external force that keeps the peace.

    I can understand how the claims that the PRC has on Taiwan can look like irrentedism, but from my point of view the situation over Taiwan is the aftermath of a civil war which has left deep scars that will take decades to heal. People react emotionally to the Taiwan issue because there is real and deep pain and sadness surrounding the issue. I’ve ended up with family on both sides of the straits, and for over a decade my parents could not communicate with their parents. I never met my grandparents. As long as the separation is temporary, even if temporary lasts for decades, the pain is bearable, but the thought of a permanent separation is traumatic for many people on both sides of the straits.

    My belief that any solution to the Taiwan straits should be settled peacefully and with the agreement on both sides of the straits. However, I don’t think that “dual recognition” would do this, because pro-independence on Taiwan would then use the protection granted states under international law to push for permanent separation, and this would push things to the point where public opinion on the PRC would force the government to react.

    A solution like “one China, different interpretations” that keeps Taiwan’s status as a “state” or “non-state” ambigious would be useful, and the proposal that has been agreed to by both the CCP and the KMT does this. There is a good chance that the KMT will be elected next year on the basis of “one China, different interpretations” and this hopefully will provide a stable basis for quasi-diplomatic relations to develop.

    One final point. The fact that the PRC refuses to recognize Taiwan is not an example of PRC flouting the rules of international law, but quite the opposite. Without recognizing Taiwan, the PRC can come up with a valid legal argument to use or threaten to use force. If the PRC recognizes Taiwan, then these legal arguments are unsustainable. This shows the strength and importantance of international norms rather than their weakness.

    Also, I do not have an “ire against Taiwan”. I have an “ire against deep-green politicians on Taiwan” who I hope will be removed from office in the next set of elections later this year.

    Comment by twofish — May 29, 2007 @ 12:17 am

  24. This is getting more and more confused. First of all, the Taiwan issue is inconceivable without the Cold War. Taiwan would in all likelihood never have existed as a separate entity if Truman had not decided to put the island under his protective umbrella during the Korean War. That is what I would call external constraints.

    Second, you seem to imply that there was a stability in East-West German relations, which allowed the two countries to establish relations. Well, that stability was an increasing realization on both sides that the division was more or less permanent. Once the communist regime was firmly in power, East Germany never intended to reunify with West Germany – and unlike Taiwan the GDR was never a democracy where you could hope for a change of government. No one could predict the developments in 1989.

    Finally, in all these post you have never elaborated on the very basic point that regardless what political party is in power in Taiwan – it is the Mainland that is threatening to invade Taiwan. Not the opposite.

    Comment by Amban — May 29, 2007 @ 12:58 am

  25. If Taiwan (or its majority people and not just the native Taiwanese speaking people) is serious about declaring and maintaining its independent statehood, it must be able to do the following:

    1) To defend and thwart off upon any attacks from China, for declaring its independence, similar to what the USA (a Continent) was successfully able to defend against the British (an island) attacks.


    2) To create and change its language system different from speaking and writing of Chinese characters similar to what Korea and Japan have done.

    The misunderstanding (or adherence to the “One China policy”) of the international community in whether to recognize Taiwan’s aspiration to “statehood” would just linger on since Taiwan continues to use the Chinese language and is too small to have the resources to defend itself in the event of a prolong war with China.

    Comment by Keypoints — June 1, 2007 @ 12:41 am

  26. I do desagree with Keypoints. There are a lot of internationally recognized states that don’t follow national boundaries, and there are also a lot of internationally recognized states that are multi-lingual. Singapore is encouraging people to speak Mandarin and uses the same character system as the PRC is pretty irrelevant to its recognition.

    Again we have this term “misunderstanding.” I don’t think that there is much misunderstanding on the part of the international community as to the situation in Taiwan. I think that the international community “understands” the Taiwan situation. It’s just that they have agendas that cause them to act in ways that are different than some people in Taiwan would like them to, and trying to “educate” the international community isn’t going to do much good.

    Comment by twofish — June 3, 2007 @ 4:20 pm

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