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Taiwan: Search for a Non-Chinese Identity

By       Message Roger C. S. Lin     Permalink
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Over the past year, native Taiwanese people have expressed enormous dissatisfaction with the policies of Republic of China (ROC) President Ma Ying-jeou, especially his initiatives to achieve closer Taiwanese integration with China. Many local groups are now striving to find ways to have more native Taiwanese input in the formation of central government actions. They would also like to see Taiwan assert itself more forcefully on the international stage, and to develop an "international personality" completely separate from China.

In the past, most local Taiwanese activists have channeled their energies into winning local elections, in order to attempt to bring about change through the government bureaucracy. However, even when the Democratic Progressive Party's Chen Shui-bian served as ROC President from 2000 to 2008, little progress was seen in removing the overwhelming Chinese influence from local party politics. That "Chinese influence" stresses that the best scenario for Taiwan's future is in full political integration with the People's Republic of China (PRC). Contrastingly, most local Taiwanese would prefer that Taiwan remain politically separate from mainland China.

Taiwan has regular elections for local and central government officials, and most international observers maintain that Taiwan is already a very democratic society. However, what these observers typically characterize as Taiwan's "flourishing democracy" has not helped the island make any advances in achieving a greater degree of self-rule, and this is a problem which perplexes most native Taiwanese people. Developing successful strategies to deal with this problem has proven elusive to date.

However, a new consensus on the recognition of one key element of this problem has emerged in the local Taiwanese media over the past few months. It has been derived by carefully stripping away the "Chinese propaganda" from official published accounts of Taiwan history from the late 1930s to the present. Under this more neutral and balanced view, an important fact emerges, namely the Republic of China on Taiwan is not a legitimate government for the Taiwanese people, it is merely a government in exile.

The Blindspots of a Chinese World View

"In general, persons educated with a Chinese world view have very little understanding of the modern day concept of a government in exile," says Chi-yuan Tsai, an associate professor of economics at Kainan University in Taiwan. "Over the thousands of years of Chinese history, many governments saw their capitals moved to different locations throughout the Chinese empire. The issue of whether the capital was moved to a location inside or outside of the existing national boundaries was not considered to particularly important. When military troops overran a new area, they simply annexed it, there were no complicated or drawn out legal procedures."

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What is missing from such a Chinese world view is the concept of "military occupation," a legal construction which gained widespread acceptance in the international community after the close of the Napoleonic Wars, in approx. 1830. As codified in the Hague Conventions of 1907, "Territory is considered occupied when it is placed under the authority of the hostile army." In other words, when territory comes under the control of foreign military forces, customary legal norms in the world today hold that the territory is "occupied," it isn't "annexed."

"With such a recognition, the Chinese claim that the Oct. 25, 1945, surrender of Japanese troops in Taiwan amounted to a 'transfer of Taiwan's territorial sovereignty to China' is quickly exposed for the total fraud that it is," says Li-tsai Lin, Secretary General of the 228 Victims' Association.

The officials of the ROC in Taiwan and the PRC in Beijing have always referred to this Oct. 25, 1945 date as "Taiwan Retrocession Day." According to their Chinese world view, Taiwan came under Chinese control on that day, hence it was immediately annexed into the national territory of China.

Not surprisingly, none of the Allies have ever held such a view. A further examination of the customary legal norms of the post-Napoleonic period clearly show that in order to transfer the sovereignty of territory, a treaty is needed. The surrender of Japanese forces in Taiwan is merely a convenient marker for the beginning of the military occupation. And of course it is the conqueror that will be "the occupying power."

Treaty Specifications for Taiwan

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Taiwan had previously been a territorial cession in the Treaty of Shimonoseki of 1895. In that treaty, Qing China ceded the territorial sovereignty of Taiwan to Japan. After the close of hostilities in WWII in the Pacific, the final draft of a peace treaty wasn't completed until mid-1951. "The San Francisco Peace Treaty came into force on April 28, 1952," says Chung-mo Cheng, Chairman of the Taiwan Law and Policy Research Foundation, and former Vice President of the Judicial Yuan in Taiwan. "In that treaty, Japan renounced all right, title, and claim to Taiwan, but no receiving country was specified. Hence, from the point of view of international treaty law, it is clear that Taiwan is not Chinese territory."

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Dr. Roger C. S. Lin has a Ph.D. in international law from Meijo University, Nagoya, Japan. In cooperation with his associate Richard W. Hartzell, he has done extensive research into military jurisdiction under the US Constitution, the laws of war, (more...)

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