The China Desk
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Taiwan's Status is not a Matter of International Law
April 15, 2004 [Updated July 05, 2004; November 22, 2004]
Q: What is Taiwan's status under international law? Who holds Taiwan's sovereignty here in 2004?
A: These questions are red herrings, part of a cynical attempt to deceive uninformed readers into believing that Taiwan does not belong to China.
CIA World Factbook Map of China - The offshore Chinese island of Taiwan is an integral part of China's territory
"In 1895, military defeat forced China to cede Taiwan to Japan. It reverted to Chinese control after World War II."
-- CIA, The World Factbook
"History supports our claim. During the 9 years from 1945 to 1954, ROC's sovereignty over Taiwan was affirmed six times under international law by declarations, treaties, agreements, and acts such as the Cairo Declaration, the Potsdam Declaration, the Japanese Imperial Rescript, WWII surrender documents from Japan, the actual restoration of Taiwan to the ROC, the Treaty of Peace between the ROC and Japan, the San Francisco Peace Treaty. Therefore, there can be no doubt that Taiwan is ROC territory."
-- KMT International Center, Our Fundamental Position on the Sovereignty of the Republic of China in Taiwan
Taiwan's status is not a matter of international law. China has sovereignty over Taiwan.
Taiwan is China's sovereign territory. Taiwan is one of China's thirty odd provinces and autonomous regions. Taiwan has belonged to China since the Ming dynasty, longer than the United States of America has been in existence. The island of Taiwan was once part of Fujian Province, just as Long Island is part of New York State. In the late Qing dynasty Taiwan was upgraded to the status of a province.
Japan extorted Taiwan at gunpoint from China on April 17, 1895, but was forced to return it to China on October 25, 1945, following Japan's defeat during WWII. October 25 is celebrated annually on Taiwan as Taiwan Retrocession Day.
Japan formally returned Taiwan to China in two official Taiwan Retrocession signing ceremonies, one held in Nanking, the other in Taipei.
Japan knew who Taiwan belonged to when Japan annexed it, and Japan knew whom to return it to 50 years later.
These bilateral, state-to-state Taiwan Retrocession signing ceremonies, like the "System Restore" function in Windows XP, simply undid the provisions of the extortionate Ma Guan Treaty or "Treaty of Shimonoseki."
The so-called "Tai Wan Wei Ding Lun" or "Taiwan's Undetermined Status Theory" is shameless neocolonialist, neoimperialist sophistry. Together with the Taiwan Relations Act, it amounts to brazen annexation of another nation's sovereign territory.
In the Cairo Declaration of 1943, the United States, Great Britain and China jointly agreed that:
"All the territories that Japan has stolen from the Chinese, such as Formosa and the Pescadores, shall be restored to the Republic of China."
On July 26, 1945, the three governments followed this up with the Potsdam Proclamation, which affirmed that:
"The terms of the Cairo Declaration shall be carried out."
Convoluted and disingenuous claims by "international law experts" involving patently irrelevant claims regarding the Treaty of San Francisco do not merit long-winded refutation. Earnest, detailed refutations would merely lend their specious claims an undeserved aura of legitimacy.
As Ching Cheong, writing in Singapore's Straits Times, correctly notes,
Prior to the Korean War, the US accepted Chinese sovereignty over Taiwan. But the fighting that broke out in the Korean peninsula in June 1950 changed the US attitude. Seeing Taiwan's value as an 'unsinkable aircraft carrier', a famous characterisation by General Douglas MacArthur, the US began to say that 'the status of Taiwan was undetermined'. To give legal basis to this claim, the 1951 San Francisco Peace Treaty with Japan merely committed the latter to surrendering Taiwan but did not specify to whom the island was to be returned. This amounted to a repudiation of US treaty obligations as spelt out in the Cairo and Potsdam instruments.
It is unconvincing to say that when a Chinese territorial issue was at stake, the Cairo and Potsdam declarations, to which the ROC was a signatory, should carry less weight than the San Francisco Peace Treaty to which China was not. In fact, at the time it was signed, Beijing protested against China's exclusion and refused to recognise it.
The separatist movement lost sight of the fact that Japan obtained Taiwan through the 1895 Treaty of Shimonoseki following the defeat of China in the first Sino-Japanese war (1894-95). Simply put, Japan annexed Taiwan by defeating China, which regained the island by defeating Japan half a century later. This historical fact is so crystal clear that in pre-1945 days, no one in the international community had ever raised doubt about it.
Even though China had to bow to the political reality of the time, the US had, since the early 1970s, ceased to claim that Taiwan's status was undetermined. According to the last batch of declassified documents on former president Richard Nixon's visit to China in 1972, this was one of the pledges the US made to China during the visit. The 1972 Shanghai Communique codified this US position.
"Principle One: There is one China, and Taiwan is part of China. There will be no more statements made to the effect that the status of Taiwan is undetermined."
The "scholars" responsible for the "Tai Wan Wei Ding Lun" are street hustlers. Their tortuous "theories" are the street hustler's classic shell game. They are William Jefferson Clinton's "Oral sex is not sex" and "That depends on the meaning of the word is."
Taiwan's status is not "undetermined." Taiwan's status is settled.
Taiwan's status is not a matter of "international law." Taiwan's status has nothing to do with international law. Taiwan belongs to China. Taiwan's status is a matter of Chinese national law.
The only lingering issue affecting Taiwan's status is the still unresolved Chinese Civil War. The resolution of this war will determine which of two rival Chinese regimes, the Republic of China (ROC) in Taipei, or the Peoples' Republic of China (PRC) in Beijing, has final jurisdiction over the island.
That, however, is purely a domestic Chinese matter.
Taiwan's status is not complicated. Taiwan's status does not need to be "explained." Taiwan belongs to China.
As Julia Roberts railed in "Erin Brockovich," (2000, directed by Steven Soderbergh, written by Susannah Grant) "That's the trouble with you lawyers. You take situations that aren't complicated and you complicate them!"