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Political status of Taiwan
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Political status of Taiwan

The political status of Taiwan is controversial due to questions whether Taiwan should remain part of the Republic of China, become part of the People's Republic of China, or become an independent Republic of Taiwan, different groups have different concepts of what the current situation is. See also Taiwan independence and Chinese reunification.

In addition, it can be confusing because of the different parties and the effort by many groups to deal with the controversy through a policy of deliberate ambiguity. The political solution that is acceptable to most of the current groups is the status quo, which is to leave Taiwan's status the way that it is. This is acceptable in large part because it does not define what Taiwan's status is, leaving each group to interpret the situation in a way that is politically acceptable to its members.

Table of contents
1 Question of sovereignty
2 Position of the PRC
3 Position of the ROC
4 Position of other countries and international organizations
5 Possible military solutions and intervention
6 Future prospects
7 See also
8 External links

Question of sovereignty

China ceded the island of Taiwan to Japan "in perpetuity" at the end of the first Sino-Japanese War (1894-1895) (see Treaty of Shimonoseki). In the Cairo Conference of 1943, the allied powers agreed to have Japan cede Taiwan to the Republic of China upon Japan's surrender. According to both the People's Republic of China and the Republic of China, this agreement was given legal force by the instrument of surrender of Japan in 1945.

Some advocates of Taiwan independence argue that Instrument of Surrender of Japan did not transfer title of Taiwan and that when Japan renounced sovereignty of Taiwan in the Treaty of San Francisco in 1951, the sovereignty of Taiwan returned to the people of Taiwan. To support this argument, independence advocates point out that at the end of World War II, allied powers agreed that the Republic of China was to "temporarily occupy Taiwan, on behalf of the Allied forces". Although this was used to question the legitimacy of the ROC before the 1990s, the introduction of popular elections in Taiwan means that except for the most extreme Taiwan independence supporters, supporters of the popular sovereignty theory no longer see a conflict between this theory of sovereignty and the ROC position. In fact, current president Chen Shui-bian has often emphasized the popular sovereignty theory in his speeches.

The position of the PRC is that the ROC ceased to be a legitimate government upon the founding of the former on October 1, 1949 and that it is the successor government of China, with the right to rule Taiwan under the succession of states theory based on the UN Charter which advocates states rights to territorial integrity.

The official position of the Republic of China is that it is a legitimate government with a general mandate over the people of Taiwan. (Whether it still has the legitimacy to retake the mainland is not widely accepted, but disputed.) The ROC argues that it maintains all the characteristics of a state and that it was not "replaced" or "succeeded" by the PRC because it has continued to exist long after the PRC's founding.

According to the Montevideo Convention of 1933, the most cited source for the definition of statehood, a state must possess a permanent population, a defined territory, a government, and the capacity to enter into relations with other states. The ROC claims to meet all these criteria as it possesses a sovereign government exercising effective jurisdiction over well-defined territories with over 21 million permanent residents and a full fledged foreign ministry.

However, PRC argues that the ROC does not meet the fourth criterion as it is recognized by only 26 countries and has been denied access to international organizations such as the UN. The ROC counters that it is pressure exerted by the PRC that prevents it from being widely recognized and that Article 3 of the same Montevideo Convention specifically says, "The political existence of the state is independent of recognition by other states."

Position of the PRC

The current position of the People's Republic of China is that "the Government of the People's Republic of China is the sole legal government of China, and Taiwan is an inalienable part of China". The PRC is unwilling to negotiate under any other formulation than a one China policy, but has been willing to allow the meaning of "one China" to remain ambiguous. International news organizations often report that "China considers Taiwan a renegade province that must be united with the mainland by force if necessary" even though the PRC does not explicitly say that Taiwan is a renegade province.

Position of the ROC

The position of the Republic of China has always been that it is a de jure government, but is now deliberately ambiguous in regard to what territory to which it lays legitimate claim. The ROC government actively maintained that it was the sole legitimate government of China, until 1991 when President Lee Teng-hui claimed that the government would no longer challenge the rule of the Communists on the mainland. However, the National Assembly has not officially changed the national borders, as this would be seen as a precursor to Taiwan independence.

In 1999, President Lee Teng-hui proposed a two-states theory in which both the ROC and PRC would be considered separate states with a special diplomatic relationship. This drew an angry reaction from the PRC who believed that Lee was covertly supporting Taiwan independence.

President Chen Shui-bian has stated that "Taiwan is an independent, sovereign country" but with the view that "Taiwan is the Republic of China." It, however, has been deliberately silent as to the issue of whether Taiwan is or is not part of China and the meaning of the term China. Government publications have implied that Taiwan and the ROC and China and the PRC are synonymous. Chen has so far refused to endorse the One China Policy the PRC requires for negotiations to begin. There have been thus far unsuccessful attempts to restart semi-formal negotiations through formulations that refer to the 1992 consensus or the spirit of 1992. After becoming chairman of the Democratic Progressive Party in July 2002, Chen appeared to move toward a two states theory and in early August 2002, he stated that Taiwan may "go on its own Taiwanese road" and that "it is clear that the two sides of the straits are separate countries." These statements were strongly criticized by opposition parties in Taiwan.

The position of supporters of Taiwan independence is that Taiwan is not part of China and the PRC is the sole legitimate government of China. Until the mid-1990s, supporters of Taiwan independence opposed the Republic of China and supported the creation of an independent Republic of Taiwan. Since the mid-1990s, a compromise has been reached between most supporters of Taiwan independence and Chinese reunification on Taiwan to support the continuation of the Republic of China but as a government that administers only Taiwan. The Taiwan Solidarity Union, a smaller party within the pan-Green coalition, opposes this compromise.

The position of supporters of Chinese reunification in Taiwan is that Taiwan is part of China but the PRC is not the sole legitimate government of China. Within Taiwan, support for Taiwan independence and Chinese reunification exists as part of a political spectrum with most people in the middle. Traditionally, reunification has more support among "mainlanders" (the descendants of those who fled the mainland after the civil war), while support for independence is rooted in the "Taiwanese" majority ethnic group (those who emigrated from the mainland prior to the civil war).

Position of other countries and international organizations

Because of the Cold War, the Republic of China was recognized as the sole legitimate government of both Mainland China and Taiwan by the United Nations and most Western nations. However, the 1970s saw a switch in diplomatic recognitions from the ROC to the PRC. In October 1971, Resolution 2758 was passed by the UN General Assembly, expelling the Republic of China and replacing the China seat on the Security Council (and all other UN organs) with the People's Republic of China. It declared "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 thus labeled the Republic of China a renegade authority. Multiple attempts by the Republic of China to rejoin the UN have not made it past committee, largely due to diplomatic maneuvering by the PRC.

The PRC refuses to maintain diplomatic relations with any nation that recognizes the government in Taipei, and most nations have diplomatic relations with Beijing while maintaining offices in Taipei that are diplomatic in all but name. For example, the United States maintains the American Institute in Taiwan. Similarly, the government in Taiwan maintains quasi-diplomatic offices in most nations under various names, most commonly as the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office.

The United States, Canada, the United Kingdom and Japan recognize that there is one China and that the People's Republic of China is the sole legitimate government of China. However, the US and Japan acknowledge rather than recognize the PRC position that Taiwan is part of China. In the case of Canada and the UK, the bilateral written agreement stated that the two respective parties "take note" of Beijing's position, but the word "support" was never used. Although the Chinese media claims that the United States opposes Taiwanese independence, the United States currently does not support (contrast that to the word oppose) either reunification or indepedence. The US does support both sides of the Taiwan Strait to resolve their differences peacefully. All this ambiguity has resulted in the United States constantly walking on a diplomatic tightrope with regards to the China/Taiwan issue.

The ROC maintains formal diplomatic relations with 26 countries, mostly in Central America and Africa. Interestingly, the Holy See also recognizes the ROC, mainly out of protest of the PRC's suppression of the Catholic faith on the mainland. During the 1990s, there was a diplomatic tug of war in which the PRC and ROC would attempt to outbid each other for diplomatic support of small nations. However, by 2001, this effort seems to have ended as a result of the PRC's growing economic power and doubts on Taiwan as to whether this aid was actually in the Republic of China's interest. In March 2004, the nation of Dominica switched recognition to the PRC, in exchange for a large package of aid.

Most major countries have policies toward this issue that use very careful language which is deliberately ambiguous. International organizations also have different policies toward this issue. In some cases (such as the UN and the World Health Organization) the ROC has been completely shut out while in others, such as the World Trade Organization and International Olympic Committee the government on Taiwan has a special name--"Chinese Taipei" in the case of APEC and the IOC, and the "Separate customs territory of Taiwan, Penghu, Kimmen, and Matsu" in the case of WTO.

Naming can also be a contentious issue in non-governmental organizations. One organization which faced a huge controversy in this respect was the Lions Club.

Possible military solutions and intervention

Until 1979, both sides intended to resolve the conflict militarily and intermittent clashes occurred throughout the 1950s and 1960s, with escalations comprising the First Taiwan Strait crisis and Second Taiwan Strait crisis. With the U.S. recognition of the PRC, the ROC lost its ally needed to "recover the mainland." Meanwhile, the PRC's desire to be accepted in the international community led it to promote peaceful unification under what would later be termed "one country, two systems," rather than to "liberate Taiwan" and institute socialism.

Notwithstanding this, the PRC government has issued three triggers for an immediate war with Taiwan. These three conditions are:

Much saber-rattling by the mainland has been done over this, with Jiang Zemin, after assuming the mantle of the Chairman of the Central Military Commission, becoming a leading voice.

Concern over a formal declaration of Taiwanese independence is a strong impetuous for the military buildup between Taiwan and Mainland China. Some people believe that Taiwan will attempt a declaration of independence during the 2008 Olympic games. Others point out that the current US administration has publicly declared that given the status quo, it would not aid Taiwan if it were to declare unilateral independence. But the U.S. is also quick to point out that Chinese nuclear weapons near Taiwan are already altering the status quo.

The possibility of war, the close geographical proximity of the ROC and PRC, and the resulting flare-ups that occur every few years conspire to make this one of the most watched focal points in the Pacific. Both sides maintain a strong naval presence supporting the political pretexts of one China controlled by either side. However, naval strategies between both powers greatly shifted in the 1980s and 1990s, with the PRC assuming a more aggressive posture by building landing craft, and the ROC adopting a more defensive posture by buying frigates and missile defense destroyers such as the United States Kidd Class, and expressing a strong interest in the Arleigh Burke Class. But with the growth of the PRC navy and air force, some doubt that Taiwan could withstand a determined invasion from mainland China.

At present, according to ROC President Chen Shui-bian, 496 ballistic missiles capable of being fitted with atomic warheads are aimed at Taiwan. The PLAAF is also large and powerful enough that it has the ability to control essentially all of Taiwan's airspace. Taiwan's strategy has been to rely on superior U.S. technology, including many F-16 and F-20 Tigershark II fighters. Numerous reports issued by the PRC, the ROC, and the United States militaries make wildly contradictory statements about the possible defense of Taiwan.

Naturally, the possible war is not being planned in a vacuum. The United States in 1979 passed the Taiwan Relations Act, a law generally interpreted as mandating U.S. defense of Taiwan in the event of an attack from the Chinese Mainland. The United States maintains a very large naval contingent, the Seventh Fleet, in the Pacific Region near Taiwan. Although the stated purpose of the fleet is not Taiwanese defense, it is for the most part safely assumed from past actions that that is indeed why the fleet is stationed in those waters.

In 1996, the PRC began conducting military exercises near Taiwan, and launched several ballistic missiles over the island. The saber-rattling was done in response to the possible domestic Taiwan election of Lee Teng-hui, who had promoted a "two states" theory. The United States, under then President Clinton, sent two aircraft carrier battle groups to the region, sailing them into the Taiwan Strait. The PRC, unable to track the ship's movements, and probably unwilling to escalate the conflict, quickly backed down.

The possibility of war in the Taiwan Straits, even though it may be quite low in the short-term, requires the PRC, ROC, and U.S. to remain wary and vigilant. The goal of the three parties at the moment seems to be, for the most part, to maintain the status quo.

Future prospects

Although the situation is confusing, most observers believe that it is stable with enough understandings and gentlemen's agreements to keep things from breaking out into open warfare. The current controversy is over the term one China, as the PRC insists that the ROC must recognize this term to begin negotiations. Although the ruling Democratic Progressive Party has moderated its support for Taiwan independence, there is still insufficient support within that party for President Chen Shui-bian to agree to one China. By contrast, the opposition Kuomintang and People First Party appear willing to agree to some variation of one China, and observers believed the position of the PRC was designed to sideline Chen until the 2004 Presidential election where it was hoped that someone who was more supportive of Chinese reunification would come to power. Partly to counter this, Chen Shui-bian in July 2002 announced that if the PRC does not respond to Taiwan's goodwill that Taiwan may "go on its own Taiwanese road." With Chen's re-election, Beijing's prospects for a speedier resolution dampened and it issued the May 17 Declaration prior to Chen's second inauguration. This declaration offered clear alternatives for the Chen administration and provided for future negotiation of "international living space" for Taiwan.

When given a choice between the three options of independence, status quo, or unification, typical results of recent polls show 20% in favor of independence, 15% in favor of unification, and about 50% in favor of status quo. Poll results also tend to be extremely sensitive to how the questions are phrased and what options are given, and there is a tendency by all political parties to spin the results to support their point of view.

There is also a rise in pragmatists who would support either unification or independence based on the situation. For example, 72% polled said they would fight to defend the country from a communist invasion. The Taiwanese localization phenomenon appears to have taken root with a larger percentage identifying as Taiwanese or Taiwanese first Chinese second, although the majority still identify themselves as both Taiwanese and Chinese.

See also

External links