Friday, June 22, 2007

Nelson Report on Taiwan Again

Poor Chris Nelson of the Washington insider report The Nelson Report. Every time he writes on Taiwan, he has to navigate between touchy people on all sides. After the nifty report on 6/20, which I blogged on yesterday, comes this missive from 6/21


TAIWAN...what's in a name? Last night's Nelson Report (June 20) went at some length into the latest Washington-Taipei tussle, part of the dance going on since 2002 between President Bush and President Chen.

It's hard to say who is leading, but it's certain that each has taken turns stomping on the other's toes. Since Taiwan's security to a large extent continues to depend on the good will and support of the President of the United States, President Chen's propensity to mis-step can be challenged by friends of Taiwan, as well as opponents.

We quoted one Taiwan advocate last night as warning that whatever Chen's motivations, his renewed talk of a constitutional referendum vote has the net effect of diminishing Taiwan's support in Washington...already a big problem due to the 6 year stall before Taipei approved, partially, the US arms sale package of 2001.

At it's heart is the debate about "national identity", and how that plays into both Cross-Strait relations, and the degree of international participation the people of Taiwan can exercize without putting Cross-Strait relations at risk.

Last night, we interpreted President Chen's announcement that he wanted a constitutional referendum to gather popular support for Taiwan to join the United Nations under the name "Taiwan". We felt this was, in effect, going back on his specific promise to President Bush that he would not seek that, or any constitutional change likely to put at risk the "status quo" between Taiwan and the PRC.

So we very much appreciate the clarification received from Loyal Reader Vincent Yao, the ADG for North American Affairs in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs:


Regarding what you mentioned in the June 20 Nelson Report 'given President Chen's recent, effusive remarks to Heritage Foundation president Ed Fuelner, calling for a constitutional referendum on changing the ROC's formal name to "Taiwan",' I have to correct you on what President Chen had said.

What he said was: "In order to let the voice of the 23 million Taiwan people be heard by the whole world, to meet Taiwan people's desire of participating in the United Nations and to fulfill the anticipation of being accepted as a member of the UN family, we are going to propose a referendum on participating in the UN under the name 'Taiwan.' The referendum will be proposed to be held at the same time when the 2008 presidential election is held."

This was translated from the press release of the Presidential Office website. I tried my best to make it as precise as possible. So, the proposed referendum is not about changing the formal name, although it may sound no big differences to you."

As we noted last night, debate over Taiwan identity and legal status can become so arcane it seems unintelligible to rational human beings not in on the game. And of course it's not a "fun" game...indeed, it has the constant risk of being deadly serious.

That's the concern which underlies the consistent Bush Administration policy on Taiwan, which is to move to squelch any tendency toward, much less any explicit risk of, unilateral steps which Beijing may interpret as a move toward formal independence(whether mistakenly or not is irrelevent to the risk).

Many friends of Taiwan think this policy is entirely too restrictive and not justified by either the Taiwan Relations Act., or the constraints on Beijing's possible resort to military means, but our comment would be that this Administration...any administration...has to operate on the basis of pragmatic risk analysis, and not articles of faith.

Oh...wait...Iraq...damn. the dismay of many friends of Taiwan, the consistent interpretation of the Administration is that holding a constitutional referendum on Taiwan is, per se, a possibly risky move in the direction of "sovereignty", and therefore something the US is committed to opposing.

Strictly legally, the legal experts concede that such a move is not a formal declaration of sovereignty, which can only be made by a Head of State. So a vote by the people of Taiwan would not, by itself, have legal effect.

And even then, the interpretation here is that should the President of Taiwan declare formal, sovereign independence, as a legal matter he's speaking to the mirror unless the United States, or Japan...or China...agreed to official recognition.

But really, the concern here is not the letter of the law, but how Taiwan's actions may be perceived by China. And for the past several years, the major Bush Administration concern is how far President Chen is prepared to take rhetorical steps which seem to be going down a dangerous path.


As I have repeatedly noted, the US position that Taiwan must not anger China not only concedes the Chinese position on Taiwan, but further, places China in effective control of US policy. Only when the US begins to treat China's "being provoked" as a policy response to specific actions will it at last be able to formulate effective responses to China's actions. At the moment, however, Beijing is managing US Taiwan policy....

....and as long as we are in Iraq, we have little strategic flexibility to counter China's increasing global assertiveness. God help Taiwan if the Bush Administration attacks Iran.

1 comment:

insular-tw said...

There seem to be three theories circulating now as regards the true legal status of Taiwan: (1) Taiwan belongs to the Republic of China, (2) Taiwan belongs to the People's Republic of China, (3) Taiwan belongs to the USA.

I am not including a fourth option in regard to "Taiwan belongs to the Taiwanese" because the Taiwanese have never organized their own civil government in Taiwan. That is a fact. The current government, the Republic of China, was formerly recognized as the sole legitimate government of China. However, there are no international legal documents which can prove that the Republic of China was ever recognized as the legitimate government of Taiwan. (This is a shock to many people who have been led astray by the political commentators in the world press . . . . )

Thus, looking back at our three choices, obviously the first one is invalid, and since the PRC bases its claims to Taiwan on the "successor government principle," the second one is also invalid. A successor government can only succeed the rights held by the original government, and the ROC has never held the territorial title to Taiwan.

Hence, we are left with the third choice, which is fully supported by a laws-of-war reading of the San Francisco Peace Treaty of April 28, 1952.

National Anthem: The Star Spangled Banner. Let's strike up the band.