‘Problematic Sovereignty’

China and Taiwan

I Mallikarjuna Sharma

Taiwan calls itself as Republic of China[ ROC]. “The ROC Constitution was adopted on December 25, 1946, by the National Assembly convened in Nanking. It was promulgated by the National Government on January 1, 1947, and put into effect on December 25 of the same year. In addition to the preamble, the Constitution comprises 175 articles in 14 chapters. In essence the Constitution embodies the ideal of "sovereignty of the people", guarantees human rights and freedoms, provides for a central government with five branches and a local self-government system, ensures a balanced division of powers between the central and local governments, and stipulates fundamental national policies.

The same was revised from time to time but Taiwan has never given up its claims to entire China including the mainland China at any time though it may publish a map of its Taiwan Island alone. Republic of China Constitution 1947 is still preserved and adopted by the Taiwan Republic. Perhaps some of the articles there are inapplicable to it now but there is no official denial that it has renounced those articles–at least one could not find any such denial. In truth Taiwan still considers itself to be real successor to whole of China including the island of Taiwan (though its Constitution for a major part may be inapplicable to mainland China). For example, Article 26 of the Constitution states: “Article 26: The National Assembly shall be composed of the following delegates: lOne delegate shall be elected from each hsien, municipality, or area of equivalent status. In case its population exceeds 500,000, one additional delegate shall be elected for each additional 500,000. Areas equivalent to hsien or municipalities shall be prescribed by law;  l Delegates to represent Mongolia shall be elected on the basis of four for each league and one for each special banner; l The number of delegates to be elected from Tibet shall be prescribed by law; l The number of delegates to be elected by various racial groups in frontier regions shall be prescribed by law; l The number of delegates to be elected by Chinese citizens residing abroad shall be prescribed by law; l The number of delegates to be elected by occupational groups shall be prescribed by law; and l The number of delegates to be elected by women's organisations shall be prescribed by law.”

This may be read with Article 4 of the same Constitution which states so: “Article 4: The territory of the Republic of China according to its existing national boundaries shall not be altered except by resolution of the National Assembly.” The existing boundaries mean those boundaries as existing in January 1947 which include the mainland China.

So neither mainland China (now People’s Republic of China) nor Taiwan (Republic of China) has renounced their claims to entire China. For mainland China Taiwan is just a rebel province separated due to the evil machinations of the US imperialists and for Taiwan, mainland China is a legitimately claimed territory of its own, now under the devilish Communist regime. For mainland China or China, the permanent member of the United Nations Security Council, Taiwan is just a province that can (and need to be) be occupied at any time. As for Taiwan “The ROC maintained its claim of being the sole legitimate representative of China and its territory until 1991, when it ceased to regard the CCP as a rebellious group and recognised its jurisdiction over Mainland China.” But this does not mean that ROC has renounced its claim to mainland China totally. “The position of the PRC is that the ROC ceased to be a legitimate government upon the founding of the former on 1 October 1949 and that the PRC is the successor of the ROC as the sole legitimate government of China, with the right to rule Taiwan under the succession of states theory.”

One may note that there was a mutual defence treaty between Taiwan and USA–Mutual Defence Treaty Between the United States and the Republic of China; December 2, 1954–till 1980 when President Jimmy Carter terminated it. “The Sino-American Mutual Defence Treaty (SAMDT), formally Mutual Defence Treaty between the United States of America and the Republic of China, was a defense pact signed between the United States and the Republic of China (Taiwan) effective from 1955 to 1980. It was intended to defend the island of Taiwan from invasion by the People's Republic of China. Shortly after the United States' recognition of the People's Republic of China, the U S Congress passed the Taiwan Relations Act. Some of the SAMDT's content survives in the Act; for example, the definition of "Taiwan". However, it falls short of promising Taiwan direct military assistance in case of an invasion.

“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. Many argue that the ROC meets all these criteria. However, to make such an argument, one has to reject the PRC's claim of sovereignty over the territory of the Taiwan Island. The PRC requires all other states that establish diplomatic relations with it not to challenge this claim in addition to severing said relations with the ROC. Most states have either officially recognised this claim or carefully worded their agreement ambiguously, such as the United States.”

In his book, “Problematic Sovereignty: Contested Rules and Political Possibilities” (Columbia University Press, New York, 2001), Stephen D. Krasner says (at p. 17):

“The situation of Taiwan also confounds conventional notions of sovereignty. Taiwan has prospered in a kind of never-never land where it has many of the attributes of fully sovereign states–territory, population, and domestic and Westphalian sovereignty–but only very limited international legal sovereignty. ……

Yet Taiwan has prospered. Its economic growth has been robust, and it weathered the Asian crisis of the late 1990s better than most other Asian countries in part because of its large financial reserves. Moreover, functional alternatives to international legal sovereignty, such as the Taiwan Relations Act of the United States, have worked well. Taiwan has been able to conduct foreign relations, albeit in a somewhat roundabout way.

There are parties and people in Taiwan advocating unity/merger with mainland China under CCP, no doubt. But they are relatively minor forces in the polity due to various historical and political reasons, mainly due to the evil machinations of the USA, and EU. “While the EU pursues its ‘One China’ policy and recognises the government of the People’s Republic of China as the sole legal government of China, the EU and Taiwan have developed solid relations and close cooperation in a wide range of areas. // Regular consultations between the EU and Taiwan deal with issues of mutual interest, such as human rights, trade and economic issues, connectivity, innovation, digital issues, green energy, circular economy, labour issues, and disaster management. // The EU has a strong stake in peace, security and stability in Asia. The EU supports the status quo and peaceful resolution of differences across the Taiwan Strait, rejecting the use or threat of force. It continues to encourage dialogue and constructive engagement.”

In such circumstances, it is doubtful whether Sumanta Banerjee’s referendum suggestion will be of any use. The only alternative is for the (re-)unification with China forces in it to be strengthened, the current policy of the CCP–“One China, Two Systems”–may be pushed for and promoted in Taiwan, contributing to an increase in pro-[re-]unification forces there; and at some strategic phase the mainland Chinese government can/may even use force for its merger with the mainland.

Back to Home Page

Vol 56, No. 35, Feb 25 - Mar 2, 2024