TAIWAN AND TWO CHINAS
Wednesday, August 23, 2006
A report on Taiwan
A Foreign Policy Research Institute Special Report on Taiwan, together with the Full and Complete Text of my original Intellectual Capital Article.
My July 10 article was edited severely to fit the Intellectual Capital format. Arguably it was improved: probably more people read it than would have read the entire original. However I made some points there that are better not lost. Herewith my report, followed by a definitive report from the Foreign Policy Research Institute.
TAIWAN AND THE TWO CHINAS
(This article originally appeared in Intellectual
Capital, an on-line magazine, July 10, 1999. This is the original
and unedited version.)
Samuel Johnson remarked that people seldom need
educating, but they often need reminding. Recent articles on Taiwan new
policy of “Two Nations” rather than “One China” demonstrate
that. The origins of this new threat to world peace – and alas, it is
that – are lost in what is history to most Americans, and even those
of us who lived through it have forgotten much.
On the surface it should be obvious that Taiwan and
Red China are different countries. Taiwan is an industrialized island
democracy with a fast growing economy, one of the Asian Tigers helping
to fuel the world economic boom. The People’s Republic of China is a
gerontocratic tyranny whose vast economic potential is saddled with a
command economy, an Army that owns many industrial and agricultural
enterprises, and a huge bureaucracy. The astonishing fact isn’t that
Taiwan President Lee Teng-hiu has finally said that Taiwan is a separate
and sovereign nation, but that it took so long for him to do it.
Red China has the same reasons for claiming Taiwan is
part of China as Milosovec has for claiming Kossovo is part of his
Serbian Yugoslavia; but why would Taiwan go along with the fiction that
Taiwan neither is nor should be a country separate from Mainland China?
It started in 1911 when Dr. Sun Yat-Sen overthrew the
Empire and proclaimed the Republic of China. The result was what usually
happens in China when Peking loses the Mandate of Heaven and there is a
new dynasty: many of the provinces, often aided by foreign powers, go
their own way and become the personal fiefdoms of local warlords. It was
no different after 1911, and the first major task of the new Republic
was to get control of the country and prevent it from breaking apart.
This wasn’t easy. Corruption was widespread both in Peking and the
provinces. Some of the warlords gave better and more honest government
than the Republic’s bureaucracy. Japan already occupied Taiwan (as
Formosa) and had for a long time. The Japanese Empire set up the puppet
state of Manchukuo in Manchuria to carve away more of China. Russia
sponsored the Chinese Communists who waged war against the central
government even as Imperial Japan invaded the country with a view to
When World War II broke out, the United States,
traditionally the foreign power with the best relations with China –
we had always demanded an “Open Door” trade policy as opposed to
concession territories and colonies – recognized the strong man
Generalissimo Chiang Kai-Shek, leader of the Kuomintang (KMT, Union of
all peoples or Nationalist)
Party, as the only legitimate government of China. All of China,
including breakaway provinces, some long occupied by other powers. This
was in part due to the enormous popularity in the United States of
Madame Chiang, a Catholic member of the Soong banking family, who spoke
perfect English and toured the US charming nearly everyone she met, and
in part due to anti-Japanese sentiments in early 20th Century
America. As a result, when the war ended and the United Nations was
formed, China was given one of the five permanent seats on the Security
Council (along with the US, Britain, France, and the USSR); thus
Chiang’s Nationalist China was recognized as a Great Power and treated
as such, entitled to recover all territories lost to Japan, and possibly
other territories as well.
Stalin agreed to all this, but his support was for
the Chinese Communist insurrection under Mao Tse Dung. Note that all
parties, were agreed at this point: there was only one China, and the
Nationalist government was the recognized government of it.
Things stood this way until the Chinese Communists
won control of the mainland. Chiang Kai-Shek took his Nationalist Party
Army and most of his government to the island province of Formosa (now
known as Taiwan), where he formed a government, not of Taiwan, but of
China itself, retaining the name Republic of China. It was a
dictatorship. A majority of seats in the parliament were reserved for
mainland provinces, which meant they were held in perpetuity by
Chiang’s old friends (and their designees after they began to die
off). The local Taiwanese were represented only as a province (there was
a provincial government, but it had little power). Like Spain under
Franco, the Nationalist government of Taiwan (code named here CHINATS)
gave reasonably efficient government, and plenty of economic liberty
including property rights and economic rule of law, but permitted no
political activity beyond boosterism. Dissent was suppressed, not as
brutally as on the mainland, but quite thoroughly.
It was known as the Republic of China or ROC, as
opposed to the People’s Republic of China or PRC (code named here
CHICOMS). The Republic of China (CHINATS) retained the official
embassies in all non-communist countries including the United States,
and US officials attended the official Independence Day parties on
October 10 celebrating the official proclamation of the Republic by Dr.
Sun Yat-Sen. In nearly all countries outside the Communist bloc the ROC
was recognized as the only government of all China, Taiwan and mainland
alike. China was one country.
The People’s Republic had precisely the same view,
except that they claimed their Communist Party, not the Nationalists on
Taiwan, were the legitimate government. Since they were clearly the de
facto government of most of China, this was a strong argument. Many
thought the sensible thing to do would be to recognize the PRC as the de
facto ruler of the mainland and the ROC as de facto rule of the Taiwan,
and leave the question of de jure recognition out of the picture.
This was impossible for two reasons. First, neither
ROC nor PRC would permit it: recognize one and the other would break off
relations. Since the Nationalist ROC despite its smaller size was vastly
more important as a trading partner, this presented a real dilemma to
many mercantile nations. In those days mainland China was a vast sea of
poverty made worse from time to time by imbecile policies like the Great
Leap Forward, drives against Foreign Devils, and a campaign to kill
every sparrow in China since they ate grain (as well as insects, which
flourished after the birds were killed). It was pointless to trade with
mainland China. They had little to trade, and what they had was
generally made by slave labor.
Secondly, there was a strong moral component to not
recognizing the PRC. Senator Thomas Dodd (father of Senator Chris Dodd
who shares few of his late father’s views) was Chairman of the
Committee of One Million against the Recognition of Red China, and there
was a very active movement to punish any US official who advocated
recognizing the PRC. This movement was strongly supported by the
Republic of China, which still insisted there was only one China, and
that they would one day take their rightful place in Peking as its
In those times Red China would sometimes mobilize in
an attempt to retake Formosa by storm. Sometimes they bombarded offshore
islands held by the Nationalists. Whenever they did, the US would send a
fleet and threaten war. After the Korean War, in which Red China
intervened through the cover story of “volunteers”, it was a truism
that the US should never again become involved in “a land war in
Asia”, but our Fleet was invincible in the area, and both Navy and Air
Force planes flew over China pretty much at will.
There were also some signs that the Nationalist
wishes weren’t entirely based on air. There was the “Walking Rice”
program. Unarmed Taiwanese officer cadets would be dropped onto the
mainland and walk to the sea. They carried radios and called in air
drops of rice to each village through which they passed. Chiang claimed
this showed that his officers had some jurisdiction in China. It
certainly showed that a lot of the mainland people were hungry enough
not to kill Santa Claus. Meanwhile there was widespread poverty and
actual famine on the mainland, while Taiwan grew more wealthy.
Then came the break between PRC and USSR. China had
conceded a great deal of territory to Imperial Russia. This was not
important so long as both nations were communist, but it became so when
their affair was broken off. Red China stumbled toward
industrialization, and the development of nuclear weapons. Some saw this
as a major new threat to the West. There was even a movement to work
with the USSR to “enucleate” China: that is, a joint US and USSR air
strike on the PRC uranium separator plants. This was seriously
considered at one time in the Johnson Administration.
Most importantly, Red China was part of the Communist
“containment” area. The US Cold War strategy of containment, first
publicly articulated by George Kennan but refined and developed by
Stefan Possony of the Hoover Institute, said that communism couldn’t
work without expansion: coop them up to stew in their own juice, and
communist societies would come apart. It would work to bring down the
USSR without war, and it would do the same for China; it took only time
and courage. Both Korea and Viet Nam were fought as part of containment.
Containment would bring down both USSR and Communist China if given a
Nixon and Kissinger saw things differently: a working
alliance with PRC would be a way to put great pressure on the USSR,
which was seen as the only real threat to the US. Kissinger in
particular thought the Cold War was unwinnable because the American
people didn’t have the will and stamina for victory: better to
negotiate a détente, cut the best deal we could and hope a victorious
Communist Empire in Europe and Asia would let the US live, at least
during our lifetimes. To that end Nixon went to China, and the long path
toward recognition of the PRC as the real government of China began.
During all that time the old mainlanders who governed
Taiwan insisted that there was only one China; better to allow the
Communists to take over the perquisites of a united China than to admit
there were two China’s. This suited the PRC fine, and since neither
side was in favor of two China’s the US went along with the myth, and
thus were lost several opportunities to extract Red China’s
recognition of the de facto division into two Chinas as part of our deal
in resuming trade relations with the mainland.
That’s the history. Today it’s different. The
Soviet Union is no more. Mainland China is wealthy enough to offer some
trade possibilities (although last time I looked Taiwan is a more
important and valuable trading partner than the mainland), and
contributes to US political campaigns. Most important, though, the
former Republic of China, now better known as Taiwan, is governed by a
president elected by the local population, and a legislature that no
longer reserves most of its seats for old men in exile. There remains
some veneration for elders on Taiwan, but nearly all of the influential
Taiwanese were born there, and while some are descendents of mainlander
exiles, most are Taiwanese by ancestry as well. Red China has a mighty
army and is developing a navy; there’s little hope that Taiwan could
ever invade the mainland, while military operations in the reverse
direction become increasingly possible.
And finally, the US has used up much of its naval
strength in the Balkans, where we have no interests, and have made no
promises; so that we don’t have a lot left to defend Taiwan, which has
at least as as much right to independence as Kosovo, and where we have
strong commitments of national honor and many ties of promises made.
Make no mistake: Red China has the same legitimate claim to Taiwan as
Serbia does to Kosovo.
The current administration was undoubtedly surprised
by President Lee’s recent shift to a “Two Nations” policy; but
then the current administration has never paid much attention to Taiwan,
which it regards as a Republican ally. It is now clear that we’re
going to have to develop a new policy, fast, and do it while we try to
restock our weapons used up to achieve our great victory in the Balkans.
Bismark once said that God looks after fools, drunks,
and the United States of America. We can hope he was right, but perhaps
it is time we gave the Almighty some assistance by looking out for our
real interests instead of piddling away our strength in places where the
outcome doesn’t matter. Taiwan and the Formosa Straits are an area of
We live in interesting times.
- 30 -
NOTE: Probably the greatest criticism I received for this article was the analogy between Taiwan and Kossovo. I do not withdraw that, but let me make it clear. Serbian claims to Kossovo are historical. The majority of the local population is culturally and politically quite different from Serbia, and doesn't want to be governed by Serbia; this without regard to whether the inhabitants of Kossovo would opt for independence or alignment with a Greater Albania. Serbia claims Kossovo purely because it was historically part of Serbia, and until rather recent times had a population largely of ethnic Serbs; many of the Albanians in Kossovo arrived as part of Mussolini's army of occupation (or are descendents).
The Taiwanese are ethnically similar to Chinese, but have a different dialect which was suppressed by the Chiang government, which imposed Mandarin as part of its pretense to be the government of all China. Taiwan also has a somewhat different culture from the mainland, some of which was derived from the long occupation by Japan.
The analogy isn't perfect; my point was mostly that the People's Republic of China has a legal claim not particularly weaker or stronger than Yugoslavia has to Kossovo.
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THE TAIWAN QUESTION
by Jacques deLisle
July 26, 1999
Jacques deLisle is Associate Professor of Law at the University of Pennsylvania Law School and a member of FPRI’s Study Group on U.S.-China Relations. This piece draws on his work for the Study Group on the international legal status of Taiwan, which will be presented in expanded form in the Winter 2000 issue of Orbis, due out in December.
THE TAIWAN QUESTION
by Jacques deLisle
When Taiwanese President Lee Teng-hui told a German interviewer this month that relations between the Republic of China on Taiwan and the People’s Republic of China were a form of state-to-state relations, a diplomatic firestorm predictably erupted over his apparent embrace of a “two China” or a “one China, one Taiwan” policy. Beijing let rain the colorful denunciations that have become its trademark, branding Lee a sinner condemned by history whose criminal acts would stink for a thousand years. Great powers and small states scrambled to reaffirm their “one China” policies. Clinton telephoned Jiang Zemin to assure Beijing that the U.S. did not support any move by Lee to change the status quo. The world worried about a replay of the military tensions in the Taiwan Strait that attended the PRC’s reaction to what it saw as Lee’s head-of-state-like visit to the U.S. for a Cornell reunion in 1995 and Taiwanese voters’ possible affinity for pro-independence platforms in the then-upcoming 1996 elections. Some observers warned -- although not terribly plausibly—that Beijing would feel compelled to attack the renegade province. Taipei’s stock market dropped.
The words that precipitated all of this were less than revolutionary. To the untutored ear, there was little difference between the new (and fairly opaque) terminology of a special type of state-to-state relations within a Chinese nation and the former (and quite convoluted) official formulation of intra-Chinese relations between two equal political entities, each exercising sovereignty over a part of China. Lee’s comments and subsequent official statements stressed that the ROC had not abandoned unification as an ultimate goal, albeit one to be achieved – as the 1991 National Unification Guidelines had made clear in the very long term and after the mainland achieved democracy. Lee cast his claim that there was no need to declare independence not as a formal assertion of a new stance but, rather, as an implication of the familiar claim that the ROC has been a sovereign independent state since 1912. The controversial state-to-state language was explained, plausibly but somewhat disingenuously, as merely descriptive of the state of affairs that had existed at least since 1991, when the ROC government formally dropped its claim to be the wielder of legitimate sovereign authority over all of China.
True, Taiwan’s Mainland Affairs Council confirmed that the government was dropping a “one China” policy, at least with respect to the connotations of Taiwan-PRC inequality and subordinate- superior relations that Beijing had managed to attach to the phrase. The heavily couched and caveat-laden statements from Lee and his minions represented only one step in a decade-long march away from the logically consistent but politically bizarre framework in which everyone agreed that there was one China with one legitimate government, but disagreed about whether that government was the one in Beijing or the one, temporarily, in Taipei. For any realistic observer, of course, Lee and other ROC officials uttered an obvious, if politically touchy, truth: The PRC and Taiwan are, in practice, two separate countries.
In cross-strait relations, of course, the absence of radical policy change or the congruence between description and reality does not render new terms innocuous. As Lee and his government knew, subtle changes of language -- especially anything touching Beijing’s hot-button issue of sovereignty are seen as communicative and provocative acts, likely to produce the reaction that occurred. Why, then, did Lee do it? Speculation has ranged from the banal (an uncalculated utterance by an incautious president with pro-independence sentiments) to the conspiratorial (a plot to trigger confrontation with the PRC that would justify Lee’s remaining in power beyond his term). While we do not know what the actual motives were, the plausible candidates are aspects of the same broader explanation: The ROC government has been caught in a tightening political vise abroad and at home, and had a likely-fleeting chance to push back.
Externally, the PRC has increased the pressure on Taiwan to move toward reintegration under some version of its “one country, two systems” formula. Able to point to Hong Kong’s relatively untraumatic reversion, offering to let Taiwan keep more of the trappings of a separate political existence, and voicing complaints about the desultory pace and insubstantial content of cross-strait negotiations, the PRC has enjoyed growing success in portraying itself to the world as a reasonable (and, by some lights, the more reasonable) party. The scheduled October visit to Taipei by the mainland’s chief Taiwan negotiator, Wang Daohan, promised an occasion to tighten the screws.
Such developments, coupled with Beijing’s relentless campaign to deny Taiwan membership in intergovernmental organizations and recognition from other states, threatened Taiwan’s tenuous international status. Especially ominous for Taipei was the U.S. shift from formal agnosticism (acknowledgment that Chinese on both sides of the strait believed that there was one China) to stated opposition to an independent Taiwan (one of the “three no’s” Clinton articulated in 1998). The PRC’s steady rise as a great power and the U.S. business lobby’s pressure for good U.S.-China relations suggested little hope for reversing the trend. Beijing’s military modernization program, along with Taiwan’s uncertain access to U.S. protection, arms and weapons technology, augured further shifts of the strategic balance against Taiwan. Taiwan’s burgeoning investment and trade relations with the mainland were giving Beijing a promising economic lever against Taipei. Within the PRC, the decay of communist ideology, the prospect of bumps on the once-smooth road of rapid economic growth, and the persistence of military and conservative elements among a generally pro-reform leadership have produced a durable embrace of nationalism -- an influence that favors a hard line on Taiwan issues, and one that spiked in the aftermath of the bombing of Beijing’s embassy in Yugoslavia.
Also, the ROC government had largely exhausted the gains available under the existing rules of the game. Taipei’s dollar diplomacy had won most of the recognitions that it could expect to obtain from small and financially strapped countries. The aggressive pursuit of membership in international organizations and international agreements had mostly played out. Of the two big prizes, WTO accession had become inextricably bundled with the PRC’s still-stalled entry, and UN membership was beyond reach, given Beijing’s intractable opposition and another of Washington’s “three no’s” (no support for Taiwan’s participation in states-only bodies).
At home, the vise has been tightening all around. The ruling Kuomintang’s Taiwanization (exemplified by Lee’s status as the ROC’s first non-mainlander president), the popular appeal of principles of democratic self-determination, and the popular distaste for mainland life that many Taiwanese have now seen first-hand have generated growing demands for stronger assertions of Taiwan’s separate status. Possible limits to hypocrisy, even in politics, have made the old “one China” formulation increasingly untenable in light of Taiwan’s political life as an entity obviously distinct and profoundly different from the mainland. Taiwan’s democratization has subjected the KMT to electoral pressures -- from the Democratic Progressive Party, whose electoral success has driven the KMT to try to coopt the DPP’s relatively pro-independence agenda, and from the New Party, whose small constituency of old-style reunificationists sometimes has threatened KMT candidates’ electoral base. Taiwanese business interests’ huge stakes in the PRC have made them a potent force against policies that could anger Beijing.
The approach of the 2000 presidential election has increased the pressure on Lee and his KMT government. The party’s candidate and Lee’s chosen successor, vice president and former premier Lien Chan, has lagged in a race with rivals who stood to either side of the government’s former position on cross-strait issues -- DPP standard-bearer and former Taipei mayor Chen Shui-bian, and then-expected and now-declared independent candidate James Soong, a mainlander and former provincial governor who had been part of the KMT leadership. In this troubling setting, President Lee approached his final chance to define his legacy in the crucial area of Taiwan’s status.
In giving Lee reasons to act now, these threats coincided with a moment of opportunity. The likelihood of serious retaliation from the PRC was relatively low. Beijing has been reminded of its military weaknesses by the latest display of U.S. weaponry in Yugoslavia. It has been on the defensive diplomatically after overplaying its hand in the Balkan crisis and the last Taiwan crisis. It has been seeking a favorable foreign relations environment for its WTO bid, and has been preoccupied with difficult domestic issues. U.S.-PRC relations have been in such a bad state that Washington likely would feel disinclined or unable to side with Beijing. Amid the controversies over the embassy bombing, the failed WTO deal, the Cox Report’s allegations of Chinese nuclear espionage, and Chinese-sourced campaign contributions, Taipei at least could count on its friends in Congress to make it difficult for the administration to lean heavily on the ROC government, especially if Beijing made the expected threats to use force. Taiwan might even improve its chances of getting the coveted Theater Missile Defense.
Lee took advantage of a chance to seize the initiative in defining preconditions of equality for the scheduled October cross-strait talks. At home, announcing the new position also might influence Taiwan’s presidential contest, most obviously by partly capturing a key DPP issue. A PRC response that triggered anger and fear toward the mainland could be expected to drive voters away from Soong, the candidate most acceptable to Beijing, from Chen, the candidate most likely to provoke Beijing, and toward Lien, the candidate of continuity and stability. Even if unable to affect the election’s outcome, Lee’s declarations—made with his unique authority as the ROC s soon-to-retire, first democratically elected and first Taiwanese president -- might constrain a not-wholly-sympathetic next president or give cover to a more like-minded successor.
For the U.S., there is much irony in all this. Lee has created vexing diplomatic problems for Washington. His pronouncement, along with the reactions to it, have added new stresses to a troubled U.S.-PRC relationship. It may force new and difficult choices about where and under what conditions the U.S. will use military force in East Asia. It has put the Clinton administration in the awkward position of scolding the leader of a thriving market-democracy, with inevitable overtones of kowtowing to an authoritarian regime with a poor human rights record and a badly battered public image. Yet, most of the factors that likely produced this mess reflect developments that the U.S. has championed: democratization and political freedom on Taiwan, greater engagement in the international order, greater economic openness and economic reform and development, and a more pluralistic policy process in the PRC. The task ahead for political leaders in Washington, Beijing and Taipei is to manage the vices that the tightening vise has produced. To do that, they will need to see the virtues of , in particular looking to long-term national interests and resisting the temptation—much in evidence on all sides in the current troubles - to pursue short-term domestic political gains when handling what surely will be an on-going series of crises over Taiwan.
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