NEW YORK — Taiwan President Chen Shui-bian’s posture toward China has undergone a significant change recently — from showing infinite good will to proclaiming that Taiwan is an independent sovereign state and that Taiwan’s future should be determined by the people of Taiwan. He now supports legislation authorizing a referendum to decide the island’s future. Chen’s new posture will surely anger China.

Chen’s shift has been forced by China’s unceasing hostility toward Taiwan. Since assuming office two years ago, Chen has consistently shown good will toward Beijing, pledging that, if China abandoned its military threat, Taiwan would not declare independence or conduct a national referendum while he was in office.

Risking the wrath of pro-independence Taiwanese, he advocated eventual political reunification with China, starting with economic and cultural integration. Pressed by big business, he allowed trade and investment with China, permitting the export of 8-inch computer chip wafer and other high-tech production plants.

China, however, has not responded in kind. On the contrary, it has raised the level of its military threat to Taiwan, increasing the number of short-range ballistic missiles targeting the island to 350. It has pursued a policy of isolating and containing Taiwan internationally. It has formed a united front with pro-unification forces inside Taiwan (mostly those who migrated to Taiwan after World War II with Chiang Kai-shek and their descendants — 13 percent of the population).

On July 20, the day Chen assumed the presidency of the Democratic Progressive Party, or DPP, to create a more unified and efficient party, China showed extreme hostility by announcing the establishment of diplomatic relations with Nauru, forcing the latter to sever its ties with Taipei. That reduced the number of countries maintaining diplomatic ties with the island state to 27.

Chen’s new stand toward China reflects one undisputed fact: China and Taiwan are two separate political entities, two sovereign independent states, neither of which is to the other. The People’s Republic of China, or PRC, has sovereignty over the Chinese mainland, but not over Taiwan. The Republic of China, or ROC, on Taiwan has sovereignty over Taiwan, the Pescadores and the two offshore islands of Quemoy and Matsu.

Chen’s new stand has a domestic legal basis. In 1991, the ROC abolished the temporary law on civil war against the PRC, officially recognizing the PRC’s sovereignty over the Chinese mainland and limiting the ROC’s sovereignty to Taiwan, the Pescadores and the two offshore islands. Thus ended the myth that it should exercise sovereign control over the mainland as well.

Chen’s new posture also has a basis in international law. Despite China’s claim, Taiwan’s international status remains undetermined. By the 1951 Peace Treaty of San Francisco, “Japan renounced all right, title and claim to Formosa and the Pescadores (Article 2b), but the treaty left Taiwan’s status undetermined. The 1952 Treaty of Peace between the ROC and Japan also stipulated that “under Article 2 of the Treaty of Peace signed on September 8, 1951, Japan has renounced all right, title and claim to Taiwan (Formosa) and Penghu (the Pescadores).” Again Taiwan’s status was undetermined. The 1978 Japan-China Friendship Treaty did not even contain a reference to Taiwan.

British Foreign Secretary Anthony Eden’s statement in the House of Commons on Feb. 5, 1955, is an excellent summary of Taiwan’s treaty status:

“In September 1945, the administration of Formosa was taken over from the Japanese by Chinese forces at the direction of the Supreme Commander of the Allied Powers, but this was not a cession, nor did it in itself involve any change of sovereignty. … Under the Peace Treaty of 1952, Japan renounced all right, title and claim to Formosa and the Pescadores; but again this did not operate as a transfer to Chinese sovereignty whether to the People’s Republic of China or to the Chinese Nationalist authorities. … Formosa and the Pescadores are therefore . . . territory, the de jure sovereignty over which is uncertain or undetermined” (U.S. Department of State, Digest of International Law, Vol. 3, p. 565, 1965).

China, as a permanent member of the U.N. Security Council, will surely veto Taiwan’s application for admission as a new member, but no one can challenge Taiwan’s qualification: a peace-loving country willing to accept the duties contained in the U.N. Charter and able and willing to carry out these obligations (U.N. Charter Article 4).

The Cairo Declaration of 1943, the Potsdam Declaration of 1945 and the three US-PRC joint communiques (1972, 1979 and 1982) — the 1972 Shanghai communiques in particular — all denied the voice of the people of Taiwan, especially that of the permanent residents who had resided in the island long before the end of World War II and that of their descendants (constituting 87 percent of Taiwan’s population). Denying this voice has been one of the more egregious injustices in world history.

U.S. acknowledgment in the 1972 Shanghai communique that “all Chinese on either side of the Taiwan Strait maintain there is but one China and that Taiwan is a part of China” was an outrageous distortion of reality and history, because 87 percent of Taiwan’s residents are not Chinese but Taiwanese, and most of them, to this day, reject China’s claim that there is but one China and that Taiwan is part of China.

The people of Taiwan live in a market economy and a free, democratic society that respects human rights and other universal values. Because of the reforms undertaken by former President Lee Teng-hui, they are now determined to claim their right of self-determination as guaranteed by the Universal Human Rights Declaration and by the two International Covenants of 1966 under which “every people has the right of self-determination, i.e., the right to freely determine their own political status, and to freely pursue their right of economic, social and cultural development (Article 1 of both).

Chen has shown infinite good will toward China in the past two years, calling for reconciliation of China and Taiwan. China, however, has responded with hostility and ballistic missiles, perceiving Chen’s gesture as weakness. The Chinese respect the strong and bully the weak. Chen has risen to exhibit his faith, principles and courage. His new stand will strengthen Taiwanese consciousness and sense of identity, the most serious problem after centuries of alien rule.

It will enhance Taiwan’s economic, social and military security. Chen will lead the people of Taiwan to “walk down their own Taiwanese road.”

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