Taiwan: A Solution to the South China Sea DisputeThe key lies in breaking the fake inheritance chain linking Japan, the ROC and the PRC on the sovereignty over Taiwan, Penghu, the Spratlys and the Paracels
With the imminent completion of Chinese infrastructures — including a military runway — on some islets in the South China Sea, and the commencement of the international arbitration between the People’s Republic of China (PRC) and the Philippines, it is likely that the territorial dispute in the area is entering a new, and perhaps more contentious, phase. On July 8, Hua Chunying (華春瑩), the spokeswoman of the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs, claimed in a press conference that, “it is the duty and obligation of the Chinese on both sides of the [Taiwan] strait to maintain the sovereignty over land and interests of the nation.” Yes, Hua tried to impose an obligation on the people on Taiwan to pursue China’s interests in South China Sea.
Due to the fact that most Taiwanese do not consider themselves Chinese and that Taiwan is not part of the PRC, Hua’s claims can only make the PRC look rude and ignorant. Nevertheless, considering the fact that the current authorities governing Taiwan consistently refer to Taiwan as the “Republic of China,” and that the nation operates under a constitution that was brought from China with a constitutional amendment having at its preface “To cope with the need before the reunification of the country…” it is difficult for foreigners to regard the people on Taiwan as other than Chinese and to feel nothing strange about what Hua said.
However, for all states involved or having a stake in the South China Sea dispute, it’s crucial to understand that Taiwan is both de facto and de jure not part of China and that the ultimate solution for the South China Sea sovereign dispute is to have a truly independent Taiwan, i.e., a world-recognized sovereign state rather than an autonomous region under entrusted administration performed by the former (now self-called) ROC government.
The reason why a truly independent Taiwan without the China factor (including the current ROC government) is the ultimate solution for the South China Sea dispute is the result of historical facts and international law.
By looking at the root of the PRC’s claims over the South China Sea, we see that it stems from the PRC government’s “inheritance” of the ROC government. While the ROC government claims it retrieved Formosa (Taiwan), the Pescadores, the Paracels, and Spratlys from Japan after World War II, the PRC government — the “heir” of the ROC government — believes that it also acquired the ROC’s sovereignty over these territories. However, according to the San Francisco Peace Treaty of 1951 (SFPT), Japan simply renounced all right, title, and claim to Formosa (Taiwan) & the Pescadores (Penghu) (Article 2(b)), the Spratlys & Paracels (Article 2(f)) without designating any receiver of the sovereignty over these territories, legally. The legal sovereignty over all of these territories was undetermined and none of them had ever been legally transferred to the ROC.
Later, due to the fact that the ROC was entrusted by the Allies to administrate these territories and hence became the actual governing authorities of them after Japan’s surrender, Japan reaffirmed that she had renounced her right, title and claim to these territories again in her Sino-Japanese Peace Treaty of 1952 (SJPT) with the ROC. The ROC then claimed that it had retrieved sovereignty over these lands on the basis of this reaffirmation. However, since Japan had already renounced these territories in the SFPT, it was impossible for Japan to transfer sovereignty over them to the ROC even though she mentioned these islands in her treaty with the ROC. Consequently, the ROC did not acquire sovereignty over these territories, and it is impossible for the PRC to have acquired sovereignty over them by inheriting the ROC.
That is to say, like Taiwan and Penghu, technically, the Spratlys and the Paracels are territories over which sovereignty is undetermined. Furthermore, due to historical facts, these four areas should be regarded as a group on the basis of Japan’s reaffirmation of her renouncement in the SJPT. At the very least, Taiwan, Penghu and the Spratlys should be regarded as a whole, since the Spratlys depended on Taiwan in the administrative divisions of the Japanese Empire.
In other words, from the perspective of international law, the state that has Taiwan as its legal sovereign territory should be the legitimate owner of sovereignty over the Spratlys and a powerful claimant for the Paracels. Unfortunately, such a state does not exist. All we have now is a governing body on Taiwan that calls itself the ROC and which claims it is the “legitimate government of the whole China,” and conceals the fact that it is merely a governing body entrusted by the Allies to look over territories detached from Japan after WWII.
This confusing “former Chinese government” on Taiwan is the very reason behind the cross-strait dispute and that in the South China Sea. Why? Because without this Chinese governing body on Taiwan, the PRC government would not have any reason to make its sovereign claim over Taiwan on the basis of government inheritance, and without incorrect but compelling reason for its claim over Taiwan, there would be no ground for PRC to claim its sovereignty over islands and islets in the South China Sea. The current governing authority on Taiwan, the very governing body that calls itself the Taiwanese government but always acts like a Chinese government, is the ultimate source of the whole mess.
Nevertheless, there is still hope, and the solution is actually very simple: Ending the entrusted administration over Taiwan of the confusing “former Chinese government” and help the people of Taiwan establish their own sovereign state. By doing so, the undetermined legal status issue of Taiwan at the core of the San Francisco Peace Treaty would be resolved completely, the people of Taiwan would acquire the international recognition they deserve, and most importantly, the compelling but fake inheritance chain linking the PRC, the ROC and Japan about sovereignty over Taiwan, Penghu, the Spratlys and the Paracels would be broken.
Consequently, the PRC could no longer make a sovereignty claim over these islands. The only legal claimant would be the new Taiwanese state. And unlike the trouble-making Chinese government, the new Taiwanese government would certainly be friendlier and be willing to cooperate with concerned countries to maintain the peace.
Huang Sheng-feng is founder of the Republic of Taiwan & Penghu Network and principal investigator, Taiwan Status Research Project, for the RoTP Network. Facebook Page: https://www.facebook.com/rotpnetwork. Official Website: http://www.rotpnetwork.tw. The views expressed in this article do not necessary reflect those of the Thinking Taiwan Foundation.