The states of East Asia have long endured great struggles amongst each other, but none greater than taking on the role of becoming partners on the international stage since the early 1900s. The recognized states of East Asia are easy to list and so are the nations (in the ethnic and/or national identity use) or regions that wish to be recognized as states. Many nations or regions in East Asia that seek autonomy and/or state status are disputed areas of China. Among these states is the very notable government and nation of Taiwan. Lassa Oppenheim once said that it is possible that the meaning of sovereignty is the most controversial conception and that to this day there has never been a meaning of sovereignty that is universally accepted. To better understand the issues, what makes Taiwan a sovereign state and why the international community does not recognize it as such must be discussed and answered.
At the end of World War II, the Chinese mainland returned to civil war with the People’s Republic of China (PRC), a communist government, rebelled against the Republic of China (ROC) who controlled de facto the government assets of Mainland China and who were a nationalist government. At the time the island of Taiwan was under Japanese rule and had been since the First Sino-Japanese War. Less than two months after the surrender of the Empire of Japan to the United States in 1945, the ROC took control of the governance of Taiwan and its nearby islands as part of China. However, as the PRC continued to become more successful and victorious in battle, the ROC was forced to abandoned Mainland China and reestablished the government of China from Taipei in 1949 while the PRC established rule over the mainland. Taiwan was formerly returned to China (the ROC de jure and de facto in Taipei) in 1952 from Japan as part of the Treaty of Taipei that formally ended the Second Sino-Japanese War (a prelude to and part of World War II) between Japan and the Republic of China (and effectively with the PRC who controlled de facto Mainland China). Although only effectively having actual governance over Taiwan and its surrounding islands and not de facto governance over the whole of China, the ROC was officially recognized as a founding member of the United Nations and held a seat on the Security Council with veto powers as the government of all of China until 1971 when the PRC assumed China’s recognized seat in the United Nations which effectively reduced the recognition of the ROC as a state by other states to only 21 member states of the United Nations that maintained official diplomatic relations with the ROC.
Constitutive Theory suggests that states exist outside of external recognition; however, it is through recognition that a state becomes a subject of International Law and a participant in the world community. In contrast, according to Declarative Theory a state is defined as having a permanent population within a defined territory, having economic activity and an organized economy that is regulated by the government on issues of trade and currency and provides a transportation network, having the power to provide social engineering and public services and police services, having sovereignty from other states with external recognition. From the theory and school of Realism, it is believed that a state is defined prior to and outside of international relations; in opposition of that is a Pluralists belief that without being predicated on international interactions, a state does not exist.
Taiwan tends to go by three different names; it is commonly known and referred to as Taiwan, but officially it is the Republic of China, however, it goes by Chinese Taipei when involved in international organizations (due to political pressure on other states by the PRC). The ROC claims that it is a de facto and de jure sovereign state over Taiwan and its surrounding islands, and that it is de jure sovereign over the whole of China; whereas in fact although the PRC claims sovereignty over Taiwan, the ROC has maintained rule of law since the 1940s over Taiwan and in fact the PRC has maintained the rule of law over the remainder of China. Up until the 1990s both the Netherlands and France sold military weapons and other hardware to the ROC. Taiwan maintains official diplomatic relations as a sovereign state as the ROC with the Holy See and 21 other member states of the United Nations and unofficial de facto consulates in nearly all other states of the international community for the purpose of maintain diplomatic relations and consular services. The Taiwan Relations Act provides that United States recognizes separate governing authorities of Taiwan from the PRC and establishes the mutual defense of Taiwan along with outlining trade and laying the groundwork for de facto American consulates in Taiwan; the United States also recognizes and allows Visas to Taiwanese passport holders. Since the formation of the Russian Federation, it has maintained a representative office in Taipei. The European Union exempts Taiwanese passport holders from having an Schengen visa while visiting the Schengen, and 16 member states of the European Union have established diplomatic offices in Taipei.
In area, Taiwan is larger than 50 other recognized states and is the 137th largest country, making it larger than Belgium, Israel and Lebanon amongst others and has a population larger than 140 recognized states making it the 54th largest population in the world (including being larger than Luxembourg, Ireland, Norway, Denmark, and Finland combined), and has a population that is predominately of Han Chinese ancestry (established form more than a century). The International Monetary Fund gives Taiwan a nominal rank GDG of 27th in the world and purchasing power rank GDP of 21st in the world putting the ROC above Hong Kong, the UAE, Israel, Belgium, Sweden and Norway amongst others. Furthermore, the ROC holds the world’s fifth largest amount of foreign reserves and manages its own currency (New Taiwan Dollar), and by 2008 the Taiwanese companies had invested $150 billion USD within the PRC. Taiwan is known as one of the four “Asian Tigers” and it has become a major foreign investor in Thailand, Indonesia, the PRC and Philippines, Malaysia and Vietnam, with 50,000 Taiwanese businesses expanded into the PRC.
The ROC maintains a modernized military with offensive and defensive capabilities with defense expenditures at approximately $10.76 billion USD. Since the 1950s the United States has traded and sold military and defensive products (including warships) and technology to Taiwan under the Sino-American Mutual Defense Treaty and currently under the Taiwan Relations Act via the American Institute in Taiwan;and Taiwan has not been occupied by or governed by any other state than the ROC since the 1940s, and has not been invaded. Currently, the literacy rate in Taiwan (defined as those over the age of 15 who can read and write) is 98.2%, and the ROC manages a universal health insurance program as a social service. Furthermore, according to Freedom in the World 2014 the ROC is free and the PRC is not free, the 2014 Index of Economic Freedom ranks the ROC as mostly free and the PRC as mostly un-free, and the 2014 Press Freedom Index lists the ROC in a satisfactory situation and the PRC in a very serious situation; Taiwan is ranked as a medium risk in the Human Rights Risk Index of 2014 and is ranked 23rd on the Human Development Index (Very High Human Development).
Taiwan is active in the international community participating under all three of its names. Due to the lack of formal international recognition, the ROC is a member of the Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organization under the name of “Taiwan”. The ROC is recognized as “China” in the World Organization of the Scout Movement, but it is listed as “Chinese Taipei” in the Olympic Games. However, due to the PRC’s One China policy, Taiwan has been consistently blocked from World Health Organization membership since 1997. The PRC refuses to have diplomatic relations with any nation that recognizes the ROC as a sovereign state, and requires all nations with which the PRC has diplomatic relations to make a statement recognizing its claims that Taiwan is a part of China and the PRC. Additionally, the PRC passed and publicly announced the anti-secession law that states the PRC will take military actions against the ROC if Taiwan declared independence formally or if it was officially recognized as a state by the international community, and that there would be economic and possible military impacts on any nation that recognizes Taiwan officially. As a member of the UN Security Council (controlling the ROCs former seat), the PRC exercises its veto power to block as much recognition of the ROC and its involvement in the international community as possible.
In a world of Realist, Taiwan is a state because it is governed independently from any other sovereign state and maintains rule of law de facto and de jure (when the length of time that Taiwan has operated independently is considered). It could be suggested that Taiwan is a sovereign state according to Constitutive Theory due to a combination of the Realist belief and the official recognition Taiwan receives from 10% of the member states of the United Nations in addition to the incredible non-official recognition from a majority of the world’s nations. To the latter point of international recognition coupled with the immense amount of international trade and involvement in worldwide organizations that Taiwan participates in, it could be concluded that a Pluralist view would suggest that Taiwan is a sovereign state. As for the Declarative Theory on the meaning of a sovereign state, the Republic of China as Taiwan meets all the criteria outside of no other state claiming sovereignty over it and the lack of official recognition from a majority of the international community. These schools of thoughts and theories give prudence to the claim of the ROC that Taiwan is a sovereign state. The power of the PRC to essentially block all effort on the part of Taiwan to join the international community answers why certain international communities do not recognize the Taiwan as a state, but the PRC goes further and threatens economic fallout and possible military consequences to any state that dares to recognize the ROC as the sovereign government of the state of Taiwan. Until Mainland China, the PRC, is held off and put into check, it is highly unlikely that Taiwan will receive official international recognition as a state or sovereign over itself.
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