By Lt Gen PR Shankar (Retd)
Taiwan is a fully functional democracy with a constitution and democratically elected leaders.In the past seven decades its political system has matured. It is totally different from Communist China. It is consistently ranked as one of the freest countries in the Freedom House Freedom Index, the Reporters Without Borders World Press Freedom Index, and the Heritage Index of Economic Freedom.
Taiwan’s economic and political growth has been remarkable. It is one of Asia’s major economies and a global leader in semiconductor technology. Currently thirteen countries recognize Taiwan and around fifty-nine countries including India have established unofficial diplomatic relations with it. However, Taiwan is an independent nation without a seat in the UN. This is a huge anomaly. The main hindrance to it being given full membership of the UN is China, which considers Taiwan to be a breakaway province. However, this issue needs a de-novo examination since it has far-reaching implications not only for Taiwan but for the larger international system which is under threat from China.
In the 17th Century, Taiwan became a Dutch colony. It regained its independence briefly before being taken over by Imperial China. In 1895,after the First Sino-Japanese War, it became a Japanese colony. After Japan’s defeat in WW2, Taiwan went under the Nationalist Government of China, which was officially titled the Republic of China (ROC). It became a founding member of the United Nations as ROC. It remained a member of the UN till 1971.
When Nixoncozied up to Mao,he enabled the PRC to re-enter the international system from isolation. The PRC was then recognized as the official representative government of mainland China as per UN Resolution 2758 which stated “Decides to restore all its rights to the People’s Republic of China and to recognize the representatives of its Government as the only legitimate representatives of China to the United Nations, and to expel forthwith the representatives of Chiang Kai-shek from the place which they unlawfully occupy at the United Nations and in all the organizations related to it”.
However,the UN Resolution left many questions in limbo. It did not clarify the status of Taiwan. It also did not mention that Taiwan was part of China. It was also silent on the ‘One China’ principle. However,the PRC twisted its interpretation of the resolution to press for ‘One China’ to be universally followed. It is time to set this anomaly right by admitting Taiwan to the UN formally.
The fundamental reason to treat Taiwan as an independent nation is straightforward. The CCP came to power in China in 1949. However, till 1952, Taiwan remained part of Imperial Japan. Japan ceded sovereignty over Taiwan as per the Treaty of San Francisco, which came into effect on 28 April 1952. On the same day, the Treaty of Taipei was signed, between Japan and the ROC. In this treaty, Japan ceded sovereignty over China (including Taiwan) to the ROC and not to the PRC (CCP).
The ROC government continued to rule Taiwan after the treaty. Its political descendants are governing Taiwan at present. Further, theCCP or the present government which heads the PRC, has never set foot in Taiwan to rule it in any manner even for a single day over the past seven decades. The Chinese claim that Taiwan is a historical part of PRC is blatantly false. The evidence that Taiwan is part of China is as illegal as its occupation of Tibet or Xinjiang. This claim is also as perfidious as China’s claim on Arunachal Pradesh as South Tibet. In the larger perspective, all Chinese claims are part of the CCP’s expansionist designs. Not only are all Chinese claims illegal, but Taiwan has been an independent nation for the past seven decades.
Taiwan should be granted UN membership for two good reasons. Firstly,to prevent the consequences of Taiwan being usurped by China militarily or through illegal political means. Secondly, for the sake of the people of Taiwan and the humanitarian principles on which the UN is premised. Both these reasons need greater understanding.
Ever since the PRC came into being in 1949, the CCP has been consistently falsifying history to justify its hegemonistic ambitions and territorial annexation by force. Initially PRC usurped East Turkestan as Xinjiang. In 1956, it invaded Tibet and forced it to accede to the PRC at gunpoint. PRC’s claims and ambitions have expanded with its growing economic strength. It has progressed its fictitious claims through perfidy.
Soon after signing the 2003 agreement with India, PRC started claiming Arunachal Pradesh as South Tibet based on a narrative which never existed till then. China propagated the nine-dash line based on imaginary history to lay claim to90% of South China Sea. China built artificial islands and militarized it despite international promises not to do so. It usurped Hong Kong In 2020 in gross violation of the international treaty it signed with the UK. The PRC has also been militarily aggressive in the past seven decades of its existence.
The Korean War, Sino-Indian War and Sino-Vietnam War and Sino USSR skirmishes bear testimony to its aggression. As recently as 2020, PRC has been militarily assertive in the South China Sea and along the Sino Indian LAC to alter status quos in its favor through salami slicing tactics.The display of force across the Taiwan Straits after the visit of Nancy Pelosi leaves very little to imagination about its intent to annex Taiwan. The UN cannot be a mute spectator to constant annexation of territory forcefully by the PRC using a “My or the Highway” principle.
Taiwan is an economically successful and vibrant democracy. It is the antithesis of Chinese communism and authoritarianism. Importantly, Taiwanese refute this authoritarian model.Polls indicate that 87% people in Taiwan do not want to be under China. 73% people in Taiwan are willing to take up arms to defend against a Chinese invasion.The recent UN report on treatment of Uyghurs mentions crimes against humanity and serious human rights violations committed by China in the garb of counterterrorism.
Reports indicate that millions in Xinjiang have been detained in ‘re-education’centers. Conflate it with the indication given by China’s ambassador to France of ‘re-educating’ Taiwanese when the island is reunified with mainland China. The fate of 23 million Taiwanese is likely to be similar to the 25 million people of Xinjiang. Will the UN standby and allow it to happen? Purely on humanitarian grounds Taiwan needs to be admitted into the UN as a member state and prevent it being usurped by China.
More importantly, Taiwan has been actively involved in bilateral trade and economic agreements with many countries including the PRC, USA, European Union, Singapore, Japan, Philippines, Indonesia, South Korea, and India to name a few significant ones. As the world’s 18th largest economy,Taiwan is fully integrated in world affairs.
As an undisputed leader in the semiconductor industry, it is key to developments associated with robotics, artificial intelligence, cyber technologies, communication, space exploration, and energy conservation. Taiwan is strategically important to the global future. Taiwan’s technological prowess is critical to the world in combating climate change whose effects are visible starkly in disasters plaguing the Chinese mainland, Pakistan, and Europe this summer. Hence, keeping Taiwan on the sidelines of global institutions is simply self-defeating. While some effort has been made to include Taiwan in global governance, the effort has been less than reasonable or fair.
Taiwan will find it difficult to declare independence for fear of retribution and violence from the PRC. From the violent Chinese reaction to Nancy Pelosi’s visit to the Island, it is clear that if PRC can not annex Taiwan militarily, it will destroy the nation with the might of its missiles to reduce it to rubble. That will be a human catastrophe. The danger of this scenario turning into a reality becomes higher as China continues to decline. The day when China realizes that it cannot annex China either militarily or politically, it could adopt a resort to a scorched earth policy towards Taiwan. That day must be forestalled and precluded.
It is also in this context that the UN needs to facilitate the full integration of Taiwan into international organizations incrementally. Important nations like the USA, Japan, UK, France, Germany (and others from EU), S Korea, Australia, India, and other regional countries must champion Taiwan’s cause to take it to the logical conclusion of granting it full membership in the UN. China will object very strongly. So be it.
It is time to take China head on and put it in its place before it is too late. To this end if a restructuring of the UN system is required it must be undertaken.Lastly, India understands Taiwan’s plight best since it is also a victim to Chinese machinations. It is time that India and Taiwan enhance co-operation on all fronts to stymie Chinese designs and ensure that the peaceful people of Taiwan get the status, dignity, and justice which they deserve as a progressive nation. It is also time that Taiwan is granted full membership in the UN and other international institutions.
The author is PVSM, AVSM, VSM, and a retired Director General of Artillery. He is currently a Professor in the Aerospace Department of IIT Madras. He writes extensively on defence and strategic affairs @ www.gunnersshot.com.
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