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Between De Jure and De Facto Statehood: Revisiting the Status of Taiwan


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This paper revisits the status prospects for Taiwan in light of recent events in Kosovo and Tibet. In both cases, and certainly in Taiwan itself, the long standing contest between claims for self determination and the tenacious defence of the principle of the territorial integrity of states has emerged once again to dominate the analysis of these cases. This contest is particularly dramatic in the divided international response to the independence of Kosovo. In the case of Tibet, widespread international support for Tibet is in sharp contrast to the furious and determined resistance of China. Taiwan’s anomalous status remains that of a legal sovereign state, the Republic of China, enjoying some measure of recognition and formal diplomacy and a de facto state whose international relations are confined to paradiplomatic channels, extensive though they are. The paper considers the prospects for changes in the current anomalous status of the island state.
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Island Studies Journal, Vol. 3, No. 1, 2008, pp. 113-128
Between De Jure and De Facto Statehood: Revisiting the Status Issue for Taiwan
Barry Bartmann
University of Prince Edward Island
This paper revisits the status prospects for Taiwan in light of recent events in Kosovo and
Tibet. In both cases, and certainly in Taiwan itself, the long standing contest between
claims for self determination and the tenacious defence of the principle of the territorial
integrity of states has emerged once again to dominate the analysis of these cases. This
contest is particularly dramatic in the divided international response to the independence of
Kosovo. In the case of Tibet, widespread international support for Tibet is in sharp contrast
to the furious and determined resistance of China. Taiwan’s anomalous status remains that
of a legal sovereign state, the Republic of China, enjoying some measure of recognition
and formal diplomacy and a de facto state whose international relations are confined to
paradiplomatic channels, extensive though they are. The paper considers the prospects for
changes in the current anomalous status of the island state.
Keywords: Taiwan, China, statehood, sovereignty, de facto states, self-determination,
© 2008 – Institute of Island Studies, University of Prince Edward Island, Canada.
In the early days of 2008, major political events in peripheral areas thousands of miles
apart sparked renewed debate over central issues at the root of norms and practices in the
international system. The independence of the former autonomous republic of Kosovo in
Serbia ignited a major debate over the requisite elements of statehood, even among those
states normally at one on such issues: the European Union, the Atlantic alliance and the
larger world of Western democracies. Most were immediately responsive in favour of
Kosovo’s declaration of independence on February 17: France, Germany, Great Britain,
Italy and the United States; indeed a clear majority of Atlantic partners (Hamilton, 2008).
Even Canada, which has had a long history of opposing any movement that might be seen
as a precedent for secession, even in little Nevis, soon joined the larger Western lobby for
Kosovo. But, there were still major states within the Western group which sided with
China and Russia in the view that the recognition of Kosovo as an independent state would
set a precedent for scores of other separatist movements or de facto governments in place
with similar claims (Kulish & Chivers, 2008; BBC News, 2008). For Russia, the issue was
bound to be vexing. The Putin government warned that recognition of Kosovo could lead
to Russian, and presumably some international recognition following this lead, of
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Abkhazia and Ossetia or even Trans-Dniestra. But what plays for the goose, plays for the
gander. That would also give the international community, particularly among sympathetic
Muslim states, a green light to recognize Muslim Caucasus separatist entities within the
Russian Federation (Mitic, 2008).
A few weeks later, on the other side of the world, Buddhist monks in Lhasa were in the
streets challenging the imperial rule of the Han Chinese in their ancient land. The cause of
Tibet, autonomy at least and independence at best, had long been a powerful issue in
Western countries, led often by celebrities such as Brad Pitt and Richard Gere, and
personified in the beatific personality of the Dalai Lama, who, in exile, urged peaceful
accommodation, some measure of generous autonomy on the part of the Beijing regime,
but never civil resistance to the point of violence or civil war. The Dalai Lama’s Gandhian
approach to his country’s future only enhanced his reputation outside of China but as such
served as a running canker in China’s attempt to achieve international status and respect as
a Great Power. Currently, supporters of Tibet are overwhelming the official Chinese
ceremonies for the global run of the Olympic torch. In Greece, and particularly in London,
Paris and San Francisco, the run of the torch bearer was marred by the determined
interference of pro-Tibet and other human rights activists in their highly public
interruptions of the ceremonial course of the torch.
Both these events, the largely favourable recognition of Kosovo, the last episode in the
wars of Yugoslav succession, and the eruptions in Tibet with the successive and
determined efforts of the international human rights lobby to pursue the Tibet question to
the opening of the Games, have raised again the long-standing and persistent question of
Taiwan. The Kosovo issue reminds us of familiar but still gnawing questions about the
credentials of statehood and the norms and practices of the recognition of states. The Tibet
question tugs at the very core of Western values, themselves in contest in Kosovo: the
rights of self-determination, particularly when ratified by democratic processes; and the
respect for the territorial integrity of states, and most vividly when those borders are
recognized and held to be sacrosanct in international law. The issues in Kosovo and Tibet
speak to the longstanding questions of status, legitimacy and recognition, which are at the
heart of the Taiwan issue. Taiwan was “de-recognized” and thus diminished in
international legal personality by the decision of the Carter administration in 1979 to
recognize Beijing as the sole legitimate government of China with the understanding that
Taiwan was part of China. A separate agreement allowed for the United States to maintain
intimate relations with Taipei but through elaborate de facto non-diplomatic offices that
were in effect Potemkin artefacts. We will return to the importance of this elaborate,
pardiplomatic mock structure of foreign relations for Taiwan shortly.
Taiwan’s current international status is perhaps the most glaring anomaly in the
international system. By all the conventional attributes of statehood, as understood in the
1933 Montevideo Convention on the Rights and Duties of States., for example, Taiwan is
an effective, independent state with a permanent population of 23 million and clear
authority over a defined area (Williams & de Mestral, 1979: 34-5). The question of its
capacity to enter into relations with other states is the vexing issue. And here the question
is murky because the evidence of diplomatic recognition by other states to support
arguments for capacity is not helpful in this case. There is no benchmark as to the number
Revisiting the Status for Taiwan
of recognizing states that are required to conclude that the capacity for entering into
relations with other states is established beyond question. Nor is there any suggestion that
that recognition must also reflect the acknowledgment of certain Great Power states, such
as the permanent members of the UN Security Council. Indeed, in contrast to Taiwan, the
Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (Western Sahara) is recognized by 48 states (though
not by the Permanent Five), its right to self-determination reaffirmed by General Assembly
resolutions and it is a full member of the African Union (Western Sahara Online, 2008).
But its “permanent” population” is largely confined to a huge refugee camp in
neighbouring Algeria and its government exercises no authority within the territory of
Western Sahara itself. In contrast, Taiwan, as Cameron Otopalik put it:
“... (Taiwan) lies in a ‘recognition limbo’ between the People’s Republic of China
(PRC) that regards it as a renegade province, and those countries that consider it a
self-standing state ... Taiwan meets all of the traditional criteria for statehood as
found under international law and is one of the most developed nations of the world
populated by a people who largely identify themselves as a distinct nation”
(Otopalik, 2006: 83).
If it once seemed an absurd departure from reality to argue that the Kuomintang
government in Taipei should be seen as the legitimate government for hundreds of millions
of mainland Chinese, so it is now also unrealistic to view Beijing as the sovereign
authority for 23 million Taiwanese who have never experienced a day under the effective
jurisdiction of the mainland. Noted Alan James:
“It seems very strange to see Taiwan referred to as an effective territorial entity
which is none the less not a state. It certainly fulfils all the criteria for sovereign
statehood which are applied in other contexts. It would be more realistic to draw
upon the distinction between a sovereign state’s existence and its participation in
international life. Taiwan could then be described as a sovereign state which is
unable to play an international part on account of its insistence on being referred to
by a name which others are not free to use” (James, 1986: 138).
Thus, it is the One-China policy which is at the root of Taiwan’s dilemma. Ironically, this
was the one policy on which both Taipei and Beijing agreed. There was one China and
Taiwan was an integral part of that China. When the United States recognized the PRC on
January 1, 1979, Washington agreed to this formulation, and with it Beijing’s assumption
of China’s Security Council seat., The United States ended all diplomatic and official
relations with Taiwan, withdrew all American military personnel from the island and
ended the Mutual Defence Treaty of 1954. Thus, Taiwan’s long, lonely position on the
margins of organised international relations began. The United States maintained a large
paradiplomatic mission in Taipei, and accepted a similar Taiwanese mission in
Washington, and, more important, remained committed to the defence of Taiwan ensuring
its military support in the event of a mainland attempt to annex the island. The United
States continued to sell military technology and weapons systems to Taiwan (the 1979
Taiwan Relations Act). Still, in the years since, Beijing’s One-China policy has remained
unyielding. At the same time, the Kuomintang government was shifting its position. In
1991 President Lee Teng-hui acknowledged Beijing’s sovereignty over the mainland
which in effect ended the Kuomintang’s long-standing assertion of its own claim as the
B. Bartmann
sole legitimate government of China. When Lee further proposed a two-state solution in
1999, Beijing rejected any such notion out of hand and broke off all unofficial discussions
with Taipei.
Beijing’s continuing hostility, and even occasional bellicosity, such as the military
exercises in the Strait in 1994 and 1995, did not weaken the resolve of the Taiwanese to
push for further democratization, Taiwanization and the declaration of an independent state
of Taiwan. In 2000 and again in 2004 the Democratic Progressive Party under the
leadership of Chen Shui-bian won fair and free elections with a platform committed to an
independent Taiwan. Alarmed by the prospects of being dragged into a military conflict
with China should Taipei declare independence, the United States repeatedly reaffirmed its
support for the status quo of the One-China policy and warned Taiwanese leaders to avoid
any such provocation. Over the last decade opinion polls have consistently demonstrated a
growing support for the primacy of Taiwanese identity on the island. And the government
continues to promote its case for United Nations membership in spite of Beijing’s
intransigence (Kulish & Chivers, 2008).
President Chen’s stance on independence was marked by greater caution than was his pre-
election rhetoric in 2000. And the recent parliamentary and presidential elections
confirmed a widespread sentiment on the island that Taiwan’s relations with the PRC
should avoid undue provocation. President Chen’s plan to hold a referendum on applying
for United Nations membership under the name of Taiwan drew hostile reactions from
both Beijing and Washington. Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice called the planned
referendum “... a provocative move that would needlessly raise tensions across the Taiwan
Strait without delivering any benefit to the Taiwanese people” (Lague, 2008). This rebuke
combined with the continued Chinese military buildup across the Strait gave the
Kuomintang a landslide victory in the parliamentary elections of January 12 this year
(ibid.). This paved the way for the Kuomintang leader, Ma Ying-jeou, to recapture the
presidency in the presidential elections of March 22, 2008. Ma’s campaign was based on a
much less confrontational approach to relations with China. He called for a formal peace
treaty that would demilitarize the Strait, an increase of Taiwanese investment on the
mainland, and direct air and sea links. Important too was the fact that the electorate
rejected two referenda in support of pursuing United Nations membership (Electoral
Geography 2.0, 2008; New York Times, 2008). Yet, at the same time, Taiwan seized the
opportunity to recognize the unilateral declaration of independence in Kosovo and Ma was
forced to acknowledge and condemn the repression of Buddhist monks in Lhasa (New
Kosova Report, 2008; Goodspeed, 2008).
What then is the current status of Taiwan in the international system? In one sense, the
Republic of China on Taiwan may be superficially regarded as a government-in-exile. The
government, since Lee Teng-hui’s shift in 1991 to a nationalist stance, has continued to
promote its interests and profile in the international system as Taiwan. However, officially
the government still maintains, after nearly 60 years, that they are the legitimate
government of the whole of China. Of course, the island government exercises its
jurisdiction only over Taiwan itself and a handful of offshore islands. Still, 23 countries in
the world, albeit most of them poor and very small, recognize Taiwan as the Republic of
China, and therefore send and receive full diplomatic missions. For most other countries,
Revisiting the Status for Taiwan
however, many with extensive and hugely important economic ties with Taiwan, relations
are of a purely paradiplomatic nature with a highly sensitive nomenclature to describe
‘non-official’ missions, though they may very well act as de facto embassies. Given
China’s own anxieties on these issues, in such circumstances, appearance is all! Similar
cosmetic fudging has allowed for some Taiwanese participation in international bodies
such as the Olympics and for direct personal links between Taiwanese representatives and
officials in other states. Taiwan also issues its own passports which are internationally
recognized (Rosenberg, 2007). In 2002 Taiwan became a member of the World Trade
Organization and participates in both the Asian Development Bank and the Asia-Pacific
Economic Forum (Otopalik, 2006: 85). In short, Taiwan is at once a normal state, a
government-in-exile and a de facto state engaging in both official and internationally
recognized channels of diplomacy in some cases and in cloaked paradiplomatic exchange
in others. Taiwan is an international anomaly both in and out of the antechamber of
international diplomacy (Bartmann, 2006: 541-559).
We can appreciate the extent to which Taiwan functions as a de facto state by comparing
its formal legal ties as the Republic of China with those of its paradiplomatic network with
an extensive range of partners. The most striking feature of the four tables below is that
Taiwan, a major regional military power, an important economic force within the region
and the global economy and one of the most stable democracies in Asia, is still very
dependent on paradiplomacy. “Paradiplomacy can be best understood as a field of
international interaction apart from the conventional channels of international diplomacy.
Within this field are many players with different objectives and, most important, different
levels of sanction ... Paradiplomacy is a field of international activity which simulates and
approximates official and conventional international relations” (Bartmann, 2006: 543-4).
As noted, the official and recognized delegations which Taiwan sends and receives as the
Republic of China are confined to very small states, themselves on the margins of the
international system. In contrast, Taiwan`s paradiplomatic reach is dramatic in the status of
her state partners and in the sheer numbers of her own paradiplomatic operations abroad.
Similarly impressive is the number of states (48) which maintain paradiplomatic missions
on the island. In short, in spite of its economic clout and its strategic stature, Taiwan
continues to engage the international system on two different levels and it is the more
informal, unofficial paradiplomatic level which clearly provides for this controversial
island`s most critical relationships. Of course, this speaks to the depth of the taboo of
Taiwanese separation and the paramount urgency of the territorial integrity principle for
mainland China. Still, these tables also reflect the very elasticity of the paradiplomatic
mission. The nomenclature can convey simply a non-government relationship so as to
stress the distance between the emissary state and Taiwan. Note that some of the
designations of foreign missions in Taipei are those of non-governmental bodies such as
the Swedish Trade Council or the Spanish Chamber of Commerce. Others, perhaps less
sensitive to mainland sensibilities, even go so far as to include The Republic of China in
the registration of their offices in Taipei. Taiwan`s own offices abroad indicate a fairly
common standard with an emphasis on trade, investment and cultural exchanges. In any
case, both the paradiplomatic Taiwan missions abroad and the foreign pardiplomatic
missions in Taipei carry on many of the substantive diplomatic duties which are common
to sovereign states. Taiwan`s unique position in the international system is that it is able to
follow established diplomatic protocols in some situations but must resort to
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paradiplomacy in most of its critical relationships with other states. Taiwan`s major
activity in an international organization is her membership in the World Trade
Organization where she maintains a regular permanent mission, although it comes under
the awkward title of the Special Customs Territories of Taiwan, Penghu, Kinmen and
Matsu, a humiliating designation that echoes the absurd insistence that Macedonia must be
seated in the United Nations as the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia.
Table 1: The Diplomatic Representation of the Republic of China (Taiwan): 23
Embassy in: Asuncion, Banjul, Basseterre, Belize City, Castries, Funafuti, Guatemala City,
Holy See, Honiara, Kingstown, Koror, Majuro, Managua, Mbabane, Ouagadougou,
Panama City (with Consulate General in Colón), Port-au-Prince, San Salvador, Santo
Domingo, São Tomé, Tarawa, Tegucigalpa, Yeren.
Permanent Mission of the Separate Customs territories of Taiwan, Penghu, Kinmen and
Matsu to the World Trade Organization in Geneva.
Source: (Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Republic of China (Taiwan):
Table 2: Foreign Embassies resident in the Republic of China (Taiwan) (15)
Burkina Faso
Dominican Republic
El Salvador
The Gambia
Marshall Islands
St. Kitts and Nevis
São Tomé and Príncipe
Solomon Islands
Revisiting the Status for Taiwan
Table 3: The Paradiplomatic Missions of Taiwan (65)
Taipei Economic and Cultural Office in: Bangkok; Brasilia and São Paulo (Brazil); Buenos
Aires; Canberra, Brisbane, Melbourne and Sydney (Australia); Daarussalam; Hanoi and Ho Chi
Minh City (Vietnam); Kuala Lumpur; Macau; Manila; Muscat; New Delhi; Ottawa, Toronto and
Vancouver (Canada); Santiago; Tel-Aviv; Tokyo, Osaka and Osaka-Fukuoka (Japan);
Wellington and Auckland (New Zealand); Washington, Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Guam,
Honolulu, Houston, Kansas City, Los Angeles, Miami, New York, San Francisco, Seattle (USA).
Taipei Liaison Office in: Johannesburg, Pretoria and Cape Town (South Africa).
Offices with other Official Titles in: Abuja (Trade Mission of the Republic of China (Taiwan);
Amman (Commercial Office of the Republic of China (Taiwan); Ankara (Taipei Economic and
Cultural Mission); Bogotà (Commercial Office of Taipei); D’jakarta (Taipei Economic and
Trade Office); Dhaka (Taipei representative Office); Dubai (Commercial Office of the Republic
of China); Hong Kong (Chung Hwa Travel Services); Kuwait City (Taipei Commercial
Representative in Kuwait); La Paz (Commercial Office of Taiwan); Lima (Economic and
Cultural Office of Taipei); Manama (Trade Mission of Taipei to the Kingdom of Bahrain);
Moscow (Representative Office in Moscow for the Taipei-Moscow Economic and Cultural
Coordinating Commission); Port Moresby (Trade Mission of the Republic of China); Quito
(Commercial Office of the Republic of China); Riyadh (Taipei Economic and Cultural
Representative Office of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia); Jeddah (Taipei Economic and Cultural
Representative Office); Seoul and Busan (Taipei Mission in Korea); Singapore (Taipei
Representative Office in Singapore); Suva (Trade Mission of the Republic of China); Ryukyu,
Japan (Sino-Ryukyuan Cultural and Economic Association); Yokohama, Japan (Taipei
Economic and Cultural Representative); Ulaanbaatar (Taipei Trade and Economic
Table 4: Foreign Paradiplomatic Missions in Taiwan (48 States)
Argentina: Argentina Trade and Cultural Office
Australia: Australian Commerce and Industry Office
Austria: Austria Tourism Office & Austria Trade Office
Belgium: Belgian Office
Bolivia: Bolivian Commercial and Financial Representative
Brazil: Brazil Business Centre
Brunei: Brunei Darussalaam Trade and Tourism Office
Canada: Canada Trade Office in Taipei
Chile: Chilean Trade Office in Taipei
Czech Republic: Czech Economic and Cultural Office
Denmark: Danish Trade Organizations
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European Union: European Economic and Trade Office
Fiji: Fiji Trade and Tourism Representative Office in the Republic of China
Finland: Finpro
France: French Office
Germany: Deutsches Institut; German Trade Office; German Cultural Centre
Hungary: Hungarian Trade Office
India: India-Taipei Association
Indonesia: Indonesian Economic and Trade Office to Taipei
Ireland: Institute for Trade and Invesment of Ireland
Israel: Israel Economic and Cultural Office
Italy: Italian Economic, Trade and Cultural Promotion Office
Japan: Interchange Association of Taipei; Interchange Association of Kaohsiung
Jordan: Jordan Commercial Office
Malaysia: Malaysia Friendship and Trading Centre
Mexico: Mexican Trade Services; Mexican Trade, Documentation and Cultural Office
Mongolia: Ulaanbaatar Trade and Economic Representative in Taipei
Netherlands: Netherlands Trade and Investment Office
New Zealand: New Zealand Commercial and Industrial Office
Nigeria: Nigeria Trade Office in Taiwan, Republic of China
Oman: Commercial Office of the Sultanate of Oman
Peru: Commercial Office of Peru in Taipei
Philippines: Manila Economic & Cultural Office; Kaohsiung: Economic & Cultural Office;
Taichung: Economic & Cultural Office
Poland: Warsaw Trade Office
Russia: Moscow-Taipei Economic and Cultural Coordination Commission in Taipei
Saudi-Arabia: Saudi-Arabian Trade Office
Singapore: Singapore Trade Office In Taipei
Slovakia: Slovakian Economic and Cultural Office
South Africa: Liaison Office of South Africa
South Korea: Korean Mission in Taipei
Spain: Spanish Chamber of Commerce
Sweden: Exortradet, Swedish Trade Council
Switzerland: Trade Offices of Swiss Industries
Thailand: Thai Trade and Economic Office
Turkey: Turkish Trade Office in Taipei
United Kingdom: British Trade & Cultural Office; Kaohsiung: British Trade & Cultural Office
United States: American Institute in Taiwan; Kaohsiung: American Institute in Taiwan
Vietnam: Vietnam Economic and Cultural Office in Taipei
If we return to Alan James’ distinction between “a state’s existence and its participation in
international life,” (James, 1986: 138) then Taiwan’s status may not be as diminished as it first
appears. While most Taiwanese would wish for the formal and unencumbered recognition of a
normal state (Li-Pei Wu, 2007), for the issue of dignity is at the very core of sovereign statehood,
it is clear that a creative use of paradiplomacy allows Taiwan a huge reach into the centres of
Revisiting the Status for Taiwan
international relations. Issues concerning statehood and recognition are ever-changing
particularly in the practice of states. This is especially evident in the post-Cold War milieu and
the emergence of so many de facto states, most of which also rely on paradiplomacy to maintain
a network of international relations. The extent of de facto statehood is especially evident in the
territories of the former Soviet Union and Yugoslavia. But there are also cases where defacto
governments have had a very long history in the struggle for recognition and international
acceptance. Eritrea, for example, was forcibly annexed by Ethiopia in 1962. This led to a 31 year
“underground” struggle with the unrecognized institutions of Eritrea functioning in the shadows
and below the authority of Addis Ababa. Independence finally came in 1993 when the Ethiopian
regime collapsed in the face of a coalition of rebels including the Eritreans. Similarly, the
constitution of the Republic of Cyprus in 1960, which was to be guaranteed by Greece, Turkey
and Great Britain, remained in effect for only three years, truly a case of cradle death (Bahcheli,
1990: 51-94). The Turkish minority remained unrepresented in the institutions of the Republic
and in 1974 when a coup brought to power a Greek-Cypriot government committed to enosis
(union with Greece) the Turkish army invaded the island with a mandate to protect the Turkish
minority. In 1983 the Turkish Cypriots declared a separate state in the north, the Turkish
Republic of Northern Cyprus, which has continued to function as a separate de facto state subject
to international economic boycott and non-recognition for a quarter of a century (Dodd, 1999: 1-
15). But the proliferation of unrecognized states since the end of the Cold War has raised
questions about the impact of such fragmentation on the future of international security and
stability. It also raises difficult issues concerning the principles of self-determination and
democracy when pitted against the nearly sacrosanct tenet of territorial integrity. These issues
surfaced most dramatically in the international reaction of Kosovo’s unilateral declaration of
independence on February 17, 2008. It is not surprising that Taiwan should be in the fulcrum of
this debate.
During most of the post-war period the principle of territorial integrity trumped calls for self-
determination outside the parameters of decolonization. Self-determination was widely viewed
as a right confined to colonial peoples, the subjects of European salt-water colonial empires.
There was no residual right to self-determination for minority peoples once the colonial state
achieved sovereignty. The borders of the new state were sacrosanct. Nor did colonial peoples
apply to the non-Russian minority nationalities within the Soviet Union. The Russian Empire had
many parallels with other European imperial ventures but their colonial subjects, the Chechens,
for example, were contiguous with no blue water between them and the imperial centre. During
this period there was only one successful case of self-determination through secession: the
independence of Bangladesh from Pakistan in 1971. The attempted secession of Biafra won
some support from a few African leaders but it eventually succumbed in early 1970 to superior
Federal military force which was backed by the majority of states in the international system.
A reluctance to recognize self-determination through secession was evident even in the early
stages of post-Communist political change. President George H. W. Bush advised the people of
the Baltic republics to remain within the Soviet Union, an obvious attempt to support Mikhail
Gorbachev, in spite of the fact that the United States and other Western countries had never
granted de jure recognition to the Soviet incorporation of the Baltic states. The European Union
warned the Czechs and Slovaks that they could not expect EU membership if they pursued a path
to separation. And European Union members were divided over Germany’s early recognition of
the independence of Slovenia and Croatia. Kosovo is now the last chapter in the Yugoslav story
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and once again the international community is divided. Vladimir Putin has been at the forefront
of supporting Serbia’s rejection of Kosovo independence. For the Serbs the case of Kosovo is a
powerful historical and emotional core at the centre of their identity. As Dusan Batakovic,
Serbia’s ambassador to Canada, put it:
“Kosovo is not just a territory of 1,300 Serbian monuments and churches. It is a
constituent part of Serbian identity. I am a Serb, a Christian and also a European, and
Kosovo is a very important part of my identity. Kosovo is in the heart of every Serb.
There are 200,000 Serbs in Canada, two million in the United States and one million in
Europe, and they all celebrate one holiday on June 28: Kosovo Day” (Vincent, 2008).
This is analogous to fervent Han Chinese nationalism raged against “splittism” anywhere in
China, including Tibet and Taiwan.
Other states oppose independence for Kosovo on grounds of process and precedent. For Russia
the declaration of independence is illegal:
“because Serbia . . . has not agreed to independence for Kosovo, . . .there is no Security
Council resolution authorising the detachment of Kosovo from Serbia and that therefore
its independence is illegal” (Reynolds, 2008).
In reference to UN Security Council Resolution 1244 (June 10, 1999) which called for the
withdrawal of all Yugoslav forces from Kosovo and for the province to be administered by the
United Nations, Serbia and her supporters argue that no mention was made in the resolution of
independence Indeed, the very fact that 1244 authorizes substantial autonomy with the Federal
Republic of Yugoslavia actually precludes independence (Reynolds, 2008). On February 12,
2008, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov put it this way:
“We are speaking here about the subversion of all the foundations of international law . . .
about a subversion of those principle on which the Organization for Security and Co-
operation in Europe rests, those (principles) laid down in the fundamental documents of
the UN” (Reynolds, 2008.).
For Russia and those supporting Serbia, the most critical of these principles is that borders
should not be changed without agreement.
But in the clamour of protests it is the fear of precedent, the opening of a Pandora’s box to
encourage other separatist movements which has been the primary concern for those states
refusing to recognize Kosovo, many of which - Spain, Cyprus, Slovakia - fear separatist
movements of their own. And certainly there was immediate support from other de facto states.
Mehmet Ali Tarat, the President of the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, immediately
recognized the independence of Kosovo:
“I salute the independence of Kosovo ... no people can be forced to live under the rule of
another people” (Tiraspol Times, 2008).
Revisiting the Status for Taiwan
The government of Transdniestra responded by stating that Kosovo should be “a new model for
conflict resolution” (Goodenough, 2008). Georgi Petrosian, the Foreign Minister of Nagorno-
Karabakh, stated that “he was confident Kosovo’s recognition would strengthen the territory’s
position” (Goodenough, 2008). The South Ossetian leader, Eduard Kokoity, argued that
Kosovo’s recognition would strength the cases of Abkhazia and South Ossetia noting that “the
two territories had more political, legal, and historical grounds for claiming sovereignty than
Kosovo” (Goodenough, 2008; Dzutsev, 2008). A senior aide to Mahmoud Abbas of the
Palestinian Authority, made a similar arguement that “the Palestinians deserved independence
more than Kosovo, and should make a unilateral declaration if negotiations with Israel failed”
(Goodenough, 2008).
Taiwan’s reactions were predictably in the same vein. In welcoming Kosovo’s unilateral
declaration of independence, a Foreign Ministry statement said:
“Self-determination is a right recognized by the United Nations, and it is the people who
are masters of their nation’s future. In no way should the independence of one nation be
denied by another. Taiwan is a member of the international community that cherishes
democracy and freedom, and the government is delighted that the people of Kosovo have
the fruits of independence, democracy and freedom to look forward to” (Herald Sun,
The Taiwan government went a step further in a statement of formal recognition of Kosovo
which could give Taiwan a second diplomatic partner in Europe beyond the Holy See
(Goodenough, 2008). China’s reaction was furious and blunt. Foreign Ministry spokesperson Liu
Jianchao said:
“It is known to all that, as a part of China, Taiwan has no right or eligibility to give the
so-called ‘recognition’” (Herald Sun, 2008).
Australian defence analyst, Greg Copley, argued that the decision of the United States to
recognize Kosovo was viewed by China as an encouragement of a similar move by Taiwan
(Groening, 2008).
A number of observers are predicting that the independence of Kosovo will strengthen Taiwan`s
bid to join the United Nations and other intergovernmental bodies. Patrick Wang Chen-Tai notes:
“While Kosovo can now be expected to head to the top of the queue for membership to
the UN and other international organizations, Taiwan continues to be excluded. If
Kosovo can make a rightful claim to join the world community, Taiwan`s claim is even
stronger. Unlike Kosovo, which is just beginning in terms of building a democratic
nation, Taiwan is a well-developed and full-fledged democracy” (Chen-Tai, 2008).
However, for Russia and China, and even for some Western states that support their position, the
issue has little to do with appeals to self-determination or democratization. It is a matter of
upholding the principle of the territorial integrity of states and mounting an unequivocal stand
against separatism or, in the case of China, ‘splittism’. Moreover, it is premature to view Kosovo
B. Bartmann
“... at the top of the queue for membership in the UN and other international organizations”. It is
more than likely that Russia and China will veto any application from Kosovo for many years
ahead. Kosovo and Taiwan can expect to share a role as international outcasts unless there is
unexpected and dramatic political change in Moscow and Beijing. Kosovo’s prospects may be
somewhat more encouraging in spite of its wretched poverty and the likelihood of a long-term
presence of the EU Mission in the country which compromises their newly-won sovereignty.
Kosovo is recognized and supported by the community of Western states: the United States,
most members of the European Union, Japan, Australia and Canada. There is widespread
recognition that Serbia had forfeited its claims to Kosovo in 1998-99 and that, in any case, it was
glaringly clear that the huge majority of Albanian Kosovars would never agree to Serbian rule
again, however generously autonomy was devolved (Simic, 2008: 4). Moreover, while Russia
can thwart Kosovo`s bid to join the United Nations, it cannot really threaten the international
support which Kosovo enjoys. Indeed, even those European states which have withheld
recognition have not sought to prevent the EU Mission from being deployed in Kosovo. Some,
like Aleksandar Mitic, have argued that Kosovo’s fate may depend on sheer numbers, if the
Western side prevails:
“The stakes are high: the side that goes over the psychological barrier and wins the
majority of 192 UN member states will be well placed to fight ultimately for international
legitimacy ... Without UN membership, Kosovo’s international legitimacy will remain in
limbo. It is not only about abstract symbols, it is also about practicalities: no UN means
no membership in most international institutions” (Mitic, 2008).
It seems that Mitic is a little naive in assuming that Russia and China might be moved by the
tallying of votes in the General Assembly. Moreover, it is not clear that Kosovo would be in
limbo even if she remained outside the UN system for many years. She can function as a normal
state within the large community of Western support. In any case, Taiwan is in a much more
isolated position. Her closest Western allies do not want to provoke Beijing and thus China has a
free hand to maintain a policy determined to keep Taiwan as an outcast in the organised relations
of the international system.
China’s intransigence is equally evident on the question of Tibet. As Lindsey Hilsum (2008: 22)
noted, the crackdown against demonstrating monks in Lhasa in mid-March, belied the notion that
China was emerging “from transition to the modern world” with the 2008 Olympics as the
supreme symbol of that transition. With Lhasa converted to an armed camp, journalists banned,
and the language of the regime reverting to the tone of the Cultural Revolution, these events
evoke more the imagery of Tiananmen Square than the prospects of a new future. In the People`s
Daily, this language is clear:
“the Dalai clique ... masterminded, carefully organized and planned the riot with
bloodshed, and the rioters’ evil deeds are closely related to ravings to secede the
motherland” (ibid.).
It is not surprising that events in Tibet became a major issue in the Taiwanese elections. “What
has happened in Tibet in the past three decades, and what is going on new, is a warning to us”,
said Shieh Jhyywey , Taiwan`s Minister of Information. “We don’t want to have the same fate as
Revisiting the Status for Taiwan
Tibet” (Goodspeed, 2008). Frank Hsieh, the DPP leader, lit a torch for Tibet at a rally and
warned: “As we look at Tibet, we must think about our own fate” (Goodspeed, 2008). For Ma
Ying-jeou, the KMT leader, whose campaign was based on better relations with Beijing, events
in Lhasa threatened his 10 point lead and forced him on the defensive, even threatening to
boycott the Olympic Games. He insisted:
“Taiwan is not Tibet. If elected, I would not let Taiwan become Tibetized. Taiwan is a
sovereign nation. To draw an analogy between Tibet and Taiwan is an incorrect one.
Tibet is under Chinese rule, Taiwan is not” (Goodspeed, 2008).
The irony is that both Taipei and Beijing support Chinese control over Tibet, though Taiwan
condemns the hard-fisted tactics of the Chinese Communist Party.
Mr. Ma’s arguments underscore the weakness of Taiwan’s position. He insists that Taiwan is a
sovereign nation, and clearly as Alan James noted, that may be true. However, for Beijing such
assertions fall on deaf ears. They are an affront to the integrity and honour of China. For Beijing
the position remains unchanged: Taiwan is a renegade province which must be reunited with “the
motherland” even if this means resorting to military force. Taiwan’s economic progress and the
success of democracy on the island are both useful supports in maintaining Taiwan’s de facto
statehood. While it is true that the United States and most members of the international system
continue to support the One China policy, it is also certain that the United States will continue its
protection of Taiwan’s independence. Here Taiwan’s geopolitical position as an island state has
worked to her advantage. When necessary the United States can from time to time demonstrate
its resolve on this issue by simply appearing in the Strait with a force clearly superior to that of
Beijing. As former Secretary of Defence, Admiral Perry, put it in 2005:
“U.S. deployment of two aircraft carrier groups to the Straits would handle it (a mainland
military threat) ... I’ve told China’s generals this and invited them to look at our aircraft
carriers” (quoted in Otopalik, 2006: 98).
It is highly unlikely that the American electorate would ever accept an abandonment of that
commitment. The defence of Taiwan would be much more difficult if it was a continental
enclave either within China or contiguous to it.
Taiwan is likely to remain an anomaly in the international position, primarily a de facto state
with extensive international relations but within the confines of paradiplomatic relations. That
status may be frustrating, and an affront to Taiwanese dignity, but it is a status which allows
Taiwan to continue to enjoy its independence and prosperity. And it is a status that can be probed
and pushed for new openings and opportunities. For the near future at least, the principle of
territorial integrity will continue to prevail over self-determination. China is not Serbia, and
Taiwan is not Kosovo. But then, neither is Taiwan Tibet.
B. Bartmann
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... As scores of activists faced arrest, the territory's history as a British colony was itself undone by an increasingly strident Beijing-dominated administration: The Hong Kong Department of Education rewrote its textbook curriculum to state that Hong Kong had not been colonized by Britain, but rather occupied. The strategy was likely aimed to pre-empt calls for self-governance or independence that could be couched under the auspices of the United Nations, a venue through which Taiwan has also pursued international legitimation (Bartmann 2008;Newland 2022). ...
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The leadership of the People’s Republic of China has crafted several creative territorialization strategies designed to consolidate the administrative control and extend the geopolitical influence of its ruling Chinese Communist Party. This article focuses one such strategy aimed at three distinct polities – Hong Kong, Macao, and Taiwan – by examining the bureaucratic establishment of an imaginary regional formation that spans them, and its suture to the “One Country, Two Systems” formulation of variegated sovereignty. I propose that this suture constitutes a novel geopolitical strategy of simulation in the service of territorial expansion. Material devices to implement the strategy include mobility and residence permits, while discursive tactics include the reattribution of statements by past leaders to match the new imaginary formation. However, rather than forging cultural unity and compelling territorial unification, the intensification of the simulation corresponded with a spike in self-determination sentiment and demonstrations in both Hong Kong and Taiwan. This case shows that by fabricating an imaginary regional formation, a state can facilitate the multiplication of different bordering schemes between and within territories it effectively administers, while at the same time press irredentist claims against a different and de facto independent state, with explosive outcomes.
... Taiwan was removed from the United Nations (UN) and the UN Security Council in 1971 (Huang, 2003), and due to the fact that the UN membership is inextricably intervened with sovereignty (Charter of the United Nations, 1945, art. 3), Taiwan has not been regarded as a state on the international area ever since, even though it fulfils the criteria of statehood (Bartmann, 2008). Therefore, Taiwan's participation and membership in various international organisations has been limited. ...
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The aim of this article is to examine two treaties which are often presented by scholars as potential models for a maritime regime in the South China Sea, namely the Svalbard Treaty and the Antarctic Treaty System. The work concludes that even though both of the treaties have resolved equally complex territorial disputes, their importance as a role model for the SCS is limited due to the unique political condition in the Asia-Pacific. However, the solutions within the sphere of environmental protection and the structure of decision-making institutions developed by the abovementioned treaties present a valuable lesson and a potential example for the countries involved in the South China Sea dispute to emulate. The article argues that cooperation within environmental protection and fisheries management, as a low-profile endeavour, is easier to be put into practice than the joint development of highly contested hydrocarbon resources of the SCS. Furthermore, it can potentially lay foundation for the future high profile collaboration. The paper also presents a model of a maritime regime for the South China Sea.
... The island of Taiwan, being a state that has no pre-established nationality under its various governments and their claims to a distinctive political identity, is constantly manoeuvring against the might of an "empire-nation" concept -which includes both current ROC and PRC -and which addresses Taiwan as part of its own self-identification (Bartmann, 2008;Feuchtwang, 2008: 200). Ironically, when the island itself advocates its territorial integrity through a quasi-nationalistic narrative, the approach of geobody seems to be a difficult metaphor. ...
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This paper explores how nationalist narratives from Taiwan grappled with incorporating their 'island frontier' into conceptions of a Chinese unitary state. In the post World War II era, after the Chinese Nationalist government-in-exile re-established itself on the island of Taiwan, US-dominated scholarship strategically framed Taiwan as a convenient substitute for the study of China. This framing went hand in hand with the re-sinicization project on the island vigorously pursued by the Nationalists after they took control over the island after the collapse of the Japanese Empire. The Nationalist agenda emphasized the historical connection between the island and mainland China in order to politically create an imagined, and imagining, national community across the Strait. This paper critically investigates how continent-based nationalist narratives have sought to incorporate offshore islands into their unitary framework. It does so by deploying the concepts of geobody, geomancy, geochronology, geosymmetrical analogies, and regional demarcation to explore the geographical ideas on the construction of the postwar national imaginary.
The European Union (EU) and Taiwan (officially the Republic of China) are both non-conventional polities in international relations and the study of diplomacy. On the one hand, the EU is a ‘unique economic and political union between 27 European countries’. On the other hand, Taiwan is able to concurrently carry out two distinct forms of foreign relations. First, diplomacy as a sovereign country with states that it maintains formal diplomatic relations. Second, in the relations with states and other polities without diplomatic ties, and under their divergent ‘One China’ policies, Taiwan operates as a paradiplomatic actor or one that is within the intervals of diplomacy and paradiplomacy. Observing such a phenomenon, this article proposes the notion of ‘amphibious diplomacy’ and empirically studies the notion through how, in practice, the EU and Taiwan have been carrying out their negotiation of the Bilateral Investment Agreement ( bia ) given the constraints of an absence of diplomatic relations and the EU’s ‘One China’ policy. The article incorporates first-hand material from semi-structured interviews with interlocutors whose work allows them to obtain practical knowledge about the EU-Taiwan bia .
According to Article 1 in the Montevideo Convention on the Rights and Duties of States in 1933, the necessary components of a “state” consist of (a) a permanent population, (b) a defined territory, (c) a government, and (d) capacity to enter into relations with other states. Applying this commonly used definition to Taiwan: Taiwan currently houses about 24 million population; its controlled territory includes Taiwan, Penghu, Kinmen, Matsu, and other minor islands in the South China Sea; it is ruled by the Republic of China (ROC hereafter), the official sovereign government of Taiwan; and it maintains formal diplomatic relations with 14 states, including the Holy See as of January 2022. From this assessment, Taiwan functions and operates as a sovereign state entity, despite some challenges from lacking formal recognition from major powers such as the United States. The major difficulty for Taiwan to be classified as a state in the international society comes from its neighbor, the People’s Republic of China (China or PRC hereafter). The very fact that China has not abandoned its intention to unify Taiwan prevents Taiwan from becoming an independent state.
Although the importance of non-state actors in international relations is now widely acknowledged, formal state-to-state ties remain an essential measure of a state’s strength in the international community. When traditional components of sovereignty are eroded, what options remain open to states seeking to forestall international isolation? Drawing on a case study of Taiwan, this paper explores the potential and the pitfalls of using paradiplomacy as a substitute for traditional diplomacy. I argue that Taiwan uses paradiplomacy for three primary purposes: as a ‘hedge’ against weakness in the central-level US-Taiwan relationship; as a tool for developing long-term relationships with rising political stars; and as a performative strategy for asserting Taiwan’s statehood by showing others that it acts like a state. While paradiplomacy enables Taiwan to strengthen ties to US policymakers, these efforts have become increasingly complicated as mainland Chinese influence on local US politics increases. This paper thus sheds light on paradiplomacy in the US-Taiwan relationship, but also on the ways in which American federalism can complicate US foreign policy toward East Asia.
This article describes many substantive transformations in politics, national self-identification, and economy Taiwan has undergone over the last decade and offers an alternative approach to expediting de jure state status. The transformations speak to significant progress ‘on the margins’ for attaining international recognition. The disjuncture between liberal democracies clinging to an antiquated ‘One-China’ foreign policy approach and the realties of the situation is widening. An alternative avenue to state recognition acknowledges advancements on the margins that justify Taiwan's recognition by others. At the same time, however, Taiwan must hold self-proclamation in abeyance until the breadth of recognition it receives becomes an irresistible force with which the PRC must reckon. The recent transformations coupled with mainland China's growing force projection capability indicate the time is ripe and appropriate to recognize Taiwan's statehood. The United States would be remiss in its avowed commitment and leadership responsibilities for democratic enlargement by not recognizing Taiwan.
Long-standing distinctions, both legal and diplomatic, between established sovereign states and other international actors seem to be increasingly blurred by changing practices in international relations. Sub-national island jurisdictions (SNIJs) are among the less recognized players in conventional international relations, despite the fact that many of them are now particularly active in external representation, engaging in unexpected external relations, and acquiring means to enhance their regional and even global presence. This paper reviews the nature, emergence, purpose and activity of contemporary para-diplomacy, as it is played out by small, often island, jurisdictions, and invites an appreciation of the continued currency of sovereignty.
Taiwan recognizes Kosovo Independence
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