China works hard to convince the world that any decision about Taiwan is entirely a Chinese domestic affair. This has not, however, always been the official line of the Chinese Communist Party. In 1936, when the Republic of China (ROC) was China’s government and Taiwan (Formosa) was a Japanese colony, Chairman Mao Zedong offered support to Korea and Formosa if their peoples wished to gain independence from Japan. Mao’s internationalist position suggested that 1) both Korea and Formosa have a right to independence, and 2) this is based on the right to self-determination. Mao did not claim that Taiwan has been an integral part of China for centuries, as insisted by the Chinese government today.
Interview with Mao in 1936
EDGAR SNOW: Is it the immediate task of the Chinese people to regain all the territories lost to Japan, or only to drive Japan from North China, and all Chinese territory above the Great Wall?
MAO: It is the immediate task of China to regain all our lost territories, not merely to defend our sovereignty below the Great Wall. This means that Manchuria must be regained. We do not, however, include Korea, formerly a Chinese colony, but when we have re-established the independence of the lost territories of China, and if the Koreans wish to break away from the chains of Japanese imperialism, we will extend them our enthusiastic help in their struggle for independence. The same thing applies to Formosa.
Source: Marxists Internet Archive
Mao, of course, could not predict the unfolding of history. In 1942, Franklin D. Roosevelt coined the term “United Nations” to describe the resolve of 26 nations in their “struggle for victory over Hitlerism.” Nazi Germany surrendered on 7 May 1945 and Japan on 15 August. On 24 October 1945, the United Nations was founded at a conference in San Francisco, with the ROC as one of the four countries contributing to the draft UN Charter. The ROC under President Chiang Kai-shek took administration of Taiwan as part of the spoils of war. After the CCP won the Chinese Civil War and established the People’s Republic of China on 1 October 1949, Chiang and his government fled to Taiwan.
The legal disposition of Japanese territories, including Taiwan, was decided by international treaty-making. The San Francisco Peace Treaty, signed by 48 countries (including Canada) in 1951, stipulated that Korea was to become independent and that “Japan renounces all right, title, and claim to Formosa and the Pescadores.” Because the US supported Chiang Kai-shek’s government, but the UK and other countries proposed transferring Taiwan to the PRC, the SFPT left the question for others to decide. Before ratifying the SFPT, the US coerced Japan into signing the 1952 Treaty of Taipei. This document established diplomatic relations between Japan and the ROC, also defining inhabitants of Taiwan as ROC nationals. At the time before decolonization, there was no thought of consulting the people of Taiwan about their desires.
Cold war calculations welded Taiwan to the ROC. For two decades, the US-led international order pretended that the ROC on Taiwan was the only legitimate Chinese government. With their aspirations for independence under check by martial law, Taiwanese people scarcely identified their authoritarian government as “Free China.” Some even fled to Western countries in exile, where they launched a global Taiwan Independence movement. Since the ROC on Taiwan was the last remaining vestige of the Chinese Civil War and a base for the US military, the PRC declared the goal of “liberating” Taiwan.
Decolonization brought scores of new members to the UN, weakening the American grip on the General Assembly. In 1971, when the General Assembly debated resolutions about how to recognize the PRC, the US and others expressed concern that the expulsion of the ROC against its will would violate the UN Charter and ignore the reality of its continuing existence. Tunisia and Saudi Arabia offered proposals recognizing self-determination of the people of Taiwan and an interim seat in the General Assembly. On October 25, Resolution 2758 recognized the PRC as the only lawful representative of China to the UN, made it as a permanent member of the Security Council and moved “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.” Resolution 2758 thus determined who represents China at the UN and expelled Chiang’s dictatorial regime, but necessarily remained vague about Taiwanese self-determination.
Nearly 50 years later, the continuing existence of two mutually independent governments on both sides of the Taiwan Straits remains a social and political reality. China is still determined to annex Taiwan. What has changed is that Taiwan now has a freely elected government that, since the first direct presidential elections in 1996, represents the will of its people. This year, Taiwan’s government is asking the UN to let them participate as appropriate in UN specialized agencies dealing with cross-border issues; to permit Taiwanese people to enter UN premises for tours or meetings; and to include Taiwan in discussions on Sustainable Development Goals. They are not asking to replace China or to gain official diplomatic recognition under any name.
Taiwan’s population of 23.5 million people is larger than 75 percent of UN states. The exclusion of Taiwan means the Taiwanese people are deprived of equal rights and self-determination, as promised universally in the UN Charter. Taiwan’s treaty history demonstrates that its status has always been an international issue. The fact is that Taiwan has never been a part of the PRC — which means that China seeks annexation rather than what they euphemistically call “re-unification.” To deny even Taiwan’s most modest attempts to expand international recognition means justifying the actions of an expansionist authoritarian regime attempting to expand its borders in all directions. Canada, a signatory to the SFPT and supporter of Resolution 2758, can still express opinions about Taiwan. Canada’s voice — or silence — on the newest Taiwan debate will carry weight and help shape the world we inhabit in the future.