07.07.2024 Author: Vladimir Terehov

Update on some legal aspects of the Taiwan issue

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In recent months, the complex Taiwan issue has been characterised by a component that can be conventionally described as “legislative-legal”.


The interpretation of UN Resolution 2758

In the propaganda element of the multi-faceted struggle between the US and the PRC over the Taiwan issue, the issue of the “true content” of UN Resolution 2758, adopted in October 1971, is regularly updated. It should be remembered that this resolution forced the representatives of Chiang Kai-shek’s government (the “Republic of China”), which at the time was based in Taiwan, to cede to the government of the People’s Republic of China both a seat in the UN as a whole (i.e. in the international structures associated with it, such as the World Health Organisation) and a permanent seat on the Security Council.

However, it is not officially Washington that is engaged in public reflection on this issue, as it has declared its respect for the “one China” principle since 1979, when diplomatic relations with Beijing were established. This principle is also enshrined in the above-mentioned resolution, but in 1971 the US was one of 34 countries that voted against its adoption. Eight years later, Washington was forced to accept it as an indispensable condition imposed by Beijing for the establishment of those very official relations. The former desperately needed them, since the Cold War with the USSR had by then reached the highest level of aggravation, and it was particularly urgent to draw the PRC into its “own camp”.

It is therefore left to some “independent experts” to engage in the above-mentioned reflections. The current “case” follows the contradictory results of Taiwan’s parliamentary elections earlier this year, which saw the separatist Democratic Progressive Party retain the presidency, while the opposition now has a majority in parliament. This makes life much more difficult for the new president, William Lai, who continues to position the island as an “independent country” on the international stage.

At the end of April, a report on the interpretation of Resolution 2758 was published by B. Glaser, a fellow of the German Marshall Fund of the United States, who has visited the People’s Republic of China several times without restriction. The report served as the basis for a symposium that would probably have been ignored in the PRC had a State Department official not been invited.

As a result, China’s leading newspaper, the Global Times, understandably commented twice on both the report itself and the symposium based on it. The latter was yet another indication of the strengthening of the hawkish wing of the US establishment in China policy. On the Taiwan issue, it advocates the rejection of “strategic ambiguity” in favour of “strategic certainty”, i.e. the establishment of a “normal interstate” format of relations between Washington and Taipei.

The PRC has prepared “guidelines” for fighting Taiwanese separatists

In response to the above trend of “modern interpretation” of the key international law that determines modern China’s status in the international arena, the 21 June report by the Xinhua news agency of a set of measures being prepared by all the country’s law enforcement agencies to deal with “particularly intransigent” manifestations of Taiwanese separatism can be seen to some extent.

This provoked strong emotions in both Taiwan and the United States, although leaks to the PRC press that something similar was being prepared had already occurred. The very first paragraph, which said that particularly active supporters of Taiwanese separatism could be “tried in absentia and sentenced to death”, caused particular outrage.

At a press conference two days later, Taiwan’s new president, William Lai, used memes about “democracy” on one side of the Taiwan Strait and “absolute autocratic evil” on the other. Claiming that there would only be “increasing estrangement” between the two sides unless their representatives “recognise the existence of the Republic of China and engage in exchanges and dialogue with the democratically elected and legitimate government of Taiwan”.

It should be noted that since early 2016, when Tsai Ing-wen, the current president’s predecessor and a representative of the same DPP, became president for the first time, and W. Lai himself (as of 2020) vice-president, Beijing has indeed begun to gradually minimise any contact with Taiwan’s leadership. There is no indication that he will be treated any differently in Beijing today, even though W. Lai’s messages regarding the establishment of a “balanced bilateral dialogue” were already delivered at the presidential inauguration on 20 May.

On the contrary, the PRC has become more active in establishing various kinds of contacts with different public groups in Taiwan. In particular, those belonging to the opposition parties of the Kuomintang and the Taiwan People’s Party, which together hold the majority in the current parliament.

This activity, as well as the series of measures taken by Beijing to enforce PRC legislation on Taiwanese citizens, could not, of course, go unnoticed in Washington. At a regular press briefing on 24 June, they were commented on by State Department spokesman Matthew Miller, who described Beijing’s words and actions towards Taipei as “escalating and destabilising”. He called on Beijing to refrain from “unilateral efforts to change the status quo” in the Taiwan Strait.

Washington’s positive mood does not reflect the deterioration in relations between Taiwan’s executive branch, headed by the new president, and the qualitatively changed parliament.

The struggle in Taiwan over the new laws just passed

As noted above, on the eve of and immediately after the inauguration of W. Lai as president, the intensification of the struggle between the legislative and executive branches in Taiwan became evident. The reason for this was the discussion and eventual adoption by the new parliament of a series of legislative acts designed to significantly increase its actual status in the current system of governance of all aspects of life on the island.

In particular, at the end of July, the Chief of the General Staff of the Taiwanese Armed Forces is scheduled to appear before the parliament and answer questions from parliamentarians. This will be the second such occasion since the second half of the 1990s. Given that the defence sector itself is almost the “holy of holies” of the entire system of Taiwan’s relations with the United States, it is not surprising that this announcement has caused nervousness in Taiwan’s “interested” circles. Undoubtedly, President W. Lai’s own freedom will also be curtailed if he continues to pursue the pro-American course of his predecessor, Tsai Ing-wen.

On the eve of the vote on the above-mentioned laws, we should note the increased activity of the executive power (with renewed involvement of the “street”). A propaganda campaign was launched based on the thesis that some of the provisions of the bills put to the vote were “unconstitutional”. Despite this, there were more supporters than opponents (from the DPP) and on 22 June the laws were passed. A day later they were signed by the President, who promised to appeal to the Constitutional Court for an opinion on their conformity with the island’s Basic Law.

In other words, the manoeuvres of the opposing political forces that have formed in Taiwan, with the obvious participation of the world’s leading players (among which Japan’s presence is becoming more and more prominent), will undoubtedly continue, both around these laws and in relation to all other significant aspects of the island’s life.

“Soft power at the centre of the struggle over Taiwan

All in all, it seems that despite the periodic demonstrations of military muscle by the above-mentioned players in the Taiwan area, often accompanied by the corresponding formidable rhetoric (for example, by the current head of the US Indo-Pacific Command, Admiral S. Paparo), various components of “soft power” are still moving to the centre of the tools used in this process.

In this context, attention has been drawn to a recent leak that Chinese leader Xi Jinping, during a meeting with Ursula von der Leyen, who was visiting Beijing at the time, said last April that Washington had provoked him to “use weapons” over Taiwan. They also quote the words of the former Chinese ambassador to the United States in January this year, who echoed the same Xi Jinping’s statement that Beijing would not “fall into the trap set by Washington”. Undoubtedly, one of his acts of “creativity” was the visit to Taiwan two years ago of the former speaker of the lower house of the US parliament, Nancy Pelosi.

All in all, it seems that Beijing has been quite successful in navigating the political field with the booby traps that its main geopolitical opponent is carefully placing in its path, and that the situation on Taiwan itself has so far developed favourably enough to avoid resorting to the “final argument of kings”.


Vladimir TEREKHOV, an expert on the problems of the Asia-Pacific region, especially for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook

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