Is Taiwan an independent nation?

The simplest answer is no. As Robert Li notes in his column “Flawed criticism of China breeds propwwganda” (1/18), the United States, like most countries, does not formally recognize Taiwanese sovereignty. Li cites U.S. support of a “One China” policy as further evidence against Taiwan’s independence. What he describes are, for the most part, true and correct facts. But even true and correct facts often require careful interpretation to avoid misleading one’s readers, and for Mr. Li to brashly assert (in an article speaking against “pretentious propaganda,” no less) that Taiwan’s independence “is not a debatable question” is just as biased and jarringly narrow-minded as any statement of “pretentious propaganda” he may accuse others of spreading.

Taiwan’s independence is absolutely a debatable question – if it weren’t, Taiwan’s political status today wouldn’t be such a controversial issue. It is undeniable that Taiwan has its own government; it is undeniable that Taiwan has its own international image; and it is undeniable that Taiwan is increasingly developing its own sense of cultural and national identity. Some 24 nations in the world today officially recognize Taiwan’s sovereignty, and the majority of the rest, including the United States, have established nominally independent agencies in Taiwan that oversee de facto diplomatic relations.

Li suggests the United States “has been supporting a ‘One China’ policy since 1971.” This statement is misleading. In spite of Kissinger’s secret visit to China in 1971, it was not until Nixon’s visit in 1972 that the United States formally presented its own, notably ambiguous interpretation of the “One China” policy. It is incorrect to assume, as the vague wording of Li’s “supporting a ‘One China’ policy” might suggest, that the United States has ever supported China’s traditional claim that “the government of the People’s Republic of China is the sole legal government of China” and that Taiwan is “an inalienable part of the territory of the People’s Republic of China.”

Rather, as the Shanghai Communique of 1972 expresses, “the United States acknowledges that Chinese on either side of the Taiwan Strait maintain there is but one China and that Taiwan is a part of China. The United States does not challenge that position.”

Since the United States neither affirms nor denies that Taiwan is part of China, and since it engages in informal diplomatic relations with Taiwan as a de facto sovereign state while simultaneously warning against a formal declaration of independence, Taiwan’s sovereignty, whether China likes it or not, necessarily becomes a highly debatable question.

It doesn’t help that the United States and most other nations have largely sidestepped the controversy through a policy of deliberate ambiguity. Most countries, while abiding by some interpretation of “One China” policy, also play a zero-sum game with China that varies from administration to administration and tends to balance out in favor of a noncommittal status quo. That is, most countries both unofficially treat Taiwan as a state and officially declare a lack of support for any formal Taiwanese declarations of independence.

However, considering that the People’s Republic of China has never controlled Taiwan since its founding, that China has since modified the wording of its position in hopes of encouraging future unification efforts between China and Taiwan and that Taiwan considers itself a de jure sovereign state anyway, what the precise implications of this status quo are only adds to the confusion.

Personally, I do not believe that Taiwan is a fully independent nation, nor do I believe that Taiwan is part of China. What I do believe is that Taiwan exists today as a functionally sovereign nation-state with ambiguous legal status in the international community, and only time will tell whether Taiwan eventually declares independence in its own right, unites with a democratized China or pursues another alternative. But in light of the complexity of the situation, for Li to preach that Taiwan’s independence is “not a debatable question” and for him to accuse others, whether justly or not, of being misguided by “some outdated ideology of the Cold War period” renders the author just as guilty of “throw[ing] our criticism around only for the sake of pretentious propaganda” as any other.

Carl Kubler is a sophomore in Trumbull College.