The Republic of China is not Taiwan
Clarifying Cato’s Clarification
April 27, 2005
Executive Summary: Ted Galen Carpenter, vice president for defense and foreign policy studies at the Cato Institute, is the author of “America’s Coming War With China: A Collision Course Over Taiwan.” In an April 21, 2005 article entitled “Conflicting Conceptions of the Taiwan Status Quo,” Carpenter attempts to clarify what Beijing, Taipei, and Washington each mean when they talk about “maintaining the status quo in the Taiwan Straits.” Unfortunately, he commits the universal and unforgivable blunder of equating the “Republic of China” with “Taiwan.” This article will attempt to clarify Carpenter’s clarification, and set the record straight.
Cato gets It Right
Carpenter, to his enormous credit, has made no bones about what the US government’s position vis a vis Taiwan independence ought to be, for both moral and practical reasons. I have enthusiastically quoted him in my own articles, almost ad nauseum.
As Carpenter wrote:
“Neither the earlier pro-Taiwan policy nor the latest pro-Beijing posture [advocated by George W. Bush] serves the best interests of the United States. It is not America’s proper role to take a position on Taiwan’s independence or other issues involving relations between Taipei and Beijing… U.S. leaders should make it clear that Taiwan must bear all of the risks entailed in whatever policies it adopts. In particular, Washington should state that it will not intervene if an armed conflict breaks out between Taiwan and mainland China.”
Carpenter is right on the money.
Benevolent Global Hegemonists on the neocon right and Humanitarian Interventionists on the liberal left alike cite a slew of laughable “reasons” why the US government is politically justified, even “morally obligated” to stick its nose into the domestic affairs of foreign nations situated half way around the globe — nations with which the US doesn’t even share a common border. In the end, the real question is:
So what if the DPP regime in Taipei wants to secede from China?
So what if the CCP regime in Beijing is determined to stop them?
What business is it of the US? Where does the federal government of the United States get off “admonishing both capitals about their behavior?”
Unfortunately Carpenter drops the ball in a subsequent article, “Conflicting Conceptions of the Taiwan Status Quo,” in which he commits a universal and unforgiveable blunder:
He erroneously uses the term “Republic of China” as if it referred only to the offshore Chinese island of Taiwan, and the term “China” as if it referred only to the mainland portion of China.
Ordinary Americans can be forgiven for dismissing these distinctions as unworthy of their attention, but Carpenter and Cato should know better. These constitutional law distinctions lie at the very heart of the cross-straits conflict, and could spell the difference between continued peace and nuclear catastrophe.
These legal distinctions are not subject to “interpretation.” They are explicit provisions of the Republic of China Constitution. Taiwan independence leaders know this better than anyone else. They know it, and they hate it. They might try to deceive Americans about Taiwan’s current status. They might repeat the catechism, “Taiwan is already independent!” But in their heart of hearts they know that until and unless they author an new constitution and declare formal independence, Taiwan will remain an integral part of China.
As you read on, take note of the comments in brackets [ ]. They serve to correct a series of erroneous impressions Carpenter leaves the reader with concerning the meaning of such terms as “China,” the “Republic of China,” and “Taiwan.”
China [i.e., mainland China] reacted with anger and dismay when the U.S. State Department criticized the anti-secession law recently passed by the National People’s Congress. Chinese officials [i.e., mainland Chinese officials] protested that, contrary to U.S. complaints, the new law did not change the status quo regarding Taiwan. Indeed, they insisted that the legislation reinforced the status quo.
The Chinese [i.e., The Chinese on the mainland, as opposed to the Chinese on Taiwan] are probably sincere. Yet that sincerity underscores a larger — and potentially very dangerous — problem regarding the Taiwan issue. Beijing, Taipei, and Washington all insist that they oppose any unilateral action that alters the status quo, but the three capitals interpret the status quo in vastly different ways. That creates considerable potential for misunderstanding and mutual recrimination — or worse.
When U.S. officials speak of the status quo, they mean a willingness by all parties to tolerate indefinitely Taiwan’s ambiguous political status. In other words, the island should continue to enjoy its de facto independence (but not internationally recognized legal independence) until Taipei and Beijing can agree on a peaceful resolution of the dispute.
That rationale enables Washington to acknowledge Beijing’s position that there is only one China and that Taiwan is part of China while continuing to sell arms to Taiwan and maintain an implicit commitment to defend the island against a Chinese military assault [i.e., mainland Chinese military assault.] Taiwan’s attempts to push the envelope regarding independence are considered disruptive and undesirable, but so too is any attempt by China [i.e., mainland China] to compel reunification. That is why the United States has explicitly admonished both capitals in the past year about their behavior.
The People’s Republic of China has a radically different definition of the status quo. As one Chinese official [i.e., mainland Chinese official] put it, “the status quo of the cross-straits relations is that both sides of the Straits belong to one and the same China.” He added that it is “a status quo not defined by other countries such as the United States, nor by the Taiwan leaders.”
To Beijing, the status quo is a synonym for a one-China policy and Taiwan’s eventual reunification with the mainland. Anything that challenges the concept of one China is, therefore, an unacceptable attempt to alter the status quo. Thus, from the perspective of Chinese leaders [i.e., mainland Chinese leaders], the anti-secession law is not disruptive; it merely re-emphasizes the only acceptable political outcome: reunification. Conversely, even the mildest actions by Taiwan to gain international recognition for the Republic of China (the official name of the Taiwanese government) [No, no, no!] are a threat to the status quo and must be resisted at all costs.
The Republic of China is not Taiwan, the Republic of China is China.
The DPP’s claim that “Taiwan is a sovereign and independent country; its current name is the Republic of China,” is Taiwan independence Newspeak.
For an expose of the DPP’s disingenuous verbal sleight of hand, see:
He Who Tells a Lie
The “Republic of China” is not “the official name of the Taiwanese government.” The Republic of China is the official name of the Chinese government. Or more precisely, one of two rival Chinese governments. According to the letter and spirit of the Republic of China Constitution, the Republic of China (ROC) government is the sole legal government of all China, including the Chinese mainland, Taiwan, and Hainan Island.
The ROC government has since modified its stance to reflect the KMT’s catastrophic military defeat in 1949 and the subsequent cross-straits “Mexican Stand-off.” It has acknowledged its loss of active jurisdiction over the Chinese mainland, but at the same time staunchly reaffirmed its sovereignty over the Chinese mainland.
Taiwan independence True Believers, needless to say, belittle this pro reunification, strict constructionist stance as “unrealistic,” and “deluded.” They insist that relinquishing any and all claims to sovereignty over the Chinese mainland, and declaring that “China is China, Taiwan is Taiwan,” is more “realistic” and “honest.”
What arguments do they offer in support of their position? They cite the fact that the ROC government is far too weak compared to the PRC government, and that the ROC government is no longer militarily capable of recovering the Chinese mainland.
Unfortunately for them, their argument proves too much. It proves that Taiwan independence True Believers are a thousand times more unrealistic and deluded for demanding the estabishment of a “sovereign and independent Republic of Taiwan.”
Because the PRC government is willing to tolerate the reunificationists’ position, but unwilling to tolerate the separatists’ position.
The PRC government is willing to tolerate the Pan Blue reunificationists’ allegedly “unrealistic” and “deluded” position because the Pan Blue reunificationists’ stubborn insistence that “the Chinese mainland is an inseparable part of the Republic of China” largely agrees with their own stubborn insistence that “Taiwan is an inseparable part of the People’s Republic of China.”
Conversely, as Carpenter noted, even the mildest actions by Pan Green secessionists’ to gain international recognition for an independent “Nation of Taiwan” with no connection to the Chinese mainland are a dire threat to the status quo and must be resisted at all costs.
This is why the Pan Blue reunificationists’ position is, paradoxically. a thousand times more realistic and non-deluded than the Pan Green separatists’ position. This is why the Pan Blue reunificationists’ position is, paradoxically, both more principled and also more pragmatic.
Before the Taiwan independence leadership began deliberately provoking mainland China, Beijing was in no rush to compel reunification. Mainland Chinese leaders had no “timetable for reunification” and were perfectly content to let the logistical nightmare of eventual reunification slide indefinitely.
Their current hard line is a purely reactive, purely defensive response to nearly a decade of deliberate provocations from two consecutive, pro independence regimes in Taipei, neither of which had the support of a democratic majority of Republic of China citizens on Taiwan.
The most serious of these provocations were Lee Teng-hui’s “two states theory” in 1997 and Chen Shui-bian’s “one nation each side theory” in 2002, particularly Chen’s explicit declaration that he intended to hold a popular referendum and author a “Taiwanese constitution” in 2006, and establish a “Republic of Taiwan” in 2008.
Even the Bush II administration, the most Sinophobic US administration in modern memory, is fully aware of this.
Taiwan’s [i.e., the Pan Green leadership’s] concept of the status quo is exactly the opposite of the PRC’s. Taiwanese officials [i.e., Pan Green officials] routinely argue that the status quo means Taiwan’s independence. They point out that the Republic of China has been in existence since 1912, and that at least some countries in the world (at present, fewer than 30 mostly small nations) still recognize the ROC [i.e., “Republic of China,” not “Taiwan”] as an independent state.
Here Carpenter commits his most serious error. He conflates “the Republic of China” with “Taiwan.” This is unforgiveable for anyone claiming to be a China expert. He is hardly alone in this, but respectable libertarian scholars such as Carpenter must be held to higher standards than the intellectually indolent political hacks who make up America’s ruling Demopublican party and America’s lapdog media.
Is Carpenter truly unaware that the “Republic of China,” which has indeed been in existence since 1912, is not “Taiwan?”
Is Carpenter truly unaware that those countries that “still recognize the ROC as an independent state” correctly refer to it as “China,” according to the letter and spirit of the Republic of China Constitution?
Most importantly, is Carpenter truly unaware that those who falsely allege that the “Republic of China” equals “Taiwan” are using Taiwan as a stalking horse for US imperialism?
As supporting evidence for the proposition that the status quo means an independent Taiwan, one official stressed that since 1996, Taiwan [i.e., the Republic of China] has held fully democratic elections “within specified boundaries by specified citizens for a government exercising exclusive control over a territory.”
Taiwan did not hold democratic elections “within specified boundaries by specified citizens for a government exercising exclusive control over a territory.” The Republic of China held democratic elections “within specified boundaries by specified citizens for a government exercising exclusive control over a territory.”
Reunification with China, [i.e., mainland China] according to Taipei, [i.e., Pan Green leaders in Taipei] is only one possible outcome among many to be negotiated by the governments of two independent and equal states. From Taiwan’s perspective, [i.e., Pan Green leaders’ perspective] the new anti-secession law is an aggressive and threatening attempt by Beijing to alter the status quo, while Taiwanese efforts [i.e., the efforts of a Pan Green minority] to secure international recognition by joining the United Nations and other international organizations are consistent with the status quo.
“Taipei” may not be used willy-nilly as a synonym for “a political authority that stands for Taiwan independence.” As the actual results of the March 2004 Presidential Election, before they were falsified by the Chen regime, and the December 2004 Legislative Election confirm, a clear majority of ROC citizens living on Taiwan oppose Taiwan independence and favor eventual reunification.
The will of a minority of Taiwan independence Quislings who stole the election and falsified the results may not be equated with the will of the Chinese people living on Taiwan.
Unfortunately, officials in Beijing, Taipei, and Washington do not seem to grasp that they have very different concepts in mind when they all speak of preserving the status quo. Serious diplomatic quarrels and even armed conflicts have begun over less significant misunderstandings. That danger is becoming acute with regard to the Taiwan issue.
Actually officials in Beijing, Taipei, and Washington do grasp that they have very different concepts in mind. After decades of rehashing the same issues over and over again, they have memorized each others’ positions verbatim.
The problem is not innocent “misunderstandings.” The problem is intentional dishonesty. Pan Green leaders in Taipei and Neocon China Threat theorists in Washington maintain a disingenuous pretense. They pretend to be unaware of the Original Intent of the Republic of China Constitution and the clearly expressed will of Taiwan’s Pan Blue democratic majority.
Cato, a libertarian think tank opposed to unconstitutional foreign adventurism, should expose these lies for what they are — part of a concerted effort to sabotage the economic and cultural renaissance of a foreign nation, motivated by ugly racial bigotry.
Cato’s failure to do so is deeply disappointing. When even anti-interventionist think tanks such as the Cato Institute fail to properly clarify matters for the American public, who will?
The American Enterprise Insitute? The Heritage Foundation? The Project for a New American Century?
For anyone interested in a deeper understanding of the origins of the cross-straits standoff, two articles do an excellent job of connecting the dots. One comes from Linda Chao and Ramon H. Myers at the right of center Hoover Institution, the other from Henry CK Liu, a left-leaning contributor to the Asia Times. Read in particular Part 6 of Liu’s article, entitled “Forget reunification – nothing to reunite.”
The Yellow Peril, Redux
Why does the US government insist on intervening in what itself admits are China’s internal affairs?
The answer has nothing to do with promoting “freedom and democracy,” and everything to do with “containing” China in order to perpetuate US global hegemony.
Contain is such an innocuous word, connoting as it does positive associations such as “assuage, moderate, and restrain.” In fact what it means in this context is “hold back, smother, and stifle.” In fact what it means is to prevent China from liberating itself from a century and a half of colonialist bullying. In fact what it means is to nip an alleged “Yellow Peril” in the bud.
America’s Political Class, which defines America’s “national interest” in a way that bears zero resemblance to the individual interests of individual Americans, is determined to characterize the Chinese nation as Evil Incarnate, no matter what the Chinese government does.
When mainland China adopted the defective Western European politico-economic system known as Marxism-Leninism, America’s Political Class depicted the Chinese nation as a “Red Menace” threatening the capitalist West and faulted the mainland Chinese government for subjecting its own citizens to mass poverty and famine.
Fair enough. As a hardcore defender of laissez-faire capitalism, I expressed pretty much the same views during the dark days of the Cold War.
But when a disillusioned mainland China abandoned Marxism-Leninism as a failed experiment, and embraced free-wheeling American style capitalism, what did America’s Political Class do? Did it praise mainland China for seeing the light? Did it welcome China to the capitalist country club?
It did not.
It asserted that an increasingly prosperous Chinese nation, playing America’s capitalist game according to America’s capitalist rules, somehow constituted an insidious “Yellow Peril” that threatened “White Supremacy.”
It hinted ominously of a coming “Clash of Civilizations,” Samuel Huntington’s euphemism for “global race war.”
It encouraged the resurgence of Japanese fascism and Japanese militarism to “contain” Chinese capitalism.
Why did they fear the mysterious Dr. Fu Manchu?
Do we really need to ask?