Does China have any legitimate claim over Taiwan?

The more I try to learn about the whole China Taiwan relationship, the more it seems that any really believes that China has any legitimate claim over the island. It seems than China’s right to try to wrangle it in is less based in historical or legal basis than it is on the ambiguity of post war agreements and to the chaos of the time.

I’m trying to get this all sorted out, and there’s no way I’m going to remember to write down everything that’s pertinent, but I’ll give a very concise timeline as I understand it (from memory, so its not at all flawless).

[li]Qing Dynasty comes to Taiwan. They never control the whole island, nor do they see it as place they want to stay. If I remember correctly, this was meant as a measure to control the pirates who used the island as a safe haven. It wasn’t meant as a colonization effort. [/li][li]The Taiwanese people declare the Republic of Taiwan, but it only lasts for about 200 days.[/li][li]The Qing surrenders Taiwan to Japan. Japan is the first outside government to actually control the entire island. They vastly improve the infastructure, even reluctantly give Taiwan a voice in the Diet, just before the end of WWII.[/li][li]The KMT comes to Taiwan. Not only do they not see Taiwan as a permanent home (like the Qing), they also start to dismantle the infrastructure implemented by the Japanese and send whatever they can to bolster their fight in China. They do not allow Taiwanese to actually participate in government, and implement martial law.[/li][li]In 1971, the US switches diplomatic relations with China to Beijing, and '79 Taiwan loses its seat in the UN. [/li][/ul]

First there’s the issue of the Japanese passing off Taiwan to the Chinese after WWII. Well, the Chinese government who had ceded Taiwan no longer existed, so it went to the KMT, being one side of two that were claiming to be the sole representatives of all of China. Then, when diplomatic relations were switched to Beijing, that means ownership of Taiwan also changed, right?

Also, there’s the issue of Republic of Taiwan the fact that native Taiwanese had declared themselves independent, which according to some means that Taiwan should be independent under international law.

So, how solid are China’s claims over Taiwan?

Keep in mind, I’m not asking if Taiwan, now, should declare it’s independence. Even the staunchest supporters of Taiwan that I know, say that – for right now – so much has been messed up on all sides (China, Taiwan, US, UN) that there’s no easy solution. I just want to know if I’m being misled about whether China has a solid, undeniable claim over Taiwan, because right now it seems to me that China’s claims are at best tenuous and based on historical ambiguity.

I’d say the People’s Republic of China has a legitimate de jure claim to Taiwan. Both the PRC and the Republic of China recognize Taiwan as part of the territory of the Chinese nation - their disagreement is about what the legitimate government of that nation is. So I’d say Beijing’s claim to Taiwan is as valid as Taipei’s claim to Fujian or Shandong or Yunnan - and about as likely to be fulfilled.

I can’t say anything about the official stance of the republic of China, but I’m pretty sure that the government here doesn’t still claims that Taiwan is a part of China. Taiwanese history books, if I’m not mistaken, no longer teach that Taiwan is a part of China. China is no longer referred to in those books as “my country.”

Are you sure that the official Republic of China position is that it is a part of China?

I’m 99% sure that ‘officially’ the republic of china still claims to be the legitimate government of china (and Outer Mongolia). I’m also 99% sure that you’ll only find about 2 people under the age of 80 that actually believe it. but it is still the official diplomatic line (someone please correct me if somehow I missed a formal recantation)

interesting thing on the republic of taiwan. curious as i’ve never heard that before (or it certainly never stuck with me) despite having lived in taiwan for a few years and being an unabashed Sinophile for 25+ years.

gitfiddle, you’ve got the broad strokes correct. I would add that the native Taiwanese generally admired the japanese and hated the KMT. search on 2-28 Incident, when the KMT basically conducted a podrom and wiped out the taiwanese intellegentsia. my 68 year old ‘chinese mother’ witnessed her elementary school teachers shot in front of her classmates. ask any 60+ Taiwanese and they probably have a 2-28 story.

ok, that said, the strongest current claim is that both the ROC & PRC for at least 50 if not 60 years on the global public stage both claimed to be the legitimate government of china including taiwan. that this claim was made by both sides for many decades is incontrovertible.

also ROC left the UN way back when when China entered. Taiwan was not kicked out of the UN at the time. Chiang kai-shek thought he was doing the right thing, whilst that was also the perfect time to establish de jeure independence and get a UN seat

now one can certainly argue that the KMT had no legitimacy to speak for taiwan or the taiwanese. or that taiwan has changed and the ‘two china’s’ have grown apart. but still left with china asserting her claim and the ROC legacy of their claim on china (and mongolia). And that’s basically how the situation stands today.

I know very little about it (and right now, I can’t seem to find the book where I first read about, and nearly all off the other stuff in here), but it seems to me to be one of the most important parts of the whole formula.

I’ve heard/read a lot about it all. Anyone interested in Taiwanese history can’t read very long before he comes up 228.

I can’t wait until I can speak Chinese better so that I can start asking some of the people around me about it. All of my friends my age know very little about it, because they, obviously, weren’t around during the White terror period (or just the end of it, at least) and mention of it was taboo (illegal?). It certainly wasn’t in their history books.

Agreed, but, again, it was a foreign government saying that about a people they weren’t elected to represent.


I’m really wondering if there’s anyone here really well versed in international law (such a thing does exist, right?) who can talk about whether or not (1) the KMT’s claims are legitimate (2) the existence (all be it ephemeral) of the Republic of Taiwan/Formosa is important.

international law is basically worth jack squat and hardly impartial. only means something if the UN or a country like the US is willing to back it with economic or military sanctions. iraq’s claim on kuwait ring familiar?

the republic of taiwan claims were a) short lived b) likely had little credence at the time c) completely obsured by the japanese, d) obviously not widely accepted on the blobal stage (did they have passports, open foreign embassies, host foreign delegations, sign international agreementsetc?)

regarding china and international law. the muslim republic in xinjiang had much clearer claims to de jeure independence, ditto tibet. outer mongolia was a soviet puppet and morphed into the independent country it is today.

if the republic of taiwan argument was historically plausible, one would think it would have been used before now. suspect you need to do some real (eg not internet) research to see what the claim is.

also china would argue the republic of taiwan was a historical abberation at the end of the Qing dynasty, when china was weak and colonized by foreign powers. when the KMT and/or CCCP reunited china, taiwan was part of the ‘historic’ China.

China was filled with hundreds of areas and at least half the land mass that could make similar claims of independence between 1800’s and 1949.

I don’t think the Taiwanese declaration of independence in 1895 has any diplomatic significance. The current government in Taiwan isn’t saying it’s the continuation of the Republic of Formosa that was founded in 1895; it’s saying it’s the continuation of the Republic of China that was founded in 1912.

Trust me, I’m trying to do some “real” research. I’m also working horrible hours and studying Chinese.

I appreciate your help China Guy. I want to be clear that I’m not trying to find information that will prove me right. I’m trying to honestly figure this out for myself.

If you have any recommendations for books I could read on the subject, I’d would greatly appreciate it.

China Guy, does this change anything? [emphasis mine]

This must have been around the same time that legislators who had been elected on the mainland (and kept their positions for life until the KMT returned to China) had these titles taken away.

If the majority of the people of Taiwan wish to remain free and independant of mainland China then that is the only thing that matters.

The opinion of the governing despots of the so called Republic of China is irrelevant.

To take a stance to the contrary would be to deliberately align oneself with a tyranny (and anyone who has a defective moral compass is perfectly free to do that, of course).

In an ideal world that would be true. But Taiwan has a population of 23,000,000 and its armed forces have 300,000 active members. Mainland China has a population of 1,322,000,000 and its armed forces have 3,750,000 active members. Which means Taiwan can’t afford to dismiss mainland opinions as irrelevant.

They certainly cannot afford to dismiss as irrelevant the overt imperialistic ambitions from the Republic (sic) of China.

Therefore, it would not only be sensible, but morally right and proper for Taiwan to even out the existing apparent imbalance in the correlation of forces by developing a comprehensive and multi layered nuclear deterrant of its own.

Nope. Cherry picking of the highest order and taking stuff out of context, such as the Lee Teng-hui Cornell visit (I lived in Taiwan when that happened).

There has not been a formal recitation. To be fair, China has always said they retain the option to reunify by force if necessary if Taiwan declares formal independance. Please note how carefully that is worded.

The argument I’d heard decades back goes like this:

  1. The PRC doesn’t regard itself as a successor government to the KMT, assuming its debts and obligations. Rather, it regards the KMT and its predecessors as illegitimate.

  2. As the PRC has never controlled the island of Taiwan, any claim it has to that island is strictly through those predecessor governments whose legitimacy it denies.

  3. Therefore, the PRC has no valid claim to Taiwan.

It makes sense to me, but given my general ignorance on this topic, that doesn’t mean a whole lot. But I’d still be interested to know what the smackdown of this argument is.

(this comment is irrelevant because apparently there was a problem and you responded)

Time out expired.

I meant to add that Lee Teng-hui waited until he was no longer Premier (what is the correct title?) before he came out with his formal personal stance. He had been marginalized by then. Although, I remember his first press conference as Premier, and he held it in Taiwanese. That was a huge watershed. (He was a native Taiwanese speaker, followed by japanese, with english as probably his third best language and Mandarin a distant fourth.) there were a lot of the old KMT leadership that couldn’t speak Mandarin (or taiwanese) and literally they would had out transcripts before their speeches so that the local news could actually report on the content.

Gitfiddle, what you’re running up against is a fresh eyes common sense view colliding with realpolitik and historic baggage.

Long story short, it was during the 1990’s when the KMT and everybody in Taiwan woke up to the fact that retaking the Mainland was a crack smoking hullucination. A lot of things happend then, including environmental awareness, political opening in Taiwan, getting rid of the elected in China old guard, more free speech, being able to visit China without being thrown into jail, opposition political parties no longer illegal, etc. Seriously, it was a huge sea change. Even through the early 90’s you would hear such BS, and get lectures on China from people who hadn’t been there in 40 years explaining what it is like NOW.

Now you’ve got a nacent democracy led by a person who suffered under martial law, who’s spouse was most like crippled for life by a KMT thug (not proven but pretty dang sure), crony capitalism that would make Bush blush, and when faced with a neck and neck race for re-election manufactured a fake assassination attempt with magic bullet.

Then you’ve got people on both sides that see only black and white, and will attempt to (re)interpret any shade of grey to proving their premise.

No worries. I’m not accusing you of cherry picking, I’m calling that article cherry picking. Lee Teng-hui formally renounced whatever, and then when Lee Teng-hui did his Cornel alumni visit that meant blah blah blah. After a couple of decades of hearing either side pulling complete out of context BS out their asses, one gets a little cynical.

I guess I could split more hairs, both the ROC and PRC claim the “legitimate” mantle of Dr. Sun Yat-sen as the father of the nation. this is part of the historic claim. Now, Dr. Sun was about as harmless and content free father of a nation as one could possible find. Don’t believe me, read the 3 Principles and decide for yourself.

both the KMT and the CCP were founded around the same time. Certainly the CCP would never and never has considered itself a successor state. Rather, the CCP finally won all but the final battle in 1949, and the final battle to end the debate once and for all is when Taiwan rejoins the motherland.

Yes, it’s only been over the last four months or so that I’ve actually been able to grasp just how new all of this stuff is. What I didn’t know is that many KMT couldn’t speak Mandarin. I was under the impression that Lee Teng-Hui was an exception within the KMT, being native Taiwanese. I’ve also heard people joke a lot that he’s actually Japanese, not Taiwanese.

I also believe that Lee Teng-Hui was kicked out of the KMT for all of the “bad” things he did (like aid the development of democracy on the island). I know he wasn’t popular, but that doesn’t explain why my citation of the article that talks about his 1991 speech at Cornell. Is the article wrong in saying that he “officially renounced” Taiwan’s claims to governing all of China? Was it not “official”?

I want to make sure that we’re on the same page, though, China Guy. You see, I don’t want to debate whether or not Taiwanese independence is possible despite the reliability of the arguments for and against. I want to debate the arguments themselves.

For instance, like **RTFirefly **mentioned, I want to know simply which arguments hold water and which ones don’t, on both sides. I’ve also, as he mentions, been under the impression that the PRC wouldn’t recognize previous Chinese governments as legitimate, especially not the Qing Dynasty. They were Manchus, first of all, and they only ruled half of the island of Taiwan. So what is their claim to Taiwan? Is it just the fact that when the KMT was the legitimate representative of China, Taiwan was a part of the country, so by transfer of power, they also transfer sovereignty of Taiwan?

You seem pretty sure it was a fake assassination attempt.

No matter how much claim mainland China may have on Taiwan for any reason whatsoever, if the residents of the island don’t want to join the mainland, that should be their choice. Any other action is a brute-force takeover.

Heck, Lee Teng-hui says that himself. Not sure if he is Japanese or Taiwanese. He got repatriated from Japan back to Taiwan after the war. The older Taiwanese generation (70+ years old) speak Japanese. Speak it pretty well too. When I visited S. Taiwan, I’d run into a lot of elderly people that didn’t speak Mandarin, but would light up and talk my ear off when I spoke to them in piss poor Japanese.

I don’t remember when exactly Lee Teng-hui got ostracized by the KMT. He was their “boy”, the handpicked Taiwanese guy to keep the KMT mantle and retake the motherland, and the KMT Taiwanese poster child. I wasn’t there at the time, but I’m pretty sure it was after he was Premier that Lee Teng-hui came out with his whole I’m Taiwanese not Chinese, we’re not retaking the mainland thing.

The article is flat out wrong as nothing close has ever been said officially. Certainly not in 1991. The Cornell bruhaha was RE the US Government initial refusal to grant Lee a visa to the US to attend. IIRC, his eventual participation was low key and he didn’t make any political announcements. Again, IIRC his strongest statement was something like “gee, I wonder what all this US government fuss is about an alumni coming back for his 25th reunion.”

ROC kinda torpedo’d the arguements for indepence for at least 45 years. There’s not a lot to argue for from a Chinese point of view.

From a Chinese nationalist POV (including the KMT), Taiwan was certainly always in the sphere of influence of China, no matter if the Dutch hung out there for a while, or the Qing only occupied half, or whatever. The native Taiwanese would disagree, and of course so would the aboriginal Mountain People.

The concept of China goes back to any territory that was ever part of China. This includes the Mongolian empire, and China was the pimple on the ass of Mongolia at that time. So, if the Mongols conquered Tibet, then Tibetis part of the historic chinese empire. Look at a map, China also makes historic claims today to the Natuna oil fields, the spratley islands (so does Taiwan), etc. A bird’s eye view of a map makes you scratch your head.

From a legalist point of view, one would argue convincingly that Taiwan has had de facto independance from China. Taiwan has never had de jeure independance. Most of that is because of the pigheadness of CKS and the KMT. They could have created de jeure but never wanted to, in fact the opposite is that they attempted to claim de jeure control of China (and Mongolia). The *Taiwanese * may disagree, but it was an old school KMT government that represented the ROC on the world stage.

By the way, I keep throwing in (and Mongolia). Not sure if it is still the case that maps of China in Taiwan still include Outer Mongolia as part and parcel of china. I’m having trouble searching from my location but check out the Mongolia and Tibetan Affairs Council (now I think called the Mainland Affairs Council), which was a State level group for managing these two areas. I personally knew some of these guys. I can’t write more until I confirm they’ve passed away. Don’t mean to be cryptic but they tread a fine line and I don’t want to upset that.

Also keep in mind that prior to 1949, China had been wracked with at least 100 years of more or less continuous warfare. There was NO real central government from the mid 1800’s. Take a look at what CKS actually controlled at the start, and frankly even at the height of his China empire. It wasn’t very big and the majority of it was controlled by warlords.

The Qing Dynasy is certainly recognized as legitimate by the PRC government. However, the PRC government would never recognize any agreements made by the Qing as binding.

According to the CCP, the KMT were NEVER the legitimate representative of China. The KMT were a lackey of foreign powers, never held the “mantle of heaven” nor the mandate of the people (that’s pretty obvious), and any agreements made by the KMT on the behalf of China were never legitimate.

Let’s be nice and call it "controversial. Ask anyone in Taiwan. Read very carefully the findings of the “independant” investigator Henry Lee (a retired FBI agent that was originally from taiwan). It stinks, and here’s a start: Time and Wikipedia