Cairo Rhetoric, Undecided Stealing, Taiwan and the UN

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Saturday September 20, by Jerome F. Keating Ph.D.

The 65th anniversary of the Cairo Declaration (Dec. 1, 1943) approaches and I have always wondered at its rhetoric as well as how often this simple declaration is used by some to justify the People's Republic of China's (PRC) claim to Taiwan (then called Formosa). Let us grant that the declaration was made in war time, and that it would require rhetorical wording to rally the troops to the righteousness of a cause. Granted it was a statement and not a treaty. It had no legal force; there were no binding commitments. Granted, it also was made at a time when though the darkest hour of the war was past, there was much more to come. For some the concern that Chiang Kai-shek might still sign a private peace treaty with Japan and opt out of the war remained. Go past that however and focus for a moment on one simple neglected aspect, the rhetoric involved and the future problems that have arisen because of that rhetoric.

The declaration states. "The three great Allies are fighting this war to restrain and punish the aggression of Japan. They covet no gain for themselves and have no thought of territorial expansion. It is their purpose that Japan shall be stripped of all the islands in the Pacific which she has seized or occupied since the beginning of the First World War in 1914, and that all the territories Japan has stolen from the Chinese, such as Manchuria, Formosa and the Pescadores, shall be restored to the Republic of China."

A quick check reveals that Japan got Formosa in the legitimate Treaty of Shimonoseki (1895) at the end of a war with the Qing Dynasty. It was a war that both countries entered into because each wanted a controlling influence in Korea. The primary issue in 1895 was control over Korea; Formosa was given away to keep Korea free. The Republic of China (1911) was not yet formed. The People's Republic of China (1949) was not yet formed.

Questions then arise. First, did Japan actually steal Formosa? Do all treaties represent or involve stealing? If so, who then did Japan steal Formosa from? Did it steal Formosa from the Chinese or was it the Manchu Qing Dynasty that had conquered China as well as Manchuria and parts of Formosa? Did the Chinese ever own Formosa? Who were the Chinese on Formosa? Certainly there were Chinese people that had come to Formosa but had not many of them, aside from Qing bureaucrats, come illegally to escape their lives under the Qing? And finally, what about this fact? No country had ever controlled the whole island of Formosa (Taiwan) before the Japanese.

The western half of Taiwan was governed by the Qing, and that half became a province in 1885 ten years before the 1895 treaty, but the other half was aboriginal territory. The Qing surely had designs on the lands of those "uncooked savages" and if it would acquire that land it could clearly be called stealing. Even on the land governed by the Qing, history records a tenuous rule there with an uprising every three years and a rebellion every five. So in the treaty of 1895, the Qing government was getting rid of its troublesome half of the island. The remaining land was not the Qing government's to give. It didn't mind Japan "stealing" it.

The Cairo Declaration has additional nebulous aspects; unfortunately in all of this no one ever asked the Taiwanese and aboriginals what they wanted. Even if one thinks that the US President Roosevelt was trying to do the right thing, one needs only to look at the Tehran Conference immediately following where Roosevelt agreed to let Stalin redraw the borders of Poland so that he could "steal" some Polish territory.

War time rhetoric yes, but now we are over a half century past. The actual Treaty of San Francisco (1952) never stated who Japan should give Taiwan to. A faint ray of hope appears when you force the United States government into a corner and ask what the real status of Taiwan is right now; the answer is that it is still "undecided." Even the dodgy "one China" mantra that the US State Department constantly trots out simply means that the US acknowledges that the PRC government thinks by its own twisted logic that it owns Taiwan. But that mantra leaves unsaid that the official US position is that Taiwan's fate is undecided.

Undecided? Even that wording annoys. Isn't it time then to end this circuitous rhetoric? Here we are some sixty-three years after the end of World War II, more than a half of a century and the fate of twenty-three million people in a thriving, hard won democracy is still called undecided? Ironically after that war, the United Nations charter states that all people have the right to self-determination. All that is, except the twenty-three million of the thriving democracy of Taiwan.

One can hope to excuse the rhetoric of the Cairo Declaration as due to the circumstances and pragmatics of keeping a united front. But now it is time to see it for what it was and to right its results. It is a great shame for the United States and the rest of the world community to not recognize Taiwan's right to self-determination. It is also time to recognize that the real greed and threat to instability in the Taiwan Strait is from the People's Republic of China and not the freedom loving people of Taiwan. It is time to give Taiwan a place in the United Nations, not in the kow-towing, mealy mouthed, fawning approach of the Ma Ying-jeou government but in the simple straight forward recognition that free men deserve the recognition of their freedom and their land.

If there is anyone that wants to steal Taiwan from its people now, it is the PRC. Taiwan belongs to the Taiwanese. Taiwan is Taiwan, China is China. That is not rhetoric, that's fact. It is time the rest of the world acknowledged this.