Taiwan, China, and that Pesky San Francisco Peace Treaty
Monday, May 1, by Jerome F. Keating Ph.D.
Dictators and wanna-be empire-builders often use a nuanced rhetoric to justify aggression. Russian president Vladimir Putin justifies his attack on Ukraine by saying that he needs to “save it” though it is uncertain what he is saving it from. China, similarly, resorts to rhetoric to justify its hegemonic claims to Taiwan. However, those claims clash and remain at odds with the reality of the San Francisco Peace Treaty (SFPT) whose anniversary is April 28.
Look first at China’s standard claims. With a guaranteed but unprecedented third term, Chinese president Xi Jinping is again ramping up the rhetoric on Taiwan. In this, he and the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) use the Big Lie theory, namely: !If you repeat a lie often enough and big enough, sooner or later someone will believe it.”
Thus, at the Munich Conference, China’s Director of Foreign Affairs, Wang Yi echoed the standard worn-out cliches: “Taiwan is an inalienable part of China;” and “Taiwan has been a part of China since time immemorial.” Only “splittists” of course oppose this, though it stretches the imagination to see how one can split what was never joined in the first place.
Taiwanese, on the other hand, know their history. If the island is to be spoken of as an inalienable homeland, it is such only to its 16 recognized indigenous tribes and the yet to be recognized Pingpu. Moreover, it is from their homeland of Taiwan that some indigenous set out to create the vast Austronesian Empire that spanned the Indian and Pacific Oceans.
Further, it was the Dutch and the Spanish who were the first official colonizers in the early 17th century; and it was the Dutch who brought Chinese laborers to Taiwan to cultivate the land and make their colony more profitable and viable.
A related CCP lie is: “Taiwan is an internal problem of China.” China has real internal problems but they are: the Tibetans and Mongols whose culture is being denied, the Uighurs whose religious faith and family life are being destroyed, and the Falun Gong who are marked for organ-harvesting to name a few.
Taiwan has different internal problems, which ironically include resident Quislings who seek to undermine its sovereignty while promoting unification with China. As former UK prime minister Benjamin Disraeli once put it: “There are lies, damned lies, and statistics.” So, are there also any “damned lies” as regards Taiwan?
For this writer, the 1992 consensus is one. Su Chi of the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) and former Minister of Mainland Affairs Council admitted in 2006 that he fabricated this lie in 2000. He did that when the Democratic Progressive Party first won the presidency from the KMT in a free election. One can easily guess what Su feared.
Despite Su’s admission of his falsehood, even now, some KMT still hold to it, including former Taiwan president Ma Ying-jeou. The CCP naturally agrees since that lie supports its illegitimate claim to Taiwan.
Thus at the end of the day, the PRC and the CCP have no legitimate claim to Taiwan either by purchase, by conquest, by treaty or otherwise.
Where then can one find the answer on Taiwan, Japan’s former colony? That answer and the course of Taiwan’s fate are found in the San Francisco Peace Treaty (SFPT), the treaty which formally ended ended World War II in the Pacific.
Since this treaty was signed on September 8, 1951 and went into effect on April 28, 1952, it is obvious that the SFPT was not something rushed into. Much had transpired since Japan first announced surrender on August 15, 1945 and much more could be anticipated.
First, in October 1945, 51 nations formed the UN; and the ROC became a charter member. However, the Chinese Civil War had also restarted; it would end with the CCP being victori- ous and forming the PRC in 1949. North Korea would attack South Korea in June 1950; and the Cold War had also begun.
Neither the ROC nor the PRC were invited to the treaty; and while Poland, Czechoslovakia and the USSR sent representatives, they did not sign it.
The involvement of the USSR in the war in the Pacific plays its own part. The USSR had made a five year non-aggression pact with Japan in April, 1941. Those five years would technically end in 1946, However the USSR later promised its European Allies that it would attack Japan three months after Germany surrendered. Germany did surrender on May 7, 1945 and that ended World War II in Europe..
On August 6, 1945, the US dropped an atomic bomb on Hiroshima. On August 8, the USSR declared war on Japan. On August 9, the US dropped a 2nd atomic bomb; this time on Nagasaki and the USSR forthwith attacked Manchuria. All this led to Japan’s immediate announcement of surrender on August 15.
However, the USSR refused to sign the treaty in 1951; it still had contending issues with Japan as regards possession of some of the northern islands and land between it and Japan. With the demise of the USSR, Russia still contests that land area with Japan.
What then about Taiwan’s fate? The ROC as representative of the US did accept Japan’s official surrender of its military forces on Taiwan on October, 25, 1945, but that formality did not affect the 1952 SFPT and the US position.
It is for that reason that historians must closely examine the details of the SFPT. There the most important points as regards Taiwan are found in Chapter II, Article 2, sections (b) and (f) where Japan gives up sovereignty over Taiwan (Formosa), the Pescadores, and the Spratly and Paracel Islands. However, despite its surrender, Japan did not name a recipient in the treaty. The US therefore as the main victor in the war has officially claimed the defining position on Taiwan. And the official US position has for good or for worse remained “undecided.”
History has continued to move on and much more has happened. In 1971, the PRC took over the position that the ROC had held in the UN. However, again the wording of UN Resolution 2758 must be noted. While resolution 2758 officially dismisses “the followers of Chiang Kai-shek.” the name of Taiwan is never mentioned, nor has the name of the Republic of China, which could therefore be seen in exile.
Later in 1979, when the US changed its formal recognition of who ruled China, the US moved its embassy from Taipei to Beijing. However, it continued to use the name Taiwan (aka Formosa) in all its dealings with the island. The unofficial US embassy on Taiwan has the name, the American Institute in Taiwan. The US has also passed the Taiwan Relations Act (1979) and the Taiwan Travel Act (2018). Further in 1982, it gave Taiwan Six Assurances, which clearly mark the difference between the US’s “one China policy” and Beijing’s “one China principle.”
This Gordian knot over Taiwan has never been fully unraveled. The official US position on Taiwan is still “undecided.” Does the US continues to want a ?mythic peaceful solution?”
However, hints of other change may also be in the air as China becomes more hegemonic. Recently, former US Secretary of Defense, Mike Pompeo stated at the end of 2019 that Taiwan does not belong to China. And former US National Security advisor, John Bolton, later stated that “over the long term, the US should start recognizing that “Taiwan is an independent country.”
The US Congress also seems to have picked up the ball and sponsored a series of recent bills that call for a more frequent review of US relations with Taiwan. Is change coming? Stay tuned, it is after all, more than 75 years since the end of WWII and 70 years since the SFPT was ratified.