Taiwan: the Elephant in the Room

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Monday, June 19, by Jerome F. Keating Ph.D.

More than 75 years have passed since the end of World War II hostilities in the Pacific (August 1945), and 70 years since the San Francisco Peace Treaty formally concluded that war in April 1952.

By that treaty, Japan surrendered sovereignty over its 50-year colony of Taiwan but did not name a recipient. That decision was left to the US, the chief victor in the Pacific.

However, to this day, the official US position remains “undecided.”

This was the start of Taiwan’s role as elephant in the room.

The United Nations has grown from 51 original members in October 1945 to its current 193 but Taiwan—with a population that exceeds 70 percent of those member state—is denied entry. This means that 138 countries with a smaller population than Taiwan are in the UN, but Taiwan is not.


Why has Taiwan been denied the “right of self-determination,” a basic UN principle for former colonies? Even East Timor with its minuscule population of 1.3 million has managed to navigate from a Portuguese colony in the former Dutch East Indies to being a part of Indonesia to finally becoming a UN nation by 2002.

Taiwan’s past is complicated. It had been occupied and suffered martial law and White Terror under the Republic of China (ROC) in exile. Finally, its people democratized and freely elected their legislature in 1992 and president in 1996 but they kept the name of that past occupying government.

To complicate matters more, there came also the People’s Republic of China (PRC), a nation established in 1949, four years after the end of World War II hostilities. It eventually became a UN member in 1971 when the followers of Chiang Kai-shek were expelled from the UN by Resolution 2758.

Unfortunately, in that expulsion, no mention was made of the Taiwan colonials who were still suffering under martial law imposed by Chiang’s government in exile.

At present, technically only 13 nations recognize this ROC/Taiwan, yet 146 countries grant those holding a Taiwan passport visa-free or visa upon arrival recognition and entry. Fewer than half that number of countries give PRC passport holders visa-free or visa-upon arrival entry.

In addition, many of the 146 nations adhere to a “one China” policy, but I doubt that they know the difference between the “one China policy” and the “one China principle.” Nor do they know that holding a “one China” policy would not be at odds with a “one Taiwan policy.”

Yes, Taiwan remains the elephant in the room.

In the past few weeks, the news had been filled with nation after nation requesting that Taiwan be allowed to participate at the World Health Association (WHA). Taiwan showed itself to be a much more responsible player in the COVID-19 crisis than China was. Its contributions have been invaluable, yet the PRC continues to block its entry or even participation in the WHO.

Now a new problem is on the stage. The PRC is once again promoting that it alone has the right to determine the right of passage through the Taiwan Strait.

Ironically, Taiwan as a free democratic nation meets all the criteria of the Montevideo Convention. Is it not time for other nations to face this reality and acknowledge the elephant in the room? This problem is not going to go away.

China has no legitimate claim to Taiwan, even though like a dodgy relative intent on worming its way into an inheritance, it covets Taiwan. Taiwan occupies a valuable geopolitical location for PRC’s hegemonic ambitions.

In addition, throughout its history, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has followed a dictum of Mao Zedong. “Political power operates from the barrel of a gun.”

The CCP drove the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) into exile with the barrel of a gun; it took over Tibet and Xinjiang with the barrel of a gun and would have taken over Mongolia if the then USSR had not prevented it. Moscow wanted a buffer between it and the PRC.

At this point, to justify the CCP’s intent, some will always try to drag in the dog-eared 1943 Cairo and 1945 Potsdam Declarations. Such declarations were simple press releases and trumped by the actual and final 1952 San Francisco treaty. Why? By 1950, the PRC had already exposed its true hegemonic designs for Asia through its actions in the Korean War.

Certainly, with 75 years gone by, it is time for the nations of the world to admit to and face the elephant in the room. Otherwise, as the PRC gets stronger, it will continue to push its hegemonic envelope.

The denial of Taiwan’s participation at the WHA and in the WHO foreshadow what Beijing desires. Control of the South and East China Seas and the Taiwan Strait remains the end game.

Ukraine has shown how Russia, a related Marxist/Leninist country, has salami-sliced its way into the present Ukraine war. By 1996, Ukraine had surrendered to Russia all its nuclear weapons. In exchange, it was promised economic and territorial security. However, in 2014, Russia would annex the Crimean Peninsula and last year, Russia invaded Ukraine. Such was the hegemonic falsehood of past assurances of security.

The Taiwan challenge must be recognized for what it is. This problem will only get worse with time as Taiwan’s independent value by location and its strong semiconductor chip production increases in value.

Other nations must face this elephant in the room. China will always find a way to be offended. If the PRC can send spy-craft balloons over the US, and spy on the US from Cuba, the US and its allies can reply in kind.

A simple way would be for naval vessels of the US, Japan, South Korea, the Philippines, and other nations to begin making port calls in Kaohsiung and Keelung. Such friendly visits would send an unspoken message, that Taiwan, the elephant in the room, is a free and independent nation.