How the US is engaging in historical revisionism on Taiwan

Tom Fowdy
Such revisionism is part of its longstanding "salami slicing" strategy, whereby it subtly attempts to change the status quo in the Taiwan Straits, but denies in fact doing so.
Tom Fowdy

In 1971, the United Nations General Assembly adopted Resolution 2758, which affirmed that the People's Republic of China was the lawful representative of the seat of "China" at the UN. This motion, which was opposed by the United States and its allies, expelled the "Republic of China" (Taiwan) from the assembly.

This resolution is understood legally to be the beginning of UN's acceptance of the one-China policy. Subsequent UN general secretaries have affirmed that this resolution recognizes Chinese sovereignty over Taiwan, and thus the UN officially states Taiwan as "a province of China."

In the decade following the resolution, the United States and China would undertake a series of agreements paving the way to normalizing diplomatic relations known as the "Three Communiques" which would also underpin US acceptance of the one-China policy.

As stated in the text of the Shanghai Communique dated 1972: "The US side declared: The United States acknowledges that all Chinese on either side of the Taiwan Strait maintain there is but one China and that Taiwan is a part of China. The United States Government does not challenge that position."

These communiques became the foundation of the US relationship with China. However, in recent months, there has been an active effort by US-led think-tankers, coordinating with the State Department, as well as Taiwan authorities, to engage in "historical revisionism" that is to challenge the orthodox interpretation of history with politically motivated, fringe theories which rip up historical precedent.

These individuals now push a false narrative that neither UN Resolution 2758, nor the United States itself, ever in fact accepted that Taiwan is part of China and insist, falsely, that the status of Taiwan is in fact "unresolved." Therefore, it goes Taiwan should be able to participate in the UN, among other things.

One of the biggest advocates of this narrative is think-tanker Bonnie Glazer, of the German Marshall fund, who is an ardent supporter of Taiwan separatism and has met with the Taipei authorities many times. This narrative is a deliberate distortion of the facts and international law.

First, the Potsdam Declaration and the Cairo Declaration, made toward the end of World War II, affirmed that Taiwan would be returned to China and relinquished from Japanese imperialism. The Treaty of San Francisco also affirms that Taiwan would be no longer under Japanese rule, but separatists have also tried to revise this conclusion.

Second, following the normalization of ties between the Chinese mainland and Japan as set out in 1972: Joint Communique of the Government of Japan and the Government of the People's Republic of China, the text states: "The Government of the People's Republic of China reiterates that Taiwan is an inalienable part of the territory of the People's Republic of China. The Government of Japan fully understands and respects this stand of the Government of the People's Republic of China, and it firmly maintains its stand under Article 8 of the Potsdam Proclamation." Likewise, the declaration states: "The Government of Japan recognizes that Government of the People's Republic of China as the sole legal Government of China."

Despite this, the US is now actively engaging in historical revisionism to claim that it never in fact accepted this, and therefore the Chinese mainland has no legal right to sovereignty over the island. Such revisionism is part of its longstanding "salami slicing" strategy, whereby it subtly attempts to change the status quo in the Taiwan Straits, but denies in fact doing so. By doing this, the US aims to place Taiwan into a legal "gray area," hollow out the meaning of "one China" and make it more challenging for China to succeed with reunification.

Even though the overwhelming majority of the international community accept the "one-China policy" affirming Taiwan as part of China, and therefore have no official ties with Taipei, the US wants to undermine this as much as it can and expand the international space of separatists.

It should be stated clearly that attempting to change or redefine the meaning of the one-China policy is promotion of Taiwan separatism in all but name, violates international law and consensus. History does not lie, and the facts do not lie, that Taiwan is legally recognised as part of China and most of the world has accepted this already.

(The author, a postgraduate student of Chinese studies at Oxford University, is an English analyst on international relations. The views are his own.)

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