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Remarks at the Reception for Participants in the International Conference on Taiwan's Sovereign Status

  • Date:2008-04-17

Chen Shui-bian
Republic of China (Taiwan)
April 17, 2008


Deputy Secretary-General Lin of the Presidential Office, Secretary-General Liao of the Taiwanese Society of International Law, Esteemed Academics and Experts from Abroad, Colleagues of Taiwan Thinktank:

Good afternoon!

The issue of Taiwan's sovereign status affects the safety and wellbeing of Taiwan's 23 million people. Therefore, only the 23 million people of Taiwan have the right to decide Taiwan's future. This is the foundation upon which rests Taiwan's sovereign status as a nation. Over the centuries, theories of sovereignty have evolved and changed. However, with the emergence of modern democracies, the concept of popular sovereignty has become the model universally embraced by the international community. The pith of the theory is that "the people decide the fate of the land," as opposed to "the land decides the people's fate."

Paragraph 1 of Article 1 of the United Nations' International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights clearly states: "All peoples have the right of self-determination. By virtue of that right they freely determine their political status and freely pursue their economic, social and cultural development." Self-determination is thus not only a fundamental and inalienable right enjoyed by the 23 million people of Taiwan; it is also the rock upon which Taiwan's national sovereignty is built.

In the past, governments on both sides of the Taiwan Strait pointed to the Cairo Declaration as their basis to claim that China has sovereignty over Taiwan. Such a claim does not accord with history, and it overlooks the people's efforts and sacrifices in Taiwan to realize self-determination and democracy over the past five decades. The Cairo Declaration, released on December 1, 1943, was neither dated nor signed by Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek of the Republic of China, President Franklin Roosevelt of the United States, or Prime Minister Winston Churchill of the United Kingdom, the three leaders who discussed its contents. After their meeting in Cairo, these leaders did not affirm, nor invest with authority, the document or its contents. The declaration is not a joint communiqué, but merely an unofficial press release. On February 1, 1955, when undergoing interpellation before the UK Parliament, Prime Minister Churchill stressed that he could not accept the view that the Cairo Declaration could be used as a binding document to claim that China has sovereignty over Taiwan. This shows that there was no consensus among Chiang, Churchill, and Roosevelt at Cairo on the Taiwan issue.

In international law, the signing of peace agreements effects a war's end, and such agreements trump any decrees published during the war. Documents like the Cairo Declaration and the Potsdam Proclamation were simply policy statements released by the Allied Powers concerning military operations. The question of Taiwan's sovereignty remained one that needed to be determined through the signing of a peace agreement.

After World War II, both the Allied Powers and Japan, which was defeated in the war, signed the San Francisco Peace Treaty. This gives the peace treaty a legal status far outweighing that of other documents. In this treaty, Japan renounces all right, title and claim to Formosa and the Pescadores, but it does not spell out to which nation Taiwan's sovereignty belongs. In other words, from a legal perspective, before the San Francisco Peace Treaty took effect on April 28, 1952, Taiwan was a Japanese territory occupied by the Allied Powers, but after the treaty took effect, Taiwan was not legally under any nation's sovereign jurisdiction. Instead, through the exercise of the principles of self-determination and popular sovereignty, Taiwan has since then belonged to its people.

In 1987—21 years ago—Taiwan brought an end to 38 years of martial law. Our first popular election for all seats in the legislature took place in 1992, and our first popular presidential election was held in 1996. Taiwan held its first national referendum in 2004 and enshrined the right to referendum in the Constitution after its amendment in 2005. Through abolishing the National Unification Council and the Guidelines for National Unification in 2006, we ended the policy for the ultimate unification of both sides of the Taiwan Strait. This January and March, Taiwan held its seventh legislative election and fourth popular presidential election. The nation's second and third national referendums were held in tandem with this year's legislative and presidential elections, respectively. In the process of democratization and localization in Taiwan, a new, free, and democratic sovereign nation has been created through the people's employment of "effective self-determination." Taiwan is already a sovereign country. Taiwan's sovereignty lies in the hands of its 23 million people. Taiwan's future, especially with regard to any change to its independent, sovereign status, can only be decided upon by its 23 million people through referendum.

Over the past half-century, our efforts to pursue democratization and localization have radically changed the relationship between Taiwan and the Republic of China. The Republic of China came to Taiwan and was under the rule of President Chiang Kai-shek and, later, President Chiang Ching-kuo. The Republic of China existed on Taiwan under President Lee Teng-hui. Today, the Republic of China is Taiwan. The two sides of the Taiwan Strait, Taiwan and China, or the Republic of China and the People's Republic of China, are two sovereign, independent countries, with neither exercising jurisdiction over the other. There are two countries, Taiwan and China, on each side of the Taiwan Strait. The two sides of the Strait are by no means part of "one divided China, currently under different jurisdictions."

Of course, China resolutely opposes such statements concerning our national sovereignty. China denies the existence of the Republic of China. To China, the Republic of China ceased to exist in 1949. What's more, China works to limit the international space in which Taiwan may operate as a sovereign nation. Whichever party is in power here in Taiwan, and whoever is the president, they must face this increasingly severe challenge and test if they insist on safeguarding our nation's sovereignty and dignity. Such challenge will not change because a different political party is in power.

For cross-strait relations to be normalized, both sides of the Taiwan Strait must first put aside disputes over sovereignty and seek consultations and negotiations on an equal footing.

However, when putting aside disputes over sovereignty:

if we in Taiwan cannot insist on the principle of parity, but instead are degraded in every way;

if we refuse to use that most beautiful and powerful name "Taiwan" to refer to ourselves;

if we have not the courage to even utter our nation's official moniker, "the Republic of China";

if we are belittled under the "one China" framework;

if we content ourselves with using the bizarre and inappropriate name "Chinese Taipei"; and

if we agree to be accorded the same level of treatment given the chief executives of Hong Kong and Macau;

if we agree to these things, then "putting aside disputes over sovereignty" will become "effectively putting aside and giving up our sovereignty."

Such compromises would put Taiwan's 23 million people in an irredeemable predicament. We must, therefore, use this occasion to make a most solemn appeal and recommendation to those concerned.

I would like to summarize the above remarks into four main points, and I look forward to hearing your comments on them.

First, self-determination and popular sovereignty are the strongest foundation upon which rests Taiwan's status as a sovereign nation. Both the Cairo Declaration and the Potsdam Proclamation were merely statements made during wartime by some of the Allied Powers. These documents cannot be taken to determine the fate of Taiwan's people today, more than half a century after their announcement.

Second, no matter if it is called Taiwan or the Republic of China, ours is a sovereign country, with its sovereignty belonging to Taiwan's 23 million people. Only the people of Taiwan have the right to decide the nation's future.

Third, the two sides of the Taiwan Strait, Taiwan and China, or the Republic of China and the People's Republic of China, are two independent, sovereign countries, with neither exercising jurisdiction over the other. The two sides are not part of "one divided China, currently under different jurisdictions."

Fourth, in working to normalize cross-strait relations, it is necessary to insist on the four principles of sovereignty, democracy, peace, and parity. We can put aside disputes over sovereignty, but cannot denigrate ourselves to the point of effectively putting aside and giving up our sovereignty.

In closing, I would like to thank you scholars and experts for your enthusiastic participation in this conference. The issue of Taiwan's sovereign status not only affects the safety and wellbeing of Taiwan's 23 million people, but also has significant implications for peace and stability in the Asia-Pacific region. I hope that through this conference, people may further learn about and gain a better understanding of historical truth and the universal value of democracy. I wish this conference every success and all of our distinguished guests health and happiness. Thank you.

【Source: Office of the President】