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Historic data indicate a Chinese invasion of Taiwan is easier said than done

On Taiwanese sovereignty and war - part II: China does not realize it takes more than just fancy weapons to successfully invade Taiwan

Chinese military parade

Chinese military parade (AP photo)

Shih Ming-teh (施明德), a renowned political activist in Taiwan and a former political prisoner for 25 and a half years, recently published a research paper entitled "On Taiwan's sovereignty and war."

In the seventy years of Republic of China (ROC) or Taiwan sovereignty, was the fact that the People's Republic of China (PRC) never annexed or occupied Taiwan made possible by our own efforts or by depending on the U.S.?

When China attacks Taiwan, will Washington abandon Taipei?

PRC sympathizers in Taiwan — including pro-China individuals, scholars, and experts — often take this topic to cause a flurry of debate and help China intimidate the Taiwanese public. The grounds of their argument do not go beyond the following two points:

  1. China's current national strength cannot be compared to past levels. It is incredibly powerful now!
  2. America would not sacrifice its own young generation for Taiwan and would never be willing to engage in a war with China!

In regard to the first point, one should not be deceived by the apparent figures of the "two big economies." In 1968, the defeated nation of Japan has also ranked as the world's second-largest economy.

After WWII, the two greatest opposing influences in the world were the U.S. and the Soviet Union. At that time, each side had an international bloc supporting them. The U.S. had NATO, while the USSR had the Warsaw Pact and an alliance with China.

The slightest provocation could have started World War III. In the 1970s, U.S. President Richard Nixon's national security advisor and later Secretary of State Henry Kissinger broke with an international confrontation strategy of "balance of power" that had existed since Klemens Von Metternich's time.

Instead, he advocated for a multilateral equilibrium by pulling China away from the Soviet bloc. Thus, eliminating the possibility of a WWIII. Future potential conflicts would all be local and sporadic.

China's modern-day strength, no matter how incomparable to past levels, will never surpass the USSR during its heyday facing off against the U.S. Regarding the second point mentioned above, it is not that the U.S. is reluctant to fight China, it is that China is unwilling to fight the U.S.

During the hostile rivalry between the U.S. and the USSR, both sides not only tried to outmatch one another with superior military power, nuclear arms, and advancements in the space race, but also Olympic gold medals. However, in all of human history, there has never been a poor yet formidable empire that could last long.

Only nations that are wealthy and powerful can truly be an empire. Near the end of the 1980s, the U.S. average per capita income was a little more than US$20,000, while in the USSR, it was only US$9,000.

Thus, when the Berlin wall came down, the USSR disintegrated soon after.

There is no need to make a comprehensive list for comparing U.S. and China. One only needs to look at their respective per capita income to comprehend the vast economic gap between them.

Currently, the U.S. per capita income is US$60,000, while China's is only US$9,700. It's quite clear that China's self-promulgated anti-poverty plan has not been successful yet.

The gap between modern-day U.S.-Sino strength and U.S.-Soviet strength of the '80s is immense. In late 2019, the U.S. president announced the establishment of a new military branch: a "Space Force."

This puts the U.S. further ahead of the world's great powers.

In the case of a U.S.-China conflict, there would be no need to discuss in detail the consequences of such an incident. An empire must have a solid foundation that takes a long time to lay down.

China is, at most, still in the early days of becoming a formidable empire. Chinese leaders know this better than those rambunctious cyber warriors, academic scholars, and military generals.

Let's first skip talking about the fact that there are Three Communiques and the Taiwan Relations Act (TRA) involving the U.S., Taiwan, and China. So far during the Trump era, the US Congress has passed multiple pro-Taiwan bills that regulate U.S.-Taiwan relations.

This wave of enhanced bilateral relations has occurred in the context of a 'peaceful settlement of the Taiwan issue' that binds the U.S., China, and Taiwan together. The TRA is a unilateral treaty under international law.

The U.S. is unilaterally responsible for its own legal obligations toward the third-party countries. As long as Taiwan doesn't take a unilateral approach to change the status quo, if China took military action against Taiwan, the U.S. would have an obligation to intervene.

This is why previous Taiwanese governments or presidents have never taken any official unilateral action to disturb the status quo, regardless of what they said during their election campaigns. Neither China nor Taiwan dares to undermine forty years of peace with a brash one-sided action.

Verbal intimidation is acceptable, while military operations are unthinkable.

China has never won a naval battle in five thousand years

After talking about the basic structure of the U.S.-Taiwan-China trilateral framework, let us talk briefly about the international "law of the jungle.”

First, China has had a continental military for five thousand years. Even though the Mongolian Empire once conquered the Jin and Song dynasties, sent an expedition to Eastern Europe and occupied Moscow for two hundred forty years, China has never won a naval battle in its extensive history!

Don't tell me about the 'westward voyages of Zheng He.' Those were just oceanic journeys, not victorious military expeditions.

The occupation of Taiwan by the Qing government in 1683 was not a victory, as it was Zheng Ke-Shuang's surrender to the Qing that brought an end to the conflict. This is one historical lesson the people of Taiwan must always remember: only persons in power, who act like a thief in the family, will sell off and destroy Taiwan.

China has been a country on the Asian continent since ancient times, while Taiwan has been an island nation in the Pacific. China has never really occupied the entire island of Taiwan in history.

During the Qing dynasty, it only held jurisdiction over Western Taiwan; and even then, its rule was fairly loose. Take the 1871 "Mudan Incident" in Pingtung in southern Taiwan, for example.

People will then understand just how lawless Taiwan was under the Qing. After this violent clash, the Personnel Minister of the Qing Dynasty Mao Chang Xi replied to the Japanese officials Soejima and Yanagihara, exclaiming: "Said barbarians are in remote rural areas outside of our jurisdiction. Just like the Ezo barbarians of your country, they are not governed by our king's laws. This is largely the same situation for all the barbarians of various countries.”

Yanagihara continued his accusations: "Your barbarians killed our people, your country acknowledged it but does not prosecute them, so my country intends to take military action against them to seek justice. However, since the barbarian territory is abutting your sovereignty areas, if we do not give your country advance notice regarding our military action just in case the warfare impacted your territory, it may induce undue suspicion from your country. Japan is concerned about damaging the peaceful relationship between the two countries over this upcoming event so we are here to give advance warning."

Mao replied, "These barbarians are outside of my country's jurisdiction. Whether or not to seek justice shall be the judgment of your country.”

As a result, Emperor Meiji of Japan announced military actions to the outside world in accordance with the proposal of Sanjō Sanetomi, then Chancellor of the Realm, sending troops to Taiwan. Multiple countries also expressed their stance regarding this incident at this time.

Both George Bingham, the U.S. ambassador to Japan, and the British ambassador Hally Parkes issued a proclamation of neutrality.

The Qing Empire did not recognize sovereignty over Taiwan

It is obvious that before the First Sino-Japanese War, China had always regarded Pingtung and the entire central mountains, including all of eastern Taiwan, outside the sphere of civilization. Giving up jurisdiction means not having sovereignty.

Substantive jurisdiction is an important condition for national sovereignty. Colonists from the Mayflower only occupied the northeast corner of North America.

They obviously could not have claimed to own the entire American continent. Among the long list of incoming foreign ruling nations, the first country to truly exercise jurisdiction over the entire island of Taiwan, including the Central Mountains, was Japan, not China.

Relations between China and Taiwan began as late as 1945 to 1949. At that time the occupation of Taiwan by the ROC was a "military occupation" according to international law, and the right of occupation came from General MacArthur, the WWII Supreme Commander for the Allied Powers in the Pacific Theater.

This "occupation" was a military operation during wartime and not an occupation under international law. The permanent legal status of this occupation must be confirmed by a joint contract between the belligerents.

Regarding Taiwan's international legal status, in 1951, 49 participatory nations of WWII gathered in San Francisco to sign a treaty. Neither the ROC nor the PRC were invited to attend the event.

The treaty did not address the status of "Taiwan." In 1952, the ROC and Japan signed a bilateral treaty, with Japan only relinquishing Taiwan and not confirming the ROC's sovereignty of the island.

Of course, the PRC does not have the right to unilaterally claim Taiwan.

On October 1st, 1949, the PRC was established and Taiwan and China have been in hostile relations ever since. Beijing always claims that Taiwan is an inalienable part of China, a lie constantly repeated by expansionists — the rhetoric of ambitious extremists.

According to jurisprudence, the ROC does not have the legal right to sovereignty over Taiwan. However, it has more of a right of possession under international law than the PRC.

It can quote the two points of "preemption" and "special efficacy" to exercise sovereignty in Taiwan. In international law, "sustained de facto rule" is a very important and crucial condition for sovereignty.

The ROC has governed Taiwan for more than 70 years. In particular, the people of Taiwan have repeatedly elected their own parliament and president in accordance with the principles of universal recognition of democracy.

It has effectively exercised its jurisdiction, fulfilled its international obligations representing Taiwan, and has been accepted and respected by the international community for more than 20 years.

The Taiwanese people and the current government of Taiwan, now regardless of the name, be it the "ROC," "Taiwan," or any other title, have legal sovereignty over the island. No other country can claim otherwise or challenge this fact!