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Does the United States rule Taiwan?

Obviously not, de facto. Taiwan is ruled by the people of Taiwan, via their elected government. The Beijing dictatorship is working hard but patiently to destroy Taiwan's sovereignty, and to bring Taiwan under the rule of the unelected kleptocracy which currently oppresses China, Tibet, and the Uighers.

But as a pure matter of international law, who is the sovereign of Taiwan? Perhaps the United States military government. China exercised sovereignty over part of Taiwan beginning in the 17th century, and asserted (but did not exercise) sovereignty over the whole island for fewer than 20 years in the 19th century. In the late 19th century, China transferred Taiwan to Japan, which ruled Taiwan until 1945. The Japanese forces on Taiwan surrendered to the American military, and so by the established laws of war, the United States became the occupying power. In the 1954 San Francisco Peace Treaty, Japan renounced all claim to Taiwan, but the treaty did not otherwise specify the status of Taiwan, and so the U.S. remained in charge, de jure if not de facto, as it does to this day. So goes an argument you can find in the Harvard Asia Quarterly, among other places.

So some Taiwanese filed a case in which they asked the the U.S. Department of State be ordered to issue them U.S. passports; they argued that legally speaking, they are "U.S. nationals" but not U.S. citizens. On Tuesday, the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals issued an opinion stating that the plaintiffs might be correct as a matter of law, but that the the Political Question doctrine prevented the D.C. Circuit from deciding the issue.

I think that the D.C. Circuit's decision on the Political Question doctrine was correct. And I realize that a U.S. affirmation of sovereignty over Taiwan would very likely lead to a war with China, and so such an affirmation should not be made without full debate in the political branches of government, including a vote of Congress. Nevertheless, the people of Taiwan are about the most pro-American, pro-democracy, and well-educated group as can be found anywhere on the planet. Yes, Ireland and Israel would be close contenders, but the U.S. has no legal claim to sovereignty over either of those nations. It would be a better world if Taiwan's politicians were (like the politicians in American Samoa) debating the terms of their legal relationship with the United States, rather than worrying about how to avoid being engulfed by the tyrants of Beijing, and turned into an island version of Tibet's hell on earth.

Larrya (mail) (www):
Nevertheless, the people of Taiwan are about the most pro-American, pro-democracy, and well-educated group as can be found anywhere on the planet. Yes, Ireland and Israel would be close contenders,
Now, if only the U.S. was on that list...
4.10.2009 3:51am
The River Temoc (mail):
This article is a grade-A example of why lawyers should not be let anywhere near the levers of real power in foreign policy, but rather consigned to the ghetto of the State Department Legal Advisor's office.
4.10.2009 3:52am
tvk:
I think the post is somewhat exaggerating the D.C. Circuit opinion. The court does say that the appellants "might even be correct"; but that is simply reminding everyone of the procedural posture of the case. This is not a Marbury v. Madison kind of opinion, which is where the court basically says that the appellant is correct, except that its lacks the power to actually rule that way. I do not think that there is any suggestion by the court that it is sympathetic to the appellants' claim on the merits.
4.10.2009 3:58am
martinned (mail) (www):
This is exactly the kind of case that puts a smile on the face of (almost) all true lawyers. Creative argument that is never, ever going to fly, and instead the question is how the court is going to explain its refusal.

I thought invoking the political question doctrine was weak, to say the least. It is so unnecessary and untidy. Why not simply use some actual reality? Imho, the court could have simply said that whoever is the sovereign power in Taiwan, it is not the US. The existence of that treaty is not enough to make it so, if there is no actual ability or desire to rule the place. What happened is the equivalent of renunciation of ownership in private law, through which the object becomes a res nullius, allowing the first comer to acquire it by establishing possession. (Like in this horse manure case.)

Resolving the case in this way would not have required any statement by the court as to who is the current sovereign power in Taiwan. All that matters is that it is not the US.
4.10.2009 6:48am
fuwa:
As a Chinese citizen, I am sad to see the post.:(
4.10.2009 7:23am
Rich Rostrom (mail):

The Japanese forces on Taiwan surrendered to the American military, and so by the established laws of war, the United States became the occupying power. In the 1954 San Francisco Peace Treaty, Japan renounced all claim to Taiwan, but the treaty did not otherwise specify the status of Taiwan, and so the U.S. remained in charge, de jure if not de facto, as it does to this day.


Excuse me, but didn't the U.S. hand over Taiwan to the Republic of China shortly after the war? The Treaty of San Francisco renounces Japanese control of Taiwan, whereby it reverts to the previous government or its recognized successor, which was the RoC. Now by 1952, the RoC had been displaced as the de facto government of China by the Communists, but the actual incorporation of Taiwan into China took place in 1945.

Also, Japan signed the Treaty of Taipei with the RoC in 1952, explicitly declaring Taiwan to be RoC territory.

The question of ownership could have been raised over Sakhalin and the Kuriles, which Japan also renounced at San Francisco, and which had been incorporated into the USSR in 1945; the USSR also was not a signatory at San Francisco. This parallels the status of Taiwan. Sakhalin and the Kuriles defaulted to the USSR as successor state to the Russian Empire which had ceded them to Japan, and were universally recognized as Soviet territory.
4.10.2009 7:31am
The River Temoc (mail):
Well, as an *American* citizen, I am pretty sad to see the post, because its author is obviously a pugnacious nationalist with only one agenda in mind: to poke his finger in the eye of the Chinese.

First off, as he well knows, Beijing isn't trying to "destroy Taiwan's sovereignty," since as he well knows both Beijing and Taipei agree that Taiwan on its own isn't sovereign. And the voters in the ROC overwhelmingly repudiated this position in last year's election. If democracy is so great, perhaps Kopel might try respecting the outcome of a freakin' election.

Second, as for turning Tibet into a "hell on earth," no Chinese government, democratic or otherwise, is going to renounce sovereignty over Tibet. I'd remind Kopel that if he goes to Taiwan and looks at a map of China there, not only will that map show Taiwan as part of China, it will also show *Mongolia* as part of China, too.

I see zero American interest in encouraging Tibet to secede from China. How would we like it if a bunch of pugnacious Chinese nationalists decided to support the wacko Chicano student groups who think the Western U.S. is all part of "Aztlan" and demand it be returned to Mexico? Because that absurd notion is exactly how the average Chinese person sees Tibetan independence, and that's how they would see it if China were a liberal democracy, too.

Third, I have no problem with the U.S. publicly demanding that the PRC respect basic human rights, of course. But if the Iraq misadventure taught us anything, it is that democracy ought not be exported at the barrel of a gun -- it is something that countries have to learn for themselves.

Far from thinking that their government is oppressing them, most Chinese are very proud of their country -- if anything, the alternative to the current regime in Beijing is a far more dangerously nationalist one.

Give China time to democratize on its own, just like Korea and Taiwan did. Contra the rhetoric of the likes of Kopel, China may not be a democracy, but it's still freer than ever before in its history.
4.10.2009 8:09am
martinned (mail) (www):

First off, as he well knows, Beijing isn't trying to "destroy Taiwan's sovereignty," since as he well knows both Beijing and Taipei agree that Taiwan on its own isn't sovereign. And the voters in the ROC overwhelmingly repudiated this position in last year's election.

This is something about the Taiwan situation that has always amazed me. Surely it must be taking doublethink to wholly unprecedented levels to say that Taiwan is not a sovereign nation?

Wikipedia gives this definition from the case law of the UK House of Lords: "A government which exercises de facto administrative control over a country and is not subordinate to any other government in that country is a foreign sovereign state." (The Arantzazu Mendi, [1939] AC 256.)

Whatever other problems there may be with the notion of sovereignty (divisibility, etc.), surely the government of Taiwan is the de facto sovereign government of the island and nation of Taiwan, in much the same way that the US government exercises sovereign control over Guantanamo Bay. Everything else is just political posturing.
4.10.2009 8:25am
Michael Turton (mail) (www):
ERRATA: the SF peace treaty was signed in 1951 and came into effect in 1952, not 1954, as that quote states.

No, many people believe that the ROC (or PRC) owns Taiwan, but that is a totally false belief. The US position, laid out in policy documents and in Congressional testimony by the State Department until about 1972, is that the status of Taiwan is undetermined. That is why the SF peace treaty does not recognize an acceptor of sovereignty over Taiwan, just Japan giving it up. It was known then that the Taiwanese wanted to be independent, and the US did not want to give Taiwan to Chiang Kai Shek or the PRC. Hence the Powers basically agreed to leave the final decision on the island's status undecided.

60 years later, the US position is that the status of Taiwan is undetermined. That was last iterated when UN Sec Gen Ban said Taiwan was part of China in 2007, and the US and several other countries corrected him.

The Treaty of Taipei is subordinate to the Treaty of San Francisco, in any case, it came into effect in August, months later. Japan could not give away what it did not own. Japanese courts, as I recall, have always said Japanese sovereignty terminated in April of 1952 when the SFPT came into effect.

No Chinese emperor ever owned Taiwan. The Manchus incorporated into their empire, but never controlled the whole island. For almost all of Chinese history, Taiwan was considered a place outside of China. It was not until the late 1930s that China suddenly discovered that Taiwan had been Chinese for every second of every minute of the last 5,000 years, and the rest, as they say, is faux history. That pattern of building a fake history and longterm occupation is a general pattern of Chinese expansionism, as in Tibet, and currently, with the Senkakus, which China discovered had been Chinese for 5 kiloyears in 1968 after Japanese scientists announced the possibility of oil.

The status of Taiwan is not paralleled by the Kuriles, but more accurately by Namibia. The ROC acted as occupying power jointly with the US under UN auspices. The ROC cannot be the legitimate government of Taiwan as it is a government in exile. It would be best, ethically, to treat the 23 million people of Taiwan as agents of their own destiny, not pawns to be "handed back" to a nation that never owned them or their island.

David, the people who brought this suit, Roger Lin and Dick Hartzell, have stated over the years that Taiwan is part of China and the US position is holding it in trust for Beijing. Lin has a whole manifesto which I can send you, arguing that Taiwan is part of China and splitting China would be bad.

Michael
4.10.2009 8:26am
Michael Turton (mail) (www):
off, as he well knows, Beijing isn't trying to "destroy Taiwan's sovereignty," since as he well knows both Beijing and Taipei agree that Taiwan on its own isn't sovereign.

Neither Beijing nor the KMT is sovereign over Taiwan, and I think anyone who follows Taiwan politics, as Kopel does, knows perfectly well that Beijing is doing its level best to prevent Taiwan from defeating its attempt to annex it.

And the voters in the ROC overwhelmingly repudiated this position in last year's election. If democracy is so great, perhaps Kopel might try respecting the outcome of a freakin' election.

This is a remarkably erroneous reading of the election. To get elected, Ma had to promise not to harm Taiwan's sovereignty. His breaking of that promise, and his government's remarkably inept handling of the economic crisis, is probably why his approval ratings rival George Bush's even in the pro-Ma papers. Vive la democracy.

Michael
4.10.2009 8:31am
The River Temoc (mail):
Surely it must be taking doublethink to wholly unprecedented levels to say that Taiwan is not a sovereign nation?

Of course Taiwan may have de facto sovereignty, but the point is that the distinction between de facto and de jure sovereignty matters. It has kept the peace for almost 50 years and has allowed both countries to develop economically. Why do we need to be a bull in a China shop and disrupt arrangements that work on a pragmatic level?
4.10.2009 8:37am
Michael Turton (mail) (www):
It is not de jure/de facto sovereignty, but the US security commitment, that has kept the peace here in the Taiwan Strait (and allowed Taiwan to develop economically). The US is not rocking the boat, but attempting to formulate new policy in light of the fact that China's military build-up and missile threat increase each year, although Taiwan is no threat to China. It is actually China's unremitting threat to annex Taiwan, coupled with its military build up, that has destabilized the situation.

Michael
4.10.2009 8:44am
The River Temoc (mail):
It is not de jure/de facto sovereignty, but the US security commitment, that has kept the peace

These things are not mutually exclusive, of course — and I am not advocating that the U.S. withdraw its security guarantee. But if Taiwan were to unilaterally delcare independence, Beijing would surely respond militarily, notwithstanding the U.S. security commitment. So in terms of "but for" causation, it is accurate to say that de jure sovereignty has kept the peace.
4.10.2009 8:55am
martinned (mail) (www):
@The River Temoc: Absolutely true. On the other hand, I don't see why that should stop this US court from simply saying "Whoever has sovereignty over Taiwan, it certainly isn't US."

Also, I don't think it is very helpful to only use the de jure definition in conversation between private citizens, such as the present thread. Of course Taiwan is an independent country. The only question is whether they should declare independence, how we should react to such a declaration, and what type of diplomatic relations we should have with them in the meantime. None of that is helped by any awkward clining to the fiction that Taiwan is part of China. Legal fictions can be useful, but it is important not to start acting as if there really was a trespass in Middlesex.
4.10.2009 9:03am
Harry Eagar (mail):
There are indigenes in Taiwan. They own it. At least, they never acknowledged that they don't.

Better alert the UN.
4.10.2009 9:20am
Sk (mail):
"But as a pure matter of international law, who is the sovereign of Taiwan? Perhaps the United States military government."

I have no idea what this is referring to. By 'United States military government' are you referring to:

1) US military forces that were in Taiwan right after WWII?
2) The current US government (perhaps a subtle slam that the US government is somehow 'run' by the military)?
3) US forces that are currently on Taiwan (I'm not aware of any, other than the defense attache at the embassy, and I presume a few observers and liaison officers).
4) Some other US forces (perhaps PACOM, which is partially headquartered in Hawaii, Seattle, and Japan)?

?????

Sk
4.10.2009 9:54am
Cornellian (mail):
When I saw the word "kleptocracy" used to describe the Chinese government, I knew this post was headed over the top. Sure they're unelected and they're not big on human rights but is anyone going to argue that the Chinese economy hasn't improved over the last 20 years?
4.10.2009 9:55am
Oren:

Why do we need to be a bull in a China shop and disrupt arrangements that work on a pragmatic level?

Because the situation is not static but appears to be evolving and the PRC seems to be taking a harder line as their strength, relative to the ROC, increases. Reminds me of this cartoon -- yes, we are standing still but our position is changing.


But if Taiwan were to unilaterally delcare independence, Beijing would surely respond militarily

There's a reason we keep a CVG in the South China Sea (should be two but they are off babysitting Iraq). The PRC air force has a way to go before they can effectively challenge US air superiority in the area (hopefully the Japanese will lend a hand too).

No one really contemplates trying to change the PRC at the end of a gun, but that shouldn't be read to mean that we aren't willing to shoot back.
4.10.2009 9:59am
Bob from Ohio (mail):
Israel as the 51st state, Ireland as the 52nd and Taiwan as the 53rd. I like it.

BTW, this American citizen is sad to see apologists for the rape of Tibet.
4.10.2009 10:00am
Michael Turton (mail) (www):
When I saw the word "kleptocracy" used to describe the Chinese government, I knew this post was headed over the top. Sure they're unelected and they're not big on human rights but is anyone going to argue that the Chinese economy hasn't improved over the last 20 years

There is no contradiction between a government being a kleptocracy and high economic growth. China's income inequality is incredible, and as an article a couple years ago in FEER pointed out, the wealth is concentrated among the princes, the children of the communist party leadership. The same thing occurred in Taiwan during the heyday of the miracle, where the KMT grew to be the world's wealthiest political party.

Michael
4.10.2009 10:02am
Oren:



I have no idea what this is referring to. By 'United States military government' are you referring to:


He is referring to the fact that the last official transfer of sovereignty over the island was from the Japanese to the US. It's not meant to be a factual statement, but a legal one. Unless there's an international-law version of abandonment (or squatter's rights, for that matter), it's still ours because we haven't given it to anyone else.
4.10.2009 10:03am
martinned (mail) (www):
@Cornellian: Which is entirely in accord with the economic theory of rational dictators. A rational dictator with high job security (= little fear of being unseated) maximises his country's wealth so that there is more to steal.

(Since stealing reduces people's incentives to act productively, the actual constraint on the dictator is a bit more complex. Still, a rational dictator maximising the present value of his lifetime theft has strong incentives to encourage economic growth.)
4.10.2009 10:03am
martinned (mail) (www):
@Oren: There is at least one precedent for abandonment in international law: Western Sahara. There is some confusion over the sovereignty of that territory, but it certainly doesn't belong to Spain anymore.
4.10.2009 10:06am
Oren:
martinned, thanks for the tip, but it seems like the legitimate sovereign (Spain) signed a valid agreement partitioning the territory between Morocco and Mauritania. While the UN doesn't seem to have a high opinion of the treaty, I don't see any reason that, de jure, it didn't effectively grant sovereignty to those two countries.
4.10.2009 10:17am
ArthurKirkland:
The evidence (at least five decades of it) supports a debate, but not a solid conclusion, concerning whether a country would be in a "better world" after American intervention.

But that debate, with respect to Taiwan -- the prospect of warring with China over assertions of sovereignty concerning Taiwan -- is little more amusement for extremists and perhaps academics.

Thank goodness.
4.10.2009 10:50am
martinned (mail) (www):
@Oren: I'm not sure if I agree with that assessment, but let me see about some better precedent.

My International Law Handbook (Shaw, 5th edition, p. 426) cites several precedents for abandonment of territory, all of them rather obscure.
- There is the Delagoa Bay case, where the Dutch abandoned their settlement and with it their claim.
- There is the history of the Falklands, which is full of (claims of) abandonment.
- The legal concept of abandonment of sovereignty over territory was discussed (and rejected) in the ICJ's 1959 ruling in the Frontier Land case between the Netherlands and Belgium. (See here, p. 227 c.a.)

Shaw concludes (p. 442-443): "Sovereign territory may not only be acquired, it may also be lost in ways that essentially mirror the modes of acquisition. Territory may be loasat by express declaration or conduct such as a treaty of cession or acceptance of secession; by loss of territory by erosion or natural geographic activity or by acquiescence through prescription. Futher, territory may be abandone, but in order for this to operate both the physical act of abandonment and the intention to surrender title are required."

(Remember that for questions such as this one, for which little or no precedent exists, the Statute of the ICJ makes "the teachings of the most highly qualified publicists of the various nations" a "subsidiary means for the determination of rules of law". (art. 38))
4.10.2009 10:52am
Kent G. Budge (www):
Nonsense and other comments. The Instrument of Surrender was signed by representatives of many powers, not just the U.S. Military, and one of those powers was the Chinese Nationalist Government. Furthermore, the Instrument of Surrender was accepted by the Japanese Government ont he basis of the Potsdam Declaration, to which the Chinese Nationalist Government was a signatory. The Chinese Nationalist Government was therefore a joint occupying power with the United States and did in fact occupy Taiwan.

So Taiwan clearly belongs to the current Taiwanese Government.

The District Court merely declared, quite properly, that it had no jurisdiction over the case. It never reached the merits, which for the reasons I've just given are nonexistent.

But then, I am not a lawyer. ;)
4.10.2009 11:37am
LibertyCowboy:
The inhabitants of Taiwan are soverign by right of self-determination.

The fact that they voted against it seems a bit perplexing but really doesn't change anything. After all, if they aren't soverign, then their vote couldn't count since only the actual soverign's opinion would matter.

If US troop presence were the determining factor, the US would comprise approximatley 130 of 163 countries.

However, since the US is determined to sell itself to China, all of this should be moot once the aquisition is complete and the territory can be reconqured.
4.10.2009 12:33pm
c.gray (mail):

He is referring to the fact that the last official transfer of sovereignty over the island was from the Japanese to the US.


No it wasn't. In 1954, the Japanese renounced sovereignty, they did not cede it to the US.

The US had long since turned over the island to the internationally recognized government of China, and recognized THAT government's sovereignty over the island, As had France, the UK and the USSR. Japan's renunciation of its rights was a de jure recognition that it had lost sovereignty over the island, a renunciation of all Japanese claims, and a ratification of the great power's decisions with respect to the island's disposition.

But leaving that aside, the other major flaw with the argument is that military occupation and administration, by itself, emphatically DOES NOT grant the occupying power sovereignty over the territory in question.
4.10.2009 1:32pm
JoeSixpack (mail):
If Taiwan was guaranteed to vote Democrat the liberals would be clamoring to give it a House seat.
4.10.2009 4:48pm
Brett A. (mail):
It was very wise (from a political point of view) for the D.C. Court to rule that a "Political Question" issue. Man, wouldn't that throw a cat among the pidgeons, if suddenly all Taiwanese count as "U.S. Nationals" (if not US citizens)?
4.10.2009 6:03pm
Michael Turton (mail) (www):
"The Chinese Nationalist Government was therefore a joint occupying power with the United States and did in fact occupy Taiwan.

So Taiwan clearly belongs to the current Taiwanese Government.


Occupation does not confer sovereignty. The ROC has the same relationship to Taiwan as the US did to okinawa during the occupation. Chiang received his authority to occupy Taiwan from Gen. MacArthur acting on behalf of the allies, and did not occupy Taiwan on behalf of the ROC, which had never owned the island (and did not think it did; recall that Taiwan is not defined as a territory of China in the 1930s ROC draft constitution).

Another legal wrinkle not receiving the attention it deserves is the 1895 declaration of independence here in Taiwan. A 1972 Yale Law Review article pointed out that international law supports the interpretation that the 1895 republic broke any "Chinese" chain of control over Taiwan, even if you concede that such might exist.

The island of Taiwan belongs to the people of Taiwan.

Michael
4.10.2009 7:49pm
Michael Turton (mail) (www):
The US had long since turned over the island to the internationally recognized government of China, and recognized THAT government's sovereignty over the island, As had France, the UK and the USSR.

This is seriously wrong. The US has never recognized ROC sovereignty over Taiwan. The current US position, very quietly, never made public, is that Taiwan's status is undetermined.

The is also the position of the UK. Until the PRC entered the UN, it was customary for the UK representative, whenever the PRC applied for entry, to stand and remind the body that the status of Taiwan is undetermined.

Many other countries, including Japan, also hold this position, quietly. The USSR was long rumored to have secret strong diplomatic links to the Chiang gov't (his son, later president and also head of his security services that killed thousands of Taiwanese, spent almost two decades there and married a russian woman).

In sum, the US has never recognized any form of Chinese sovereignty over Taiwan, by any Chinese state.

Michael
4.10.2009 7:53pm
Randy McDonald (mail) (www):
@ Michael Turton:

"China's income inequality is incredible, and as an article a couple years ago in FEER pointed out, the wealth is concentrated among the princes, the children of the communist party leadership. The same thing occurred in Taiwan during the heyday of the miracle, where the KMT grew to be the world's wealthiest political party."

If, as I think we agree, rising income inequality is a feature common to these two rapidly-industrializing states, why then single out the People's Republic as uniquely bad? China's a larger country than Taiwan and going through this some decades after Taiwan, but those are really the only differences.

As for Tibet, it's unfortunate but Tibet was never recognized as an independent state by anyone. At best, Britain (and for some time, India) recognized Tibet as an autonomous region of China. The reassertion of control by China over Tibet is largely an internal affair, as unjust as it may have been and with the unfortunate consequences that it had.
4.10.2009 10:11pm
Michael Turton (mail) (www):
If, as I think we agree, rising income inequality is a feature common to these two rapidly-industrializing states, why then single out the People's Republic as uniquely bad? China's a larger country than Taiwan and going through this some decades after Taiwan, but those are really the only differences.

I didn't "single out" China on income. I was responding to the point that economic growth and kleptocracy are incompatible. Clearly China and Taiwan both refute that point.

The reassertion of control by China over Tibet is largely an internal affair, as unjust as it may have been and with the unfortunate consequences that it had.

There was never any control over Tibet by any ethnic Chinese emperor. Britain may have left Tibet to the Manchus, but they were not Chinese. It's high time we stopped borrowing Chinese racial propaganda constructions of history -- "Manchus are Chinese" -- and started seeing the Manchus as an empire come and gone, and Chinese reconstructions of history as props to Chinese expansionism. You could, using the same logic, argue that Vietnam was an internal affair of France, or Mussolini's North African empire an internal affair of Italy. After all, the Romans once owned it...
4.11.2009 4:19am
Michael Turton (mail) (www):
On the use of "Chinese," I just had a piece in the Op-Ed pages of Asian Wall Street Journal on how this is deployed in Taiwan to suppress local identities.

http://online.wsj.com/article/SB123921826967102121.html
4.11.2009 4:21am
Randy McDonald (mail) (www):
@ Michael Turton

"There was never any control over Tibet by any ethnic Chinese emperor. Britain may have left Tibet to the Manchus, but they were not Chinese."

No, the Manchu rulers weren't ethnically Chinese, but I'm not sure how that's relevant. For most of the late 17th and 18th centuries Britain was run by Dutch and German monarchs, but there was still a distinct British state with its own institutions and ruling diverse territories. Similarly, the Manchus ran a basically Chinese state organized more-or-less along traditional Chinese lines.

The Manchus ran a basically Chinese empire, with some of the peripheries--Manchuria itself, Inner and Outer Mongolia, East Turkestan, and Tibet--under autonomous governments. None of these domains were recognized as independent states, by China's neighbours or by Western states, and have been rule dby these emperors for centuries.

I agree that the imposition of the Westphalia state system wasn't necessarily good for East Asia, especially since it overrode the Chinese tributary state system and led to a hardening of borders. Korea and Vietnam might have been lucky to have found themselves on the outside of China's frontiers. That said, outside powers have consistently treated Tibet as a territory of China, at most recognizing Tibet as an autonomous area within China. Without past recognition as an independent state, Tibet's chances are diminished accordingly.

I'm inclined to view the human rights situation in Tibet in the context of a broader pattern of human rights violations aimed against ethnic, religious, and political minorities, even if inadvertantly.
4.11.2009 10:44am
Skyler (mail) (www):
Temoc wrote:

both Beijing and Taipei agree that Taiwan on its own isn't sovereign. And the voters in the ROC overwhelmingly repudiated this position in last year's election.


Of course the Taiwanese voted that way not because they don't believe that they have their own laws, their own military, their own government, their own sovereignty. They voted that way because they're scared witless of a chinese communist attack. Sheesh.
4.11.2009 10:41pm
Michael Turton (mail) (www):
No, the Manchu rulers weren't ethnically Chinese, but I'm not sure how that's relevant. For most of the late 17th and 18th centuries Britain was run by Dutch and German monarchs, but there was still a distinct British state with its own institutions and ruling diverse territories. Similarly, the Manchus ran a basically Chinese state organized more-or-less along traditional Chinese lines.

The Manchus ran a basically Chinese empire, with some of the peripheries--Manchuria itself, Inner and Outer Mongolia, East Turkestan, and Tibet--under autonomous governments. None of these domains were recognized as independent states, by China's neighbours or by Western states, and have been rule dby these emperors for centuries.


The Manchus ran their empire Chinese-style, but they kept themselves separate from it, issuing edicts in Chinese and Manchurian down to the last day of it. They did that for the same reasons the British adopted themselves to local systems wherever they put in an empire.

The significance of them being not Chinese lies in the way that once the Chinese realized they could grab Manchu holdings, suddenly the centuries of opposition to Manchu rule as alien rule -- in which there were gentry families boasted that for 300 years they never provided a son to the bureaucracy, in which there were anti-Manchu secret societies, and many revolts -- suddenly disappeared. The Manchus thus became Chinese, and their territories became China. Today if you argue with a Chinese nationalist nutcase, as I do from time to time, she is likely to read off a list of "Chinese" peoples that includes Tibetans, Mongols, Manchus, etc. For modern Chinese, saying that X are Chinese is tantamount to announcing that their territory is going to be annexed.

It's as if India had suddenly decided it had a claim on Kenya and Jamaica because the UK once ruled them both, and India was the principle part of the British empire.... that is essentially the argument you are making. For some reason the mystique of China complete alters the way westerners interact with familiar issues when they appear in a Chinese context.

The Manchus controlled much more territory than you describe. Much more. Parts of Vietnam, for example. Although, given the pugnacity of the Vietnamese, the Chinese are probably lucky they didn't try to incorporate them into their empire!

It is really irrelevant whether at some point the Tibetans may have been recognized as independent by the West. All extant states were at some point in their history not independent. The "Chinese tributary system" is a Chinese fantasy about their own relationship with the world -- Tibet may have "paid tribute" but I doubt anyone in Tibetan/Kham states considered themselves subordinate to Beijing, any more than the city-states of the East African littoral or the Sri Lankans did, or the Koreans or Vietnamese. The "tribute reception" is often pure fantasy -- here in Taiwan, if you look through the local records, Qing officials recorded themselves as receiving tribute from the aborigines, but the truth was they were paying it to keep the aborigines from attacking settlements.

I agree that minorities are victims of all sorts of violations, I see that all the time in Taiwan. But Tibet is complicated by the prior existence of dynastic systems and independent kingdoms under the religious oversight of the Dalai Lama. The Tibetans clearly saw themselves as a people independent of China.

Michael
4.11.2009 10:51pm
ReaderY:
Finally! Judges who are not so quick to rush in where...
4.12.2009 7:08pm

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Comment Policy: We reserve the right to edit or delete comments, and in extreme cases to ban commenters, at our discretion. Comments must be relevant and civil (and, especially, free of name-calling). We think of comment threads like dinner parties at our homes. If you make the party unpleasant for us or for others, we'd rather you went elsewhere. We're happy to see a wide range of viewpoints, but we want all of them to be expressed as politely as possible.

We realize that such a comment policy can never be evenly enforced, because we can't possibly monitor every comment equally well. Hundreds of comments are posted every day here, and we don't read them all. Those we read, we read with different degrees of attention, and in different moods. We try to be fair, but we make no promises.

And remember, it's a big Internet. If you think we were mistaken in removing your post (or, in extreme cases, in removing you) -- or if you prefer a more free-for-all approach -- there are surely plenty of ways you can still get your views out.