• Email
  • Print

China and Taiwan

In response to:

How Aggressive is China? from the April 22, 1971 issue

To the Editors:

In John K. Fairbank’s otherwise excellent review of India’s China War, by Neville Maxwell [NYR, April 22], he concludes with some rather gratuitous comments about the relevance of this subject for the Formosa question. The fact that national security was the key consideration for China in the Indian border issue does not mean that other questions are unimportant here. Professor Fairbank believes that Peking would be satisfied with the situation if Formosa ceased to be a military threat, and if the world recognized the People’s Republic’s nominal sovereignty over the island.

The key to the solution, Professor Fairbank believes, lies in the concept of tzu-chih, which literally means “self rule” and is usually translated “autonomy.” But tzu-chih, contrary to what we are told, does not “cover a wide spectrum of situations.” It is reserved for areas over which Peking exercises full political control. (Tibet had to wait until 1965 before it was graduated to the status of an “autonomous region,” because it had taken fifteen years for Peking to consolidate its authority over the area.) Does Professor Fairbank believe that the Communists would acknowledge Taiwan as an Autonomous Region if the Communist Party is still outlawed there, or that the Republic of China would ever permit the Communist Party to function there?

The real solution to the Formosa question does not lie in legal gimmicks or allowing this or that Chinese government propaganda victories. The solution lies in genuine democratic self-determination by the forgotten people in the whole Formosa question—the Taiwanese and mainlanders for whom the island has become home.

James D. Seymour

Department of Politics

New York University

New York, New York

John K Fairbank replies:

Self-determination always depends on first defining the size of the unit to be self-determined. For example, in trying to assure self-determination for the South Vietnamese, we have run into the difficulty that not everyone agrees that South Vietnam is a proper unit for the purpose, in comparison with the whole of Vietnam as a nation. Similarly we can espouse self-determination for the Chinese on Taiwan, but success in the venture will depend on whether enough of the Chinese people there and elsewhere will regard Taiwan as a proper unit for self-determination. The message we get from the governments in Taipei and Peking, and also I think from the Chinese historical record, is negative. Self-determination, like the bill of rights, due process, and other Western ideals, has not bulked the same in Chinese experience. On the contrary, China’s concept of nationalism tends to embrace everyone within the Chinese race-and-culture—quite unlike French and German patriots who have their nationalisms within their common European culture. In the Taiwan issue, an outright two-Chinas policy on our part can only meet a unified Chinese resistance, long since announced. We can preach the virtues of Taiwan’s balloting for self-determination from outside the scene, but can we effectuate it?

It would be more realistic for the Nixon administration to leave the question open: to recognize Chinese sovereignty over Taiwan, the legal concept which expresses the traditional unity of the Chinese realm, and within that framework to take note of Taiwan autonomy, a fact of the last twenty years which may yet continue for some time to come. The formula of “Chinese sovereignty and Taiwan autonomy” allows the degree of autonomy to remain obscure and depend upon circumstances as they develop.

As to the Tibetan example of autonomy, it has a longer history than Professor Seymour allows for. After the Ch’ing empire collapsed, Outer Mongolia in 1911 and Tibet in 1913 both declared their independence of the Chinese Republic. But the Anglo-Russian entente of 1907 had compromised their great-power rivalry by guaranteeing China’s suzerainty over Tibet, and both powers stuck to the formula as a useful arrangement. In a treaty of 1913, China and Russia recognized Outer Mongolia’s autonomy within a framework of continued Chinese suzerainty and Russian paramount influence. Britain recognized Tibet’s autonomy in 1914 while accepting China’s suzerainty. In the end, Outer Mongolia broke free under Soviet protection, while Tibet came under increasing British influence but never achieved a full independence in international law. The use of the same term, tzu-chih, “autonomous,” for Tibet and other regions recently absorbed into the People’s Republic is, as Professor Seymour argues correctly, a mere recognition of ethnic-cultural non-Chineseness, not of actual political autonomy; but it lies at one end of the historical spectrum I have briefly referred to. “Autonomy” is a fuzzy term and so is useful for a fuzzy situation.

  • Email
  • Print