OPINION: The False Promise of a Taiwan-China Cross-Strait Peace Treaty

OPINION: The False Promise of a Taiwan-China Cross-Strait Peace Treaty
Credit: AP / Yomiuri Shimbun
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For Beijing, forging a peace deal with Taipei is like making a promise with its fingers crossed.

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In Doraemon, Takeshi “Gian” Gouda (Big G) always likes bullying Nobita Noby (Noby), beating him senseless and causing chaos within their class. In one episode, Suneo Honekawa (Sneech) comes up with what he thinks is an ingenious idea, which is to have Big G and Noby “pinky swear” to reconcile their differences in front of the whole class and vow never to violate the promise. Worried for Noby, Shizuka Minamoto (Sue) instantly objects: “That won’t work, a pinky promise doesn’t count! I think we should have Big G and Noby sign an actual agreement and post that publicly on the class bulletin board.” When Big G hears their idea he breaks out in laughter, because to him a pinky promise or a signature on a bulletin board means nothing to him. Either way, he will still beat up Noby after class.

Since Chinese President Xi Jinping (席習近) reiterated on Jan. 2 his idea of a “one country, two systems” policy for Taiwan, the Taiwanese media has frequently reported that politicians such as the Kuomintang (KMT)’s Wu Den-yih (吳敦義), Wang Jin-pyng (王金平) and Eric Chu (朱立倫) have suggested the possibility of signing a “cross-Strait peace agreement” with China. The Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) and many others have explicitly expressed their opposition.

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Credit: Facebook / Wu Den-yih
KMT chairman Wu Den-yih.

Chiang Huang-chih (姜皇池), a professor of international law at the National Taiwan University College of Law, also pointed out that a peace “agreement” comes under “domestic law” – if Taiwan were to sign the agreement, it would fall into China's so-called “domestic jurisdiction” trap. Taiwan would have to return to a central framework, turning Taiwan’s issues into Chinese ones and increasing the difficulty of either the U.S., Japan or any other nation getting involved. Chiang’s argument has quickly spread among the pan-Green camp and was instantly turned into a meme featuring the words: “Signing means recognizing Taiwan as China!”

Chiang Huang-chih is one of Taiwan’s most well-known international affairs and international law scholars and one of its most respected legal experts. However, not only is Professor Chiang’s theory that the cross-Strait peace agreement has no effect in international law wrong on a strict international law basis, but it has also completely missed the point of the discussion.

The fact remains that a cross-Strait peace agreement is a pointless idea that not only does it offer nothing good to Taiwan, it leaves us at a disadvantage. This is not because it lacks any effect in international law. Instead, this is because China will never comply with any agreement, no matter who they make one with.

According to Professor Chiang’s own words, the legal documents dealing with peace issues on the international stage include among others, a “peace treaty,” an “armistice,” a “ceasefire agreement or truce” and the “peace accords,” which is what we are referring to as a peace agreement. Chiang also mentions that it is only the first three that are formal documents signed between warring nations, and means they are generally seen as more binding in international law, whereas a “peace agreement” is a “declaration” concluded upon between a government and a domestic insurgent group. This therefore does not come under the 1969 Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties (VCLT) and also confirms that the dispute is a domestic one, meaning the agreement has no effect in international law.

However, throughout history, peace agreements between nations (referred to as accords by Professor Chiang) are a dime a dozen. The Camp David Accords signed by Israel and Egypt in 1978 under the guidance of the US is a prime example, and then there was the 1984 Nkomati Accord between South Africa and Mozambique. There are absolutely no international law documents or treaty provisions that say “accords” cannot be forged between countries. In addition, if we use the other English term “agreement,” then we will find even more documents signed by countries in conflict.

There are no provisions in the 1969 VCLT that even suggest treaties between countries must have a particular name for them to count. Whether they are “treaties,” “agreements,” “accords,” or whether they are signed by sovereign states or not, the document’s validity is in no way dependent on what the document is called. Instead, it is determined by the content of the document itself. If the document does not explicitly confirm or deny the sovereignty of either state, then any dispute over whether one of the signing parties is a sovereign state will not be concluded. Therefore, no international law would be able to clearly define it either.

Professor Chiang also suggested that signing the peace agreement would increase “legal obstacles for any international organization or other countries that wanted to intervene,” making it more difficult for countries such as the United States and Japan to offer help. This statement which is also inconsistent with the reality of the situation. International relations between countries are not governed by a “supreme court” that can determine whether a treaty or agreement is between sovereign states or whether it is legal or illegal to intervene in their war. If China’s armed forces do try to invade Taiwan, the involvement of the United States and Japan will depend entirely on their own political or military interests. It most certainly will not depend on whatever useless treaty Taiwan has signed with China

The fact is, it doesn’t matter if it is called a “peace treaty,” a “peace accord,” or an agreement that “God shall strike down whichever party breaches this contract peace agreement.” Whether or not a treaty is adhered to wholly depends on the free will of the parties entering into the agreement and the international political climate.

The real question today should be: Looking at past experiences and the current global political climate, would China abide by any peace agreement it signs with Taiwan?

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Credit: Taiwan Presidential Office
Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen has voiced skepticism over a cross-Strait peace treaty.

Since the country was founded, the People’s Republic of China (PRC) has never been a model student when it comes to conforming to international treaties. The number of violations by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) of treaties, agreements and commitments that it has signed with various countries is too large to count. For instance, in 1951, the CCP and the Tubo Kingdom’s (Tibet) Dalai Lama’s representatives signed the “17-Article Agreement,” yet China repeated past offenses by reinvading the Tubo Kingdom in 1959, an incident which is often cited by modern scholars as a classic case of how China violates peace agreements.

Currently, even though the CCP has violated many of their agreements, China has never suffered significant sanctions – and the United Nations is not exactly in a rush to take any action. This presents the question: Would CCP policymakers really decide against invading Taiwan just because they have signed an agreement with its government?

It is both ridiculous and meaningless to sign any sort of peace agreement with China. Instead, if Taiwan wants to prevent China from forcibly seizing it, then it must rely solely on itself. Taiwan must fully prepare for war with the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) by producing and deploying strategic assault weapons that can counteract a Chinese invasion. It must actively seek to eliminate the “fifth column” and other hostile forces within Taiwan. It must also confidently express its will for independence (whether de facto or de jure) internationally in order to recruit allies and prompt international pro-Taiwan opinions.

For Noby, honing his fighting skills or borrowing weapons from Doraemon was the only way to ensure that Big G would no longer bully him. Force was the only language Big G understood.

Pinky promises or formal agreements posted on a bulletin board are laughable and useless at best when fending off a larger bully, whether that bully’s name is Big G or Xi Jinping.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of The News Lens.

Read Next: DPP Pushes to Put Cross-Strait Peace to a Referendum

This article first appeared on the Chinese-language Taiwan edition of The News Lens and can be found here.

Translator: Zeke Li

Editor: Nick Aspinwall (@Nick1Aspinwall)

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