Chen Ching-chih: China's Designs on Taiwan Are Similar to Japan's on Korea a Century Ago





Chen Ching-chih, professor emeritus of history at the Southern Illinois University at Edwardsville and a researcher at the Los Angeles-based Institute for Taiwanese Studies, in the Taipei Times (Feb. 20, 2004):

Beijing has never tired of claiming that Taiwan is part of China, despite the fact that Taiwan is by most standards an independent, sovereign state and the fact that the great majority of the people of Taiwan do not wish to live under communist rule. More importantly, China has nearly 500 missiles targeting Taiwan and has repeatedly threatened to take the island by force if it does not willingly become part of China.

China's ambition to annex Taiwan is real. The design to annex Taiwan, in more ways than one, resembles Meiji Japan's scheme to annex Korea about a century ago. It is, therefore, essential that we understand the route Japan took to annex Korea, which it then ruled until 1945 when Korea was liberated at the end of World War II. The Japanese case should serve as a lesson not only for Taiwan but also for the US and China.

Japan formally annexed Korea through 1910's Treaty of Annexation. Prior to this, it was mainly by resorting to war and diplomacy that Japan had increasingly brought Korea into its sphere of influence. As Asia's sole emerging, modern military power, Japan fought two wars over control of Korea. In the Sino-Japanese War of 1894 to 1895, Japan decisively defeated China and forced it to sign the Treaty of Shimonoseki, in May 1895.

In addition to ceding Taiwan and Penghu, China agreed to relinquish its suzerainty over Korea. Japan was thus able to gradually bring Korea under its imperial wing. However, Japan still did not have a free hand over Korea on account of the fact that imperial Russia, likewise, had territorial designs over Korea as well as Manchuria. In the Russo-Japanese War of 1904 to 1905, Japan defeated Russia and compelled it to acknowledge its"paramount political, military and economical interests" in Korea, according to the Portsmouth Peace Treaty of Sept. 5, 1905.

However, to complete its dominance over Korea, Japan had to seek the diplomatic support of other major powers. In early 1902, through the Anglo-Japanese Naval Alliance, Japan secured Britain's acceptance of its interests in Korea, in return for acknowledging Britain's interests in China and later India.

Of equal importance to Japan, however, was US acknowledgement that Japan would enjoy dominance over Korea in return for recognizing US interests in the Philippines. US Secretary of War William Taft reached an agreement on the matter with Prime Minister Katsura Taro in July 1905. US President Theodore Roosevelt subsequently confirmed the agreement.

With the major powers' explicit support, Japan imposed a protectorate on Korea through the Protectorate Treaty of November 1905. Objecting to this development, the Korean royal family dispatched envoys to the Hague Peace Conference in 1907, but the conference refused to consider the protest. Failure of the international community to come to Korea's aid ultimately emboldened Japan to force a treaty upon Korea in August 1910 providing for complete annexation.

Western countries, including the UK, the US and Russia, supported Japan's annexation of Korea as a policy that would help stabilize East Asia, which was seen as beneficial to all the major powers involved.

Japanese colonialists and imperialists believed that Korea and Japan had deep historical and cultural ties and that a big-brother relationship existed between Korea and Japan to justify the annexation. Koreans, however, did not approve; they resisted Japanese colonial rule by various means. Resistance culminated in a large-scale, anti-Japanese demonstration on March 1, 1919. Japan's brutal response resulted in the deaths of thousands of demonstrators. Clearly, the Koreans were hoping that the demonstration would be seen to have been inspired by the principle of self-determination, which US president Woodrow Wilson announced in 1918, and which therefore might win international support.

Unfortunately, no major powers or the newly created League of Nations showed any sympathy for Korea. Consequently, for 35 years, Koreans suffered under harsh colonial rule until liberation.

In the early 1940s, an increasingly militaristic and expansionist Japan attacked Western colonies, including the Philippines, Hong Kong, Singapore and Malaya. So in the long run, the interests of the Western powers were not served but damaged by sacrificing Korea in their appeasement of Japan.

Is the international community making the same mistake in their acquiescence toward the claim that Taiwan is a part of China?

Let us examine China's scheme to annex Taiwan. There are two major similarities between the Chinese and the Japanese scenarios. First, China is without doubt the dominant Asian power today as Japan was nearly a century ago. With its military might and growing economic power, China has the kind of leverage that Japan enjoyed in the early 20th century. Second, like Japan, China today is resorting to diplomacy as well as the threat of force to annex Taiwan. Beijing has claimed that China went to war against Japan for the sake of liberating Taiwan from Japanese colonial rule as well as to resist Japanese aggression against China. After Japan's defeat, according to the Chinese, Taiwan reverted to them. It was only because of the Chinese Civil War and its aftermath that Taiwan remained a separate jurisdiction. To annex Taiwan, Beijing insists that it will resort to force, if necessary.

In reality, according to the 1951 San Francisco Peace Treaty between Japan and the Allies, Japan renounced sovereignty over Taiwan but designated no recipient.

China, over the years, has manipulated all countries that have diplomatic relations with it into accepting its"one China" policy, which states that there is only one China and Taiwan is part of China. In addition, Beijing has done its best to diplomatically isolate Taiwan by opposing Taiwan's efforts to join the UN and other international organizations, including the World Health Organization.

In spite of these similarities, there are at least two essential differences between the Chinese case and that of Japan. First, unlike Korea a century ago, Taiwan has enjoyed significant support from the US. While the US does not have diplomatic relations with Taiwan, it nevertheless has become Taiwan's closest and most important military ally. By virtue of the 1979 Taiwan Relations Act, the US is obligated to come to the aid of Taiwan if and when the nation is attacked by China.

In reminding the Chinese of its commitment to Taiwan, the US must have learned from the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait in 1991 that ambiguity can only encourage an aggressive country into miscalculating the US' position.

In any case, it is not only the legal duty of the US to protect Taiwan in case of a Chinese invasion, but also its moral responsibility to do so. Any weakening of support would contribute to other countries turning against Taiwan, as seen recently in certain countries' negative response to Taiwan's plan to have a national peace referendum. No democratic country, especially the US which has made democracy and human rights the core of its foreign policy, should assist Beijing in coercing, however subtly, Taiwan to accept Chinese annexation. No country should sacrifice democracy and the human rights of the Taiwanese under the pretense of peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait.

In addition to strong US support, the people of Taiwan enjoy what the Koreans lacked a century ago. Like all other peoples, the people of Taiwan are entitled to the UN-guaranteed right of self-determination in a new era of human rights and democracy. Whatever future relationship Taiwan will have with China requires the approval of its people. There is no better way than calling a referendum to reach an unchallengeable decision on such a fundamental issue.

It would be on the consciences of democratic nations, particularly the US, if Taiwan is left without a choice and forced to buckle under Beijing's threats.

The Korean resistance against the Japanese should serve as a lesson for China not to resort to coercion in its attempt to bring Taiwan under its control. For all parties involved, the consent of the Taiwanese people is essential.

, professor emeritus of history at the Southern Illinois University at Edwardsville and a researcher at the Los Angeles-based Institute for Taiwanese Studies, in the Taipei Times (Feb. 20, 2004):

Beijing has never tired of claiming that Taiwan is part of China, despite the fact that Taiwan is by most standards an independent, sovereign state and the fact that the great majority of the people of Taiwan do not wish to live under communist rule. More importantly, China has nearly 500 missiles targeting Taiwan and has repeatedly threatened to take the island by force if it does not willingly become part of China.

China's ambition to annex Taiwan is real. The design to annex Taiwan, in more ways than one, resembles Meiji Japan's scheme to annex Korea about a century ago. It is, therefore, essential that we understand the route Japan took to annex Korea, which it then ruled until 1945 when Korea was liberated at the end of World War II. The Japanese case should serve as a lesson not only for Taiwan but also for the US and China.

Japan formally annexed Korea through 1910's Treaty of Annexation. Prior to this, it was mainly by resorting to war and diplomacy that Japan had increasingly brought Korea into its sphere of influence. As Asia's sole emerging, modern military power, Japan fought two wars over control of Korea. In the Sino-Japanese War of 1894 to 1895, Japan decisively defeated China and forced it to sign the Treaty of Shimonoseki, in May 1895.

In addition to ceding Taiwan and Penghu, China agreed to relinquish its suzerainty over Korea. Japan was thus able to gradually bring Korea under its imperial wing. However, Japan still did not have a free hand over Korea on account of the fact that imperial Russia, likewise, had territorial designs over Korea as well as Manchuria. In the Russo-Japanese War of 1904 to 1905, Japan defeated Russia and compelled it to acknowledge its"paramount political, military and economical interests" in Korea, according to the Portsmouth Peace Treaty of Sept. 5, 1905.

However, to complete its dominance over Korea, Japan had to seek the diplomatic support of other major powers. In early 1902, through the Anglo-Japanese Naval Alliance, Japan secured Britain's acceptance of its interests in Korea, in return for acknowledging Britain's interests in China and later India.

Of equal importance to Japan, however, was US acknowledgement that Japan would enjoy dominance over Korea in return for recognizing US interests in the Philippines. US Secretary of War William Taft reached an agreement on the matter with Prime Minister Katsura Taro in July 1905. US President Theodore Roosevelt subsequently confirmed the agreement.

With the major powers' explicit support, Japan imposed a protectorate on Korea through the Protectorate Treaty of November 1905. Objecting to this development, the Korean royal family dispatched envoys to the Hague Peace Conference in 1907, but the conference refused to consider the protest. Failure of the international community to come to Korea's aid ultimately emboldened Japan to force a treaty upon Korea in August 1910 providing for complete annexation.

Western countries, including the UK, the US and Russia, supported Japan's annexation of Korea as a policy that would help stabilize East Asia, which was seen as beneficial to all the major powers involved.

Japanese colonialists and imperialists believed that Korea and Japan had deep historical and cultural ties and that a big-brother relationship existed between Korea and Japan to justify the annexation. Koreans, however, did not approve; they resisted Japanese colonial rule by various means. Resistance culminated in a large-scale, anti-Japanese demonstration on March 1, 1919. Japan's brutal response resulted in the deaths of thousands of demonstrators. Clearly, the Koreans were hoping that the demonstration would be seen to have been inspired by the principle of self-determination, which US president Woodrow Wilson announced in 1918, and which therefore might win international support.

Unfortunately, no major powers or the newly created League of Nations showed any sympathy for Korea. Consequently, for 35 years, Koreans suffered under harsh colonial rule until liberation.

In the early 1940s, an increasingly militaristic and expansionist Japan attacked Western colonies, including the Philippines, Hong Kong, Singapore and Malaya. So in the long run, the interests of the Western powers were not served but damaged by sacrificing Korea in their appeasement of Japan.

Is the international community making the same mistake in their acquiescence toward the claim that Taiwan is a part of China?

Let us examine China's scheme to annex Taiwan. There are two major similarities between the Chinese and the Japanese scenarios. First, China is without doubt the dominant Asian power today as Japan was nearly a century ago. With its military might and growing economic power, China has the kind of leverage that Japan enjoyed in the early 20th century. Second, like Japan, China today is resorting to diplomacy as well as the threat of force to annex Taiwan. Beijing has claimed that China went to war against Japan for the sake of liberating Taiwan from Japanese colonial rule as well as to resist Japanese aggression against China. After Japan's defeat, according to the Chinese, Taiwan reverted to them. It was only because of the Chinese Civil War and its aftermath that Taiwan remained a separate jurisdiction. To annex Taiwan, Beijing insists that it will resort to force, if necessary.

In reality, according to the 1951 San Francisco Peace Treaty between Japan and the Allies, Japan renounced sovereignty over Taiwan but designated no recipient.

China, over the years, has manipulated all countries that have diplomatic relations with it into accepting its"one China" policy, which states that there is only one China and Taiwan is part of China. In addition, Beijing has done its best to diplomatically isolate Taiwan by opposing Taiwan's efforts to join the UN and other international organizations, including the World Health Organization.

In spite of these similarities, there are at least two essential differences between the Chinese case and that of Japan. First, unlike Korea a century ago, Taiwan has enjoyed significant support from the US. While the US does not have diplomatic relations with Taiwan, it nevertheless has become Taiwan's closest and most important military ally. By virtue of the 1979 Taiwan Relations Act, the US is obligated to come to the aid of Taiwan if and when the nation is attacked by China.

In reminding the Chinese of its commitment to Taiwan, the US must have learned from the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait in 1991 that ambiguity can only encourage an aggressive country into miscalculating the US' position.

In any case, it is not only the legal duty of the US to protect Taiwan in case of a Chinese invasion, but also its moral responsibility to do so. Any weakening of support would contribute to other countries turning against Taiwan, as seen recently in certain countries' negative response to Taiwan's plan to have a national peace referendum. No democratic country, especially the US which has made democracy and human rights the core of its foreign policy, should assist Beijing in coercing, however subtly, Taiwan to accept Chinese annexation. No country should sacrifice democracy and the human rights of the Taiwanese under the pretense of peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait.

In addition to strong US support, the people of Taiwan enjoy what the Koreans lacked a century ago. Like all other peoples, the people of Taiwan are entitled to the UN-guaranteed right of self-determination in a new era of human rights and democracy. Whatever future relationship Taiwan will have with China requires the approval of its people. There is no better way than calling a referendum to reach an unchallengeable decision on such a fundamental issue.

It would be on the consciences of democratic nations, particularly the US, if Taiwan is left without a choice and forced to buckle under Beijing's threats.

The Korean resistance against the Japanese should serve as a lesson for China not to resort to coercion in its attempt to bring Taiwan under its control. For all parties involved, the consent of the Taiwanese people is essential.


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