KAOHSIUNG (Taiwan News) — It seems like every time there’s a new opinion poll, the numbers get a bit bigger.
The latest poll on national identity in Taiwan, released this week, found that 89.9% of respondents identified as Taiwanese. Even allowing for the fact the Taiwan New Constitution Foundation (台灣制憲基金會), which conducted the survey, is a pro-independence organization, this is a sizable majority.
The poll was timely, coming off the back of an Olympic Games where the Taiwan team not only won a record-breaking number of medals but also put the issue of Taiwan’s international status back on the global agenda. At the Olympics, Taiwan is forced to compete under the name “Chinese Taipei.”
Momentum is definitely moving in the right direction. This week, Lithuania confirmed there will be reciprocal representative offices opening in Taipei and Vilnius. The latter will become the first Taiwanese representative office in Europe to be allowed to use the name of its country: Taiwan.
Meanwhile, France’s largest newspaper, Le Figaro covered the Lithuania story by writing that while China views Taiwan as a province, the rest of the world sees it as a state. With the question of Taiwan statehood on everyone’s lips, it is important to get the facts right.
What is a nation state?
Statehood is formally defined under the Montevideo Convention on the Rights and Duties of States, which was signed in Montevideo, Uruguay, on Dec. 26, 1933.
This international treaty sets four criteria for statehood under international law: A permanent population, a defined territory, a government, and the capacity to enter into relations with other states.
Taiwan meets all of these requirements and is therefore officially a state under international law.
The Montevideo Convention also makes clear that statehood is achieved irrespective of whether other countries recognize it or not. In other words, it is irrelevant whether Taiwan is recognized by 15 countries or 150; its statehood is a fact.
China can throw its toys out of the pram as much as it likes, it cannot change the fact that in the eyes of the law, Taiwan is a state.
Some may note that the Montevideo Convention has only been ratified by 16 countries and signed but not ratified by four more, and these are all in the Americas. However, customary international law dictates that because the Montevideo Convention codifies existing legal norms, it applies to all subjects of international law, not just those who have signed and ratified it.
Taiwan’s national qualities
The Le Figaro article explained to French readers the other attributes that Taiwan has that qualify it as a nation-state. It has its own currency and financial system as well as an extensive independent military, police force, fire brigade, coast guard, and so on.
There is a Taiwan flag, a Taiwanese language, and, as we have already seen, a clear national identity. Taiwan conducts trade with other nations and has a diplomatic service that represents the country around the world.
Taiwan has its own legal system, government, and system of democracy that has facilitated numerous elections and three peaceful transitions of power. It is also a member of as many international organizations as it is able to join.
These are all irrefutable hallmarks of a nation state. There is only one thing that stops Taiwan from being universally recognized as such, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).
The question is, how much longer will the world allow the CCP to dictate who they can and cannot engage with?
The West is increasingly standing up to China over its human rights abuses, its market manipulation, its debt diplomacy, its responsibility for the COVID-19 pandemic, its expansionist foreign policy, and myriad other malign activities.
As a more realistic and informed approach to China becomes the norm, the prospects of greater recognition and closer diplomatic ties between Taiwan and the world become greater. The likes of Lithuania and the Czech Republic are leading the way, but it is inevitable that more will follow.
Taiwan’s policy of soft diplomacy is working wonders right now. However, in many ways, it is China’s actions that are damaging its own standing — and in the process enhancing Taiwan’s image around the world.
As long as this continues and Taiwan subtly ingratiates itself to the world, the standing of the nation and its prospects for being universally recognized as the independent country it already is could soon become a reality too.