Increased recognition of China weakens Taiwan's claims

Today, Taiwan's claims in the South China Sea have been weakened due to the island's waning diplomatic significance since the end of World War II ("South China Sea islands part of Taiwan's territory" by Ms Tsai Chi-yuan of the Taipei Representative Office in Singapore; June 8).

The post-war treaties mentioned by Ms Tsai, which appropriated Japan's war-time territorial gains to Taiwan, should be seen in the light of the uncertainty of China's rightful government at that time.

When the San Francisco Peace Treaty was signed in 1951, neither China nor Taiwan was invited, due to the ambiguity of which government - the Chinese Communist Party or the Nationalist regime - should represent China, against the backdrop of the Chinese Civil War.

Furthermore, the Treaty of Peace between Taiwan and Japan has lost its significance, as a result of the normalisation of diplomatic relations between Japan and the People's Republic of China (PRC) in 1972.

While there is no doubt that the Republic of China (ROC), the official name of Taiwan, was the signatory party in the treaty with Japan, the PRC has since become the successor state ruling mainland China in the aftermath of the Chinese Civil War.

Since then, Taiwan has become increasingly marginalised on the international scene.

Its international recognition status was usurped by the PRC when the latter became the lawful representative of China to the United Nations, ousting the ROC from UN membership in 1971.

This was followed by the establishment of formal diplomatic relations between the United States and the PRC in 1979, marginalising ROC's status on the international stage even further.

Given the PRC's status as the legal government of China, its One China principle will cast a long shadow over Taiwan's claims in the South China Sea.

With its diplomatic isolation and decades-long limbo status internationally, Taiwan has very little wriggle room to project its claims, whether through bilateral or multilateral forums against China's growing assertiveness.

Jonathan Lim Wen Zhi

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 22, 2016, with the headline 'Increased recognition of China weakens Taiwan's claims'. Print Edition | Subscribe