The San Francisco Peace Treaty and the lack of conclusions on Taiwan’s international status

林呈蓉/Lin Cheng-jung
(Deputy Professor, Department of History, Tamkang University)


e02_20010910_0910The ceremony accepting Japan’s surrender of “the Chinese Theater’s Taiwan Province," attended by representatives from the Nationalist government on October 25, 1945 represented only a temporary taking of control by the military.




  Mention the issue of the jurisdiction of since the end of the Second World War and most people will think of the contents of the Cairo Declaration or the Potsdam Declaration, yet at the time when these two declarations were announced, Japan had yet to surrender to the Allies, and it still had legitimate possession of Taiwan. The document which truly decided the question of Taiwan’s jurisdiction after the war was the 1951 San Francisco Peace Treaty, recognized by international law. The issues of Taiwan’s status and under whose jurisdiction Taiwan should come are important topics closely related to Taiwan’s sovereignty and diplomatic woes, and while the war of words rages across the straits over the “special state-to-state relationship" and “one China, according to individual interpretation," Taiwan News has invited deputy professor Lin Cheng-jung from Tamkang University’s department of history to analyze the roots and subsequent development of this unsettled issue of history, and future prospects.



Delays in concluding and signing a peace treaty with Japan

  On August 15, 1945, following Japan’s declaration of unconditional surrender to the Allied Forces, the long and eventful Second World War came to an end. Although the Allied Powers’ Supreme Commander, General MacArthur, had, as early as March 1947, advocated concluding a treat with Japan as soon as possible, U.S.-Soviet antagonism was heating up to boiling point at this time, and with the ebb and flow of various situations within the U.S. and overseas, the task of concluding peace with Japan was continually put off until 1950, when preparations finally started in earnest. One key factor in this was the Korean War, which broke out on June 25, 1950, and pushed the powerful U.S. to try to persuade Japan to become a member of the Pacific anti-communist front. Consequently, the U.S. increased their active advances for a peace treaty with Japan.



China’s legitimate changes in political power

  On September 5, 1951, under the leadership of such super powers as the United Kingdom and the U.S., the members of the Second World War Allies convened in San Francisco for a conference on peace with Japan. Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek, leader of the Chinese military region, had been the Supreme Allied Commander in the Asia Region during the war; on October 25 1945, Chiang sent representatives to Taiwan, and represented the Allied Forces at the ceremony accepting Japan’s surrender of “the Chinese Theater’s Taiwan Province," and temporarily took over control of Taiwan and the Penghu region after the departure of the Japanese Taiwan Governor’s Office. However, Chinese representatives were excluded from the San Francisco Peace Conference. One of the reasons for this was that not long after the end of the Second World War, military conflicts had broken out afresh between the Kuomintang (KMT) and the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) inside China, and this situation clearly entered a new phase after October 1949, when the CCP regime held a formal ceremony in Beijing for the founding of the “People’s Republic of China," while the KMT regime, represented by Chiang Kai-shek made a comprehensive retreat from China, ending up in exile in Taiwan and Penghu, a region whose legal status had not been decided. The outcome of the civil war in China resulted in a lack of consensus among the Allies as to which regime was the legitimate representative of China.


  Another aspect was that while two regimes which both claimed to be the legitimate representatives of China existed, there was no way that an international consensus on the China question could be reached, and this situation naturally created a certain level of difficulty for the defeated Japan, because China was deeply affected by having been invaded by Japan, and if there was no way to conclude and sign a peace treaty between China and Japan, then the Sino-Japanese war would not formally come to an end, and all kinds of post-war follow-up work would also have to be put off.



With each nation taking a different position, Japan makes its own decision

  Among the Allies, the Soviet Union took the Comintern position, with absolute support of the PRC regime as the only legitimate government of China. Among the Western camp, Britain built diplomatic relations with the PRC very early on, in view of its interests in Hong Kong and Kowloon. Britain also thought that the whoever represented China in signing the peace treaty with Japan should be approved by more than two thirds of the nations which took part in Far East Committee. The U.S. were against the PRC regime, which was in the process of invading Korea, taking part in and signing a treaty. So while Britain, the U.S. and the other members of the Allies bickered among one another, the question of which government of China Japan ought to sign a peace treaty with was decided by Japan, and handled in the way that future signings of other peace treaties would be dealt with.


  At that time, the Japanese government was under pressure from all kinds of internal and external sources, and had no choice but to choose the KMT government, represented by Chiang Kai-shek’s regime, with whom to conclude a peace treaty. However, with U.S. and Japanese mutual recognition, the treaty did not really view the Nationalist government as representing the only legitimate government of China, and so this treaty simply applied to the regions under the control of the Nationalist government at that time or in the future.



Taiwan’s status undecided, dependent on the self-determination of its residents

  As a result, the question of Taiwan’s status and jurisdiction, Article 2 of the San Francisco Peace Treaty stipulates that “Japan renounces all right, title and claim to Formosa and the Pescadores." Foreshadowed here is the fact that the final question of whom Taiwan belongs to remains undefined. Theoretically, the future resolution of the Taiwan issue should be carried out, according to the aims and principles of the UN Charter, and under the principle of self-determination by its inhabitants, by means of a public referendum, which would ask about the direction desired by the inhabitants of the region, before a verdict can be reached.


  On April 28, 1952, in accordance with the stipulations of the San Francisco Peace Treaty, the Treaty of Peace between the Republic of China and Japan (also known as the Treaty of Taipei) was signed between the Nationalist government and Japan. The Treaty of Taipei, in dealing with the question of territory, stipulates in its Article 2 a reconfirmation of the statement in the San Francisco Treaty, saying: “It is recognised that under Article 2 of the Treaty of Peace which Japan signed at the city of San Francisco on 8 September 1951 (hereinafter referred to as the San Francisco Treaty), Japan has renounced all right, title, and claim to Taiwan (Formosa) and Penghu (the Pescadores) as well as the Spratley [sic] Islands and the Paracel Islands." So the question of whose jurisdiction Taiwan ultimately comes under is still not touched upon in the content of the Treaty of Taipei.


  However, mention the issue of whose jurisdiction Taiwan has been under since the end of the war, and most people will think of the contents of the statements of the Cairo or Potsdam Declarations. Although the 1943 Cairo Declaration does mention that all of the territories “such as Manchuria, Formosa, and the Pescadores, shall be restored to the Republic of China" by Japan; the 1945 Potsdam Declaration demanded that Japan surrender unconditionally, and once again emphasized that “The terms of the Cairo Declaration shall be carried out." However, these “declarations" only state positions and wishes during the war, and although function of the declarations remains, they do not have any legal potency.



The two inferences to be made from this unresolved case from history

  Neither the San Francisco Peace Treaty and the Treaty of Taipei clearly stipulate the legal status of Taiwan, with the result that the question of whose jurisdiction Taiwan should come under has never to this day been resolved. Each time China launches a war of words on Taiwan, or Taiwan hits some bottleneck in developing diplomatic relations, the “theory that the status of Taiwan is still undecided" comes up for discussion as a matter of course. But from the beginnings and subsequent development of this historical unresolved case, we can clearly infer two conclusions:


  (1) In the wake of changes in both time and space, the Taiwan China is up against is no longer limited to the Taiwan under the political control of the KMT, but now includes the Taiwan ruled by a government which is representative of Taiwan. With the current situation, the question of whose jurisdiction Taiwan comes under has gradually evolved into two forces, both of which came from China — the PRC government, which has never governed Taiwan, and the KMT government, which parasitically attached itself to the island of Taiwan as a result of going into exile – and a third force, the local, native government, autonomously constructed by the residents of the island of Taiwan. It’s a territorial struggle between these three.


  (2) The Western forces, headed by the U.S., intentionally or unintentionally sowed the seeds for future problems with Taiwan’s jurisdiction, creating an undetermined space. Because viewed from historical and geographical angles, Taiwan is a prosperous and stable key location in the Asia-Pacific region, if the two sides of the Strait were to unify peacefully to conclude the question of whose jurisdiction Taiwan comes under, then that would be another issue. But if Taiwan was annexed by China using military force, let’s not for the moment go into the question of the reaction and clashes that would arise within Taiwan, as far the countries of the entire Asia-Pacific region, including the U.S., Japan, Korea and Southeast Asia would be concerned, this would represent the “China threat theory" coming directly to the surface, because the Taiwan which has long played the role of buffer zone would have ceased to exist.

Edited by Tina Lee/ translated by Elizabeth Hoile