2010 Symposium | International Relations Panel | Taiwan and Mainland China in International Discourse: Potential for Peace


Providence, RI, Nov. 2 - Following a stimulating discussion on cross-strait economics the day before, the annual Strait Talk Symposium held a panel on international relations between mainland China, Taiwan and the U.S.  Students, professors and sponsors heard from two distinguished speakers, Alan Wachman and Jacques DeLisle.  Entitled “Taiwan and Mainland China in International Discourse: Potential for Peace,” the panel was held in Smith-Buonanno Hall 106 and analyzed the discourse used to describe the relationship between mainland China and Taiwan and their respective legal and international statuses as described and discussed in international law, agreements and rhetoric of governmental and intergovernmental institutions.


Alan Wachman is Associate Professor of international politics at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University and specializes in the links between diplomatic history and contemporary international security, in conjunction with China’s foreign relations and Sino-US rivalry for moral influence in international institutions.  Jacques DeLisle is a Professor of Law at the University of Pennsylvania Law School, with interests in Chinese law and politics and international politics.  Kerry Smith, who served as facilitator of this panel, is the Chair of the East Asian Studies Department at Brown University and has produced works on the social history of interwar Japan.


Alina Kung, chair of this year’s Symposium, provided a brief introduction and highlighted the interactions and tensions that happen through language and ideology.  The inclusive and exclusive terms used across the strait could be seen as symbols, which are important and significant to those who use them.  In particular, the question of whether symbols could be used to construct mutual lines of meaning was raised.  


The first panelist, Professor DeLisle, began by listing the complicated terminology that has been used to describe Taiwan, some dating back to the 1970s while others cropped up only recently.  Among these are “province of Taiwan,” the Asian Development Bank’s “Taipei, China” and the mainland’s usage in the Olympic context of “China Taipei.”  He also provided a lawyer’s perspective in his discussion of the significance of these names and the reasons for their existence.  In particular, the quest to give Taiwan a fairly close to state-like status was for security reasons, in addition to receiving acceptance into as many international organizations and treaties as possible.  Simultaneously, pure politics cannot explain all, and as a result there has been a plethora of names.


Professor Wachman generally agreed with what was said and brought up some interesting questions concerning the expansion of a state, the concept of the panel and the causal relationship between terminology and peace.  He mentioned that although it was acceptable for a country to expand into new territory and keep its name and status, contraction would result in a removal of said status.  In addition, issues of terminology may stem from a fundamental hierarchy of power, where many states and organizations may agree with Beijing’s view for the sake of agreeing with China on paper.  As a concluding thought, he encouraged the delegates to consider what they expected to see to have a condition that could be labeled as peace.  


One interesting question from a delegate involved the PRC government’s argument that Taiwan independence was a threat to mainland stability and drew parallels between Taiwan and movements for autonomy in Xinjiang and Tibet.  Wachman responded by mentioning that firstly, there was no evidence that political leaders in Beijing were punished for losing territory, meaning that that the threat to stability was slim.  Public protests were often abut China’s dealings with other countries, and therefore situations in Tibet and Xinjiang were utterly different.  DeLisle argued that there existed a myth in mainland China that the people will keep leaders hard on the issue of Taiwan, punishing them with unrest should they become more compromising.  The pressure to be harsh will result in issues taking advantage of opportunities to ease tensions.  Ultimately, the vested interest in ambiguity of terminology and the implications for all parties involved is a topic to be further explored.