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Session C2
Taiwan’s Quest for International Space
Jacques deLisle
Law School and Political Science, University of Pennsylvania, USA

Taiwan faces challenges from its contested and precarious international status. In response, Taiwan has adopted a now-long-standing and long-evolving strategy of seeking to enhance its security.  This strategy has included claiming state-like status and participating as fully as possible in international institutions.  This approach, in turn, has meant deep engagement with international law, in diverse and numerous ways.  To varying degrees and in different formulations under various presidential administrations, Taiwan has asserted that it possesses essential attributes of statehood under international law.  It has tried, with diminishing but still significant success, to maintain formal diplomatic relations with a small number of states, thereby sustaining one legal marker of state status under international law. It has sought, tirelessly and with membership or other forms of participation in international institutions that often—and sometimes almost exclusively—have states as members and that have roles in making international law.  Examples of this range from international non-governmental organizations to APEC to the WTO to specialized organs of the United Nations (such as the World Health Assembly / World Health Organization).  Perhaps most intriguingly, Taiwan has chosen to act “as if” it were a member state of major international treaty-based regimes that it has not been allowed to join.  Taiwan also has emphasized its adherence to the norms of customary international law that apply to all states.  And Taiwan has touted its accomplishments in terms of legally ambiguous international norms that matter for status in the international system, including, most notably, democracy.

Taiwan’s distinct and multifaceted strategy, and its accomplishments and limitations, shed light on how international law can be engaged, and employed, to secure or enhance the status of a vulnerable actor in the international status.  The example of Taiwan also sheds light on, and raises questions about, how we should understand significant aspects of international law and its relationship to international politics.