popular sovereignty

Popular sovereignty: the doctrine that the state is created by and subject to the will of the people, who are the source of all political power.

Contrastingly, when discussing Taiwan's legal status, the sovereignty spoken of is "territorial sovereignty," which is the right of a government to exclusively exercise its powers within a particular territory. As such, "territorial sovereignty" must be based on having "territorial title."

Popular Sovereignty v. Territorial Sovereignty

The distinction between these two concepts is very important for discussing the details of Taiwan's international legal situation.

Specifically, in regard to ceding territory, an examination of all relevant treaties in the post-Napoleonic period clearly shows that "territorial title" is held by a government, and "territorial cession" is an action between governments. Contrastingly, no historical examples have been discovered where "the people" (in some anonymous fashion) were deemed to hold the "territorial title" to any areas.

As we know, when dialogue on the correct path for Taiwan's future development is conducted, an assertion such as "Sovereignty over Taiwan belongs to the native Taiwanese people" is often heard. In fact, however, this viewpoint contributes very little to the dialogue. This is especially true since --
  • the US Executive Branch has opined on numerous occasions that it does not favor any sort of "national Taiwan referendum" which would seek to assert a definition of Taiwan's legal status, and

  • it is very difficult to find any examples where international scholars have held that the principle of "self-determination of peoples" enshrined in the Charter of the United Nations is applicable to the situation of occupied territories.