Vanderbilt Journal of Transnational Law


Carl L. Gable

First Page



The surprise and drama of President Carter's recognition of the People's Republic of China as "the sole legal government of China" have overshadowed the unique legal concepts on which his policy rests. Those concepts impact directly on private trade and investment transactions with Taiwan. They may also sound the death knell for traditional definitions of the term "recognition" in international law and diplomacy.

The recognition of a government such as the People's Republic of China (and the related termination of recognition of the Republic of China government) is a unique hybrid: a political act of the executive branch which directly affects the application of legal principles by the judicial branch. In the present instance the President sought, by executive directives and the introduction of legislation in Congress, to separate the political act from its traditional legal consequences. The resulting Taiwan Relations Act of 1979, amounts to legislative re-recognition of the Republic of China government on Taiwan.

This article examines the domestic legal consequences of the international law concept of recognition, and the relevance of that concept in current diplomatic practice. It will also consider the effect of the Taiwan Relations Act of 1979, which restored legislatively the legal incidents normally flowing only from the executive act of recognition.