Friday, September 15, 2006

Taiwan -Out of This World?

Ira Stoll of the New York Sun, the neocon vanity press house journal, asked the Taiwanese president at the press conference I mention below, "The scandals and corruption and failures of the UN are so vast that increasing numbers of the Americans think the United States should leave the UN-perhaps to be more like Taiwan, a free, democratic, economically successful country that's not a member of the UN. Why are you so determined for Taiwan to join an organization that's so flawed and troubled?" It provoked an immediate thought "because Taiwan is on this planet - and the Sun isn't."

Taiwan -Out of This World?

Taiwan's fourteenth attempt to get into the UN predictably failed on Tuesday when the General Assembly's General Committee refused to allow the issue even to get onto the agenda.

As in previous years the very modest resolution merely asked the Assembly to study the question of Taiwanese association with the world body, and this year Taiwan and its allies added a new resolution suggesting that the issue be examined in the light of peace and security in the region, since that is, after all, what the UN is supposed to be about. The delegates just refused to discuss the issue, which says Ambassador Stuart Beck of Palau, is totally contrary to the UN's own rules of procedure, which say that any delegation can inscribe any issue it wants on the agenda.

It is also true that Beijing has bullied the UN Secretariat and many of the delegations into accepting that uniquely among all General Assembly decisions, resolution 2758 which seated the PRC on the Security Council can not be questioned or raised ever again. One only has to think of the overturning of the "Zionism is Racism" resolution, a product of the same era, to see that no UN decision is ever set in stone.

Exasperated with the attitude of the PRC, in a video-conference on Wednesday morning with diplomats and academics and the media in New York, Taiwanese President Chen Shui-bian speaking from Taipei ratcheted up the stakes a notch more. Describing Taiwan's previous approaches as "reasonable and moderate," and Beijing's response as "barbaric oppression against Taiwan," he announced that in future the bid would not be in the name of Republic of China, but of Taiwan.

He also detailed the ways that the Taiwanese government had been prepared to bend to accommodate Beijing's obsessions-trying to join the WHO as a "health entity," joining the WTO as a "customs territory," and the Olympics as "Chinese Taipei."

When I questioned him about whether Beijing might not see this as provocatively close to declaring independence, he says that "China will react very strongly, and perhaps crudely," and went a step further and said "Maybe we should consider a referendum on this issue."

He cited recent polls showing 79% support for this, but allowed that it would be considerably less popular among the leadership in Beijing. But when asked if Taiwan would consider following others down the attention-seeking path with the nuclear option, he declared "We are not North Korea," and "we will never resort to nuclear weapons to be a 'squeaky wheel.'"

Li Weiyi, spokesman for the Taiwan Affairs Office of the PRC predictably declared that Taiwan's latest application for UN membership is a "new and dangerous" step taken by Chen along the secessionist path. "It further exposes his sinister motive to speed up secessionist activities."

One could of course argue that wanting a democratic referendum on Taiwan is somewhat less sinister than pointing 800 missiles at the "Taiwanese compatriots," for having secessionist thoughts.
Chen's moves will certainly lend some point to the abortive pro-Taiwanese resolution invoking the UN's mandate to promote peace and security, especially in the Straits.

There is something inherently irrational about the situation, and the acquiescence of most of GA delegates has a lot more to do with pandering to the Chinese gorilla than any niceties of international law.

The bedrock principles for many of the non-aligned are the inviolability of colonial boundaries, and the right of self determination of the territories. For example, thirty years after, few countries, and certainly not the UN, recognize Morocco's annexation of Western Sahara, on exactly those grounds. Taiwan certainly has strong claims on both those grounds, but the Chinese attitude is out of step with modern history: Montenegro, for example, would not have been allowed to secede on the whim of the electorate, and the members of the Scottish Nationalist Party would find themselves in prison, or worse, as "secessionists," which several Chinese envoys have tried to equate outright with terrorism.

Certainly it should be puzzling to other delegates, if they sat to think it through, that Beijing actually prefers a government in Taipei that claims to be a government-in-exile for the whole of China, to one that claims only to represent Taiwan. Chen, inheriting such residual claims from the former KMT regime is happy to renounce claims to represent China but Beijing, bizarrely, has declared that to be an occasion for war.

The UN is a very flexible organization. There are former Pacific Trust territories, such as Palau and Micronesia, whose budget is entirely dependent on Washington, and whose defence is entirely committed to the US. For almost half a century, Byelorussia and Ukraine, constituent republics of the USSR, which at the time had less independence than the average American village, were full voting members of the United Nations. Queen Elizabeth is represented by some eighteen countries, whose diplomats technically submit their credentials in her name.
There are even precedents for member states, such as the two Yemens or Germany, to reunify after decades of separate representation, so Taiwanese membership need not be irrevocable.

One can understand that when Chiang Kai Shek ruled Taiwan under martial law as an offshore island waiting to regain the mainland, many delegations would have reservations, but those days are gone. It is clear that most Taiwanese would much rather go their own way, and if they could be assured that they would not be nuked for doing so, an overwhelming majority of them would.

The PRC's failure to live up to the spirit of the Hong Kong SAR agreements, and the bellicose threats against the people of Taiwan, have strengthened the Taiwan independence movement, but one presumes that they are not really aimed at Taiwanese hearts and minds, but rather a domestic mainland constituency, indeed probably an inner party one.
The Chinese Communist Party's effective abandonment of its former claimed socialism, leaves only nationalism with which to score points inside the party. Ironically, there are probably more "Socialist" provisions, in terms of social welfare, healthcare etc, in Taiwan than in the former land of the iron ricebowl, but that probably exacerbates the comrades' ire.

It could rationally be asked, why has Taiwan become so obsessive about membership of the United Nations? Apart from the symbolic value, that membership has become synonymous with acceptance as an independent nation, the most tangible benefit is security. The Taiwanese want assurances that they will not be attacked.

The US and Japan, in their own way, as irrational as the PRC, do not recognize Taiwan, but recently re-pledged their military support for what is presumably a "defence entity" for the purpose. However the situation is indeed, as the thwarted Taiwanese resolution says, a threat to peace and security.

Far from pressuring the PRC diplomatically to pledge a nonviolent solution, the major powers prefer to kow tow, or at least to humour Beijing. One notes with mild amusement the silence of former Taiwan lobbyist John Bolton on the issue. But there are precedents which suggest that Beijing's bluff can be called. For example, when the Chinese delegation was about to veto UN peacekeepers for Haiti because of the Caribbean republic's recognition of Taiwan, Latin American ambassadors firmly but politely told them that they would blow their credibility in the region and in the broader non-aligned. China backed down, and now actually has peacekeepers in Haiti – which still has ties with Taiwan!

One can understand other governments pandering to a nine hundred pound gorilla, but there is a very real danger fermenting across the straits, and some such hard, not necessarily hostile, talk is overdue to remove the threat of war spinning out of control in the region.


Jay said...

Spot-on analysis, Mr. Williams. Taiwan's quest for international participation is indeed driven in part by the need for more security, and the "peace proposal" its diplomatic allies floated earlier this week is aimed at convincing the UN that it has much more to gain by acting as a forum for cross-strait peace than playing the role of China's enabler.

Having lived in Taiwan before, I can attest to the fact that the Taiwanese want nothing more than to be allowed some respect and acknowledgement of their democratic and economic achievements. The majority support the status quo (i.e. de facto independence) for the time being and are quite willing to consider the question of unification if it is done in the spirit of equality and democracy. It truly unfortunate that Beijing fails to acknowledge this.

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