Taiwan, Macedonia and East Timor

Washington, 31 January 1999

During the past week, there were two announcements that may affect Taiwan's international relations positively.

The first one was the announcement that Taiwan and Macedonia established diplomatic ties. Most people in Taiwan probably never heard of Macedonia before: it is a small nation -- part of former Yugoslavia -- which gained its independence over the past few years. It is recognized by most countries in the world, including the United States. It has a formal embassy in Washington, where it is represented by a female ambassador and three other diplomats.

The Foreign Ministry in Taipei, Mr. Jason Hu, did show some fast footwork in bringing the diplomatic ties about. They jumped at the opportunity, when in November a new government came to power in Macedonia's capital Skopje, made up of a non-communist coalition led by Mr. Vasil Tupurkovski.

A funny situation arose, when Macedonia President Kiro Gligorov -- who is part of the defeated former communist party in Macedonia but who retained his post -- announced that he didn't know about the relations with Taiwan, and expressed his strong opposition against it.

If Taiwan can maintain the relations with Macedonia, this would be a nice "foot-in-the-door" in Europe. But, it has to work hard to build up relations with other nations too, like the Nordic countries (Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Finland), the Baltic States, and the members of the European Union. This can only be done if Taiwan presents itself as a new, democratic and independent Taiwan, and drops the old and outdated "Republic of China" title.

The second announcement, was the one made by Indonesia's Foreign Minister, Ali Alatas, who stated that he didn't exclude granting independence to East Timor, the former Portuguese colony, which was occupied by Indonesia in 1975, followed by more than 20 years of brutal military repression.

Indeed, Taiwan should strongly support the granting of full independence to East Timor, and help rebuild that nation. If Taiwan does that, then chances are good that it can establish diplomatic ties with this new nation. The independence movement in Taiwan already has good ties with Dr. Jose Ramos-Horta, the 1996 Nobel Peace Prize Winner, who will certainly be a major leader in future independent East Timor.

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