The 50th anniversary of the United Nations is bringing the issue of Taiwan's membership to the forefront of the international agenda again. At present, the world body, which was set up to promote universal peace and stability, is leaving an increasingly free, democratic, and independent nation of 21 million people out in the cold.
In this issue of Taiwan Communiqué we argue that the founding principles of the United Nations require that this new Taiwan be embraced as a full and equal member of this world body: Article 1.2 of the UN Charter emphasizes that the UN was set up "...based on the respect for the principle of equal rights and self-determination of peoples." It is time for the UN to live up to these principles. On the following pages we also explain why the attempts by the Kuomintang authorities to enter the UN as the "Republic of China on Taiwan" have failed, and why this approach will remain a dead-end street.
Demonstrating in New York in support of Taiwan membership in the UN
It needs to be emphasized that Taiwan fulfills all requirements and conditions of a nation-state: it has a defined territory, a population of 21 million (greater than that of three quarters of the UN member nations), and a government which exercises effective jurisdiction over the territory and the population, and has over the past several years become significantly more democratic. Why is it important that this de-facto independent country becomes a member of the UN?
First, because of the original principles of the UN itself: the world body was founded on the principles of universality and self-determination. If the UN is to survive as an institution that safeguards world peace, it is essential that it adheres to these principles, and apply them to the case of Taiwan. The demise of the UN's predecessor, the League of Nations, was primarily due to the fact that the League's principles were not adhered to: it became a pawn in the chess-game of a few bigger nations, and its effectiveness in protecting the rights of smaller nations was reduced to zero. The invasion of then-Abbessynia (today's Ethiopia) by Italy was a prime example. We see a disturbing trend in a similar direction in the UN today: its inability to solve the Bosnia crisis.
A second reason for supporting Taiwan's membership in the UN is that this further internationalizes the debate about its future status, and thus counters the attempts by China to deal with it as an "internal problem." Achievement of UN-membership will formalize international recognition of Taiwan's de facto independent status.
A third reason is that over the past decade Taiwan has -- due to the hard work of the democratic opposition of the DPP and the overseas Taiwanese community -- achieved a democratic political system. This argument is especially relevant for the United States and Europe. It would be highly peculiar, if not indefensible, for the West to deny UN membership to a free and democratic nation, while condoning the presence of repressive, undemocratic nations such as China, Iraq, Iran, etc. This would be a flagrant violation of basic democratic principles.
A fourth reason, which has been emphasized extensively already by the Kuomintang authorities themselves, is that Taiwan -- with its human and economic resources -- can contribute to the international community in many areas: economic and agricultural assistance, technical assistance, disaster relief etc. Taiwan is a major international player on the economic front. It should be accepted as a full and equal player in all respects. Long-term strategy
Of course the road towards UN-membership is a long-term effort: China does have a seat in the UN Security Council, and it will try to use everything within its power to resist Taiwan's membership. However, it is a matter of persistence and determination: it took the United States some seven years before it gained international recognition for its independence. It wasn't until 1783 (seven years after the Declaration of Independence) that the first nation (France) extended diplomatic recognition to the new country -- this in spite of strenuous objections of the mightiest power on earth at that time: Great Britain.
The approach which has the highest chance of success is thus based on the four arguments, which were outlined earlier: 1) the UN principles of universality and self-determination, 2) it is an international issue, not an issue "to be determined by the Chinese themselves", 3) Taiwan has achieved a democratic political system, and 4) Taiwan can contribute to the international community. De-linkage and smart diplomacy
In terms of tactics, the international community should de-link the Taiwan question from their relations with China: relations with Taiwan and its membership in the UN should be considered on its own merits. Taiwan should not be used as a pawn in a larger -- geopolitical -- chess-game with China. Of course China will continue to insist on a linkage, but if other nations consistently separate the issues, then eventually China will have no choice but to go along.
Another aspect is that the international community should deal firmly with China. All too often, nations cower when China throws its temper tantrums. China should learn to behave like a resonsible player in the international community. Taiwan should conduct "smart diplomacy", and be on the look-out for those nations which are less susceptible to pressures from China, those nations which generally hold UN principles high, those nations which have gone through a similar recent history as Taiwan. It should always be on the lookout for new opportunities to gain international support, and e.g. go to the Nordic countries in Europe, and to the newly democratic Eastern European nations, such as Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic and Slovakia.
It needs to be emphasized strongly that this new Taiwan is totally different from the old "Republic of China" which was kicked out of the United Nations in 1971. As we argued before: Resolution 2758 dealt with the question who was representing China in the United Nations. It did not deal with the question of Taiwan's representation, which is a separate issue, to be dealt with as a follow up on the decisions of the San Francisco Peace Treaty of 1951-52 (see "Towards a new Taiwan policy" in Communiqué no. 67).
For China, the new Taiwan is thus not the old rival from the days of the Chinese Civil War on the mainland (a myth perpetuated by the Kuomintang authorities for many decades), but a new neighbor, which wants to live in peace with all its neighbors, including the big brother across the Straits.
As was written in a recent eloquent letter by Lord Avebury, the British Chairman of the Parliamentary Human Rights Group, to China's ambassador in London: "If the people of Taiwan decide that they want the international community to recognize their existence as an independent state, and formally apply for UN membership, I hope that the People's Republic of China will gracefully acquiesce, even if they continue to feel emotionally that Taiwan is part of their state.
The best way they have of persuading Taiwan ultimately to reunify with
China is to allow Tibet, Mongolia, East Turkestan and, after July 1997, Hong
Kong, to develop their own lines. One has to say that, looking at the first
three of the territories mentioned, there is nothing to attract the Taiwanese to
throw in their lot with the PRC."
The three attempts which have been made in 1993, 1994, and 1995 -- primarily by Central American nations -- to put the question of the "exceptional status of the Republic of China on Taiwan" on the UN agenda have failed. Why ? The international community decided a long time ago that it recognizes the government in Peking as representing "China." This issue was settled in 1971.
The Kuomintang (riding backwards on the "One China" horse):
"I insist on my own interpretation."
The road towards the UN will remain a dead-end street for Taiwan as long as the Kuomintang authorities continue to cling to the old and anachronistic "Republic of China" title. It is detrimental to the UN-membership bid. Furthermore, the so-called "ROC" is anathema to the Chinese leaders who have gone through the civil war on the mainland, and will remain so to their political heirs in Beijing for decades to come.
The only way to enter the UN is to present Taiwan as a new, free, democratic and independent nation named Taiwan, which wants to live in peace with all its neighors, including China.
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