Taiwan Communiqué No. 98, September 2001

Taiwan into the UN

"A full and equal member"

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Taiwan at the UN's door: "Open sesame!"

On 8 August 2001, ten of Taiwan's diplomatic allies submitted a joint proposal to the UN Secretariat in New York, urging its General Assembly to set up a working group to study the Taiwan's membership in the world body. Noting that Taiwan is the only country in the world that remains excluded from the UN, the ten nations requested the inclusion on the agenda of the UN's 56th General Assembly session of an item titled "Need to examine the exceptional international situation pertaining to Taiwan and ensure that the fundamental right of Taiwan's 23 million people to participate in the work and activities of the UN is fully respected."

A few days earlier, on 2 August 2001, a resolution was introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives urging Taiwan's membership in the UN and other international organizations. The resolution was introduced by Congressman Bob Schaffer (R-CO), and co-sponsored by a bi-partisan group of 13 House Members in calling on the Bush Administration to "take a leading role in gaining international support for Taiwan's participation" in the United Nations and other international organizations, stating that Taiwan deserves "full and equal membership" in these bodies.

The US Congressional resolution marks the first time that Congress is emphasizing "full and equal membership" in the UN. This is a major step forward. Resolutions in earlier years merely emphasized the much more vague term "participation" in international organizations.

The Taiwan government proposal — as submitted by the ten nations to the UN _ still talks of "Republic of China", the anachronistic title used by the former Kuomintang authorities, who came over from China in 1949. Below we give our commentary, followed by two essays on the issue. The first one is an editorial from the Taipei Times, while the second is an OpEd piece by professor Wang Taitzer regarding the importance of the 1951 San Francisco Peace Treaty in the discussion of Taiwan's international status.

Taiwan Communiqué comment: If the quest for UN membership is to succeed, the Taiwan authorities will have to make a clean break with the past, and discard the outdated ROC title. That title still harks back to the dark days of the Chinese Civil War, and perpetuates the claim of sovereignty over all of China.

It is essential for Taiwan to present itself as "Taiwan", and explains to the international community that the new Taiwan of 2001 is totally different from the old ROC of 1971, when representation of "China" in the UN shifted from the Kuomintang authorities in Taipei to the Communist authorities in Beijing.

Due to the fuzzy policies in Taiwan, many members of parliaments in Europe and Congress in the US do not realize the distinction between the two. Four decades of control of the island by the Chinese Nationalists have made "Taiwan" synonymous with the Kuomintang regime and its anachronistic quest to "recover" China.

For many political decision-makers in Europe and the US, the fact that the KMT's rule constituted a foreign power which occupied the island following World War II, and for many decades prevented the islanders from having any say in the political system or in the decisions on the island's future, sheds a new light on the whole issue of recognition of Taiwan.

Following its remarkable transition towards a full democracy, "Taiwan" now stands for a new and democratic nation, where some 85% of the population _ the native Taiwanese _ had no involvement whatsoever with the Chinese Civil war, but sees their future being held hostage by that Civil war.

"Taiwan" or "ROC" therefore does make a great deal of difference in the support the island will get: trying to "reenter as ROC" will only get a shrug from most nations. However, if one can make clear that for more than four decades the views of the native Taiwanese were suppressed, and that the island has now evolved into a full democracy with its own identity, that will make a great deal of difference.

No time for quitters

This article first appeared in the Taipei Times on 6 August 2001. Reprinted with permission.

It is that time of the year again — time for Taiwan to begin another push to join the UN — as the General Assembly gets ready to convene in September 2001. Unfortunately, many in Taiwan are showing miniscule enthusiasm toward a ninth attempt to pound on the door of the UN. In fact, besides Minister of Foreign Affairs Tien Hung-mao, no political figures have openly spoken on the subject so far.

However, Tien has indicated that Taiwan will neither seek an observer status first, nor seek to enter under any name besides the Republic of China. This statement suggests a lack of flexibility and pragmatism in the government's strategy. As UN observer status is extended to non-state entities, obtaining it poses fewer challenges to Taiwan. Therefore, it should be Taiwan's main objective at this time. Trying to enter the name ROC is equally unrealistic. In the past, this country has joined other international organizations such as the APEC under names including "Chinese Taipei." So why can't Taiwan demonstrate the same flexibility and pragmatism here?

The lack of enthusiasm for this year's UN bid is also troublesome. In view of the continuing support of Taiwan's friends and supporters overseas for such membership, people here should be ashamed. Thirteen members of the US House of Representatives, including long-time Taiwan supporter Bob Schaffer of Colorado, have proposed a resolution supporting Taiwan's participation in the UN and other international organizations, as well as demanding the US government help it win international support. Schaffer and some 40 members of the House also proposed a similar resolution last year.

Each year, overseas Taiwanese and Taiwanese groups such as the Formosan Association for Public Affairs (FAPA), also put in enormous efforts to campaign for Taiwan's participation in the UN and other international organizations such as the World Health Organization (WHO). In fact, FAPA has played a prominent role in the US's enactment of Public Law 106-137 in support of Taiwan's participation in the WHO.

The people of Taiwan cannot afford to appear as if they have lost their desire to be represented in the UN and other organizations. After all, much of the overseas support for Taiwan's international participation is premised on a belief that the people of Taiwan desire such participation. In fact, Public Law 106-137 specifically states, as a reason for supporting Taiwan's WHO membership, Taiwan's "expressed willingness" to take part in WHO activities. If this lack of enthusiasm in Taiwan continues, the world community will cease its support for Taiwan's bids.

This unconcerned attitude is understandable, given the failures of previous bids, as well as China's apparent ability to shut the UN door on Taiwan's face. Nevertheless, one can hardly say progress, as painstakingly slow as it may seem, hasn't resulted from all the hard work.

For example, while Taiwan may not be a WHO member yet, prolonged campaigning has produced not only Public Law 106-137, but also US Secretary of Health and Human Services Tommy G. Thompson's announcement of Washington's support for Taiwan's WHO membership during that organization's annual conference in May. President George W. Bush also recently indicated in a letter to Senator Frank Murkowski that the US should assist Taiwan in getting its voice heard in international organizations.

As long as the people of Taiwan continue to voice their desire for representation in the UN and the government continues to campaign for UN membership, progress will be forthcoming.

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