Friday, February 16, 2007

Taiwan, NGO: Talk Amongst Yourselves

A longtime Taiwan observer recently posted some ideas for discussion to Taiwan Focus:


On the subject of Taiwan independence, I've been grappling with a question for quite a while.

First, Taiwan is a land of contradictions. It in many ways is a global anomoly. Taiwan is an independent nation-state, regardless if it's the "ROC" or Taiwan. It exists, and has a distinct and separate international personality.

However, most of the international community, and especially the major states that draft and enforce international law, doesn't recognize Taiwan as an independent nation-state in accordance with international law, as the dominant powers in the international system define it.

One could come up with the best legal arguments and "should be"-type propositions. But it's not clear how effective they are or would be as long as China is a major power and has an authoritarian, one-party system.

So it seems Taiwan independence advocates could fighting an uphill battle if the goal is to become a recognized nation-state in accordance with international law.

Is Taiwan independence - de jure recognition as a nation-state by the international system - the end goal itself? Or would de jure independence be an instrument to serve some broader purpose for Taiwan and its people?

Or is the goal more basic? That is, avoid being part of China, at least politically, and to have a separate and distinct international identity and personality.

If the latter is the case, then I wonder if there are alternatives to becoming a member of the club of nation-states, a system that in some ways is becoming less relevant as forces of globalization break down borders associated with tradition notions of sovereignty and the nation-state. China, of course, is a leading member of this old, Westphalian club of nation-states that stresses nationalism.

Over the past six months or so, a number of leading specialists in the US, such as Randy Schriver, Mike Green, Dan Blumenthal, Mike Pillsbury, and others, have been hitting on a new theme. That's to look at Taiwan in a different way.

Of course Taiwan is independent. It's obvious. So why absorb so much energy in trying to convince others, when that energy could be spent pursuing a different path?

There has been an alternative raised not only by these former US officials who are generally believed to be sympathetic toward Taiwan, but also Annette Lu, a leading figure within the DPP and advocate of Taiwan independence. Over the last year or so, she seems to be highlighting an interesting new approach.

In a Commonwealth (Tianxia) interview a couple of months ago, and then in her recently published book (Global Taiwan), Annette Lu highlights a third path for Taiwan. Not Sinicization. Not Taiwanization. But globalization and transnational values such democracy as the international personality and identity for Taiwan.

This is an interesting thread that could be pulled. Mike Pillsbury, in a meeting last week with CSB and other senior officials, outlined what he called "The Pillsbury Six Points." I don't think it came across well, but he emphasized the potential for Taiwan to highlight its status as a non-state actor, or NGO, and figure out ways to leverage its corporate status rather than fight for de jure nation-state status under international law.

I don't think raised this, but the possible vehicle, in terms of domestic US policy, could be the McCain ADVANCE Democracy Act of 2005. In this legislation, McCain and Frank Wolf (R-Va) called for establishment of regional democracy hubs under a selected US mission in a given region.

Congress would appropriate funding and appoint a regional director to promote democracy in the region. In Asia, the candidate could be AIT. The McCain legislation passed in part in 2005, but the regional hub language was cut.

If this portion was re-tabled, and AIT designated as the regional democracy hub, then management of funding and the hub would be carried out by State Global Affairs and not State EAP, which has Taiwan subordinated to the China Desk. In effect, with this legislation, management of Taiwan would be shifted to State Global Affairs and not the China office.

In short, Taiwan would be treated as a non-state actor, or NGO, rather than a sub-set of China. This in effect would be a paradigm shift, and China's reaction would be uncertain. Would China oppose and lobby against a bureaucratic solution that would skirt the sovereignty issue?

Would China fear Taiwan as a base for expansion of democratic principles? Would focusing on democracy and globalization help get the US to focus on helping to ensure Taiwan's transition to a mature democracy with an improved legal foundation for good governance? Who knows.


skiingkow said...

In this legislation, McCain and Frank Wolf (R-Va) called for establishment of regional democracy hubs under a selected US mission in a given region.

U.S. "regional democracy hubs"?!!!


If there's anything the U.S. promotes these days -- it 'aint "democracy".

Seriously though -- to be honest, I can't make any sense of this idea at all. This sounds like some kind of wacked-out neocon half-thought. The question is: who's "globalization" is this?

Anonymous said...


I have no comments on the issue you're posting about here, but wanted to make sure you knew about this new book-- "Taiwan: The Threatened Democracy" by Bruce Herschensohn.

Here's the link, from the Taiwan Journal:

Anonymous said...

It's an interesting idea. Why try to get into the club in the first place?

Taiwan wants 1) its citizens to get into places easily on a Taiwanese passport 2) free trade agreements 3) participation in WHO 4) participation in international police organizations and mutual extradition treaties 5) this really should be one, but security. It seems this would be quite possible without US officially recognizing Taiwan.