Monday, May 14, 2007

Nelson Report on Chen's WHO Letter

I was planning on getting some work done tonight, but evidently the flow of news isn't going to permit are some excerpts from the latest Nelson Report, the Washington Insider report widely read around the globe...a top flight essay.


TAIWAN...Washington types working on this morning's bowl of porridge turned to the Post's editorial page, to be greeted by an Op Ed from Taiwan President Chen Shuibian.

In it, he demanded full membership in the World Health Organization in careful, but sharp phrases including this: Taiwan, formally known as the Republic of China, is indisputably a sovereign state, satisfying all of the criteria... including a permanent population, a defined territory, a functional government and the capacity to conduct relations with other states. It also has its own internationally traded currency and issues its own passport, honored by virtually all other nations.

Some Loyal Readers confess to turning pale, thinking that, as he has in the past, Chen had taken a deliberate step over the "status quo" line in ways which put that status quo at risk, by possibly provoking Beijing into some form of retaliation.

In fact, US experts agree that Chen's Op Ed reflects the careful lawyer he can be, when he wants to be...and here's the key: he doesn't use the I-word ...the real red flag to Beijing... independence .

So what's the problem? Well...there's an election on Taiwan going on now, and how to relate to the PRC has been bitterly debated between the old, mainland-founded and focused KMT, and the home-grown, independence minded DPP of President Chen, throughout the Bush Administration. As we are experiencing now, in the US, a presidential election has the tendency to heighten tensions, heighten differences, and to produce increasingly strident rhetoric designed to embarrass or defeat the opposition.
......[discussion of discourse and the I-word deleted].......

Step back a bit and you can see just the latest example of an inherently neurotic, very risky dynamic at work, one which has flared-up repeatedly during the nearly 8 years of the Chen Administration, but which really goes back to the Cold War, and the Nixon Administration.

Unfortunately, Taiwan and the WHO has become a live grenade in a rhetorical contest for international participation and influence which has been tossed back and forth between Washington and Beijing, and Taipei and Beijing, long before the US started to demand WHO observer status for Taiwan a decade ago...during the Clinton Administration, let the record reflect.

As elected officials in Taipei know all too well, they cannot gain official membership in any UN organization, including the WHO, since full membership requires independent sovereign state status....something the US agreed to abandon on Taiwan's behalf in 1972...the Republican administration of Mr. Nixon, and which was officially consumated by Democrat Jimmy Carter, with Deng Xiaoping, in 1979-80.

Since that time, a neurotic dynamic has been at work where friends of Taiwan here join with shifting political factions on Taiwan to seek official looking, or official sounding support from the US. Sometimes this takes the very solid form of arms sales, seen by both the Clinton and Bush Administration's as a legitimate response to potentially status-quo threatening actions by China; sometimes it  the seemingly trivial, but highly symbolic granting of transit visas for senior Taiwanese, especially the President, which offer the prospect of high-profile visits in the US.

As President Chen argues today, and US officials agree, there is very solid reason to be concerned about China's missile build-up along the Taiwan Strait, and China's continued reluctance to engage in internationally recognized norms of transparency on military and strategic questions. So while there have been times when US arms sales to Taiwan were not entirely the result of PRC actions (the first President Bush's F-16 sales come to mind) more often, US arms packages reflect a solid assessment of the evolving strategic realities.

We use the adjective "neurotic" advisedly, for two reasons: first, it is pretty easy to see why any Taiwanese political figure would feel insecure , and would be tempted to push for symbolic expressions of continued love and support from the US Government, and you can certainly see why that emotional need would be fed by Chinese actions designed to counter any such expressions by the US...and you can see how there is a constant chicken and egg dynamic at work;

Second, the dynamic is neurotic in ways we often see from the National Rifle Association, or the ACLU, or AIPAC, highly organized lobbies which habitually block otherwise reasonable positions for fear of setting a precedent for something they may not want, somewhere down the line. Granting Taiwan the US's officially approved term of meaningful participation in the WHO not only seems reasonable, to any outsider, it IS reasonable...except that Beijing also knows that, because of the neurosis factor, Taiwan can be counted on to take such an event as a gain to be exploited, even though that risks making other Taiwanese goals even less attainable.

For example, Chen's air of wounded innocence is somewhat compromised by his actions just a couple of weeks ago, when he sent a secret letter to the WHO demanding full membership...and didn't let the Bush Administration know about it. Clear it with the American Institute on Taiwan, and/or the State Department, if you want to be frank about it.[MT: WHAT? Doesn't the President ever learn? Somebody needs to explain the facts of life to that man!]

Since it's the US which has been trying to persuade Beijing to stop blackmailing the WHO into blackballing Taiwan for the past 10 effort which has not been diminished under the Bush can perhaps understand why the Bush folks were displeased with Chen's maneuver, while basically sympathetic to the expression of frustration and hope in today's Op Ed.

Another factor which is starting to surface, and which should be of concern to Beijing...there is no question that China blocking the US demand for Taiwan's meaningful participation is increasingly seen as not just nasty, not just stupid, but, increasingly, as symptomatic of China being really, really dangerous to world health.

The central government's mis-handling of the SARS threat has been somewhat improved in recent years, but given the recent scandal of poisonous pet food, followed by the truly terrifying prospect of Chinese export of deadly generic medicines for human don't have to be an advocate of international space for Taiwan to be really, really worried about the whole PRC posture on world health issues.

So China's continued veto of any kind of Taiwan participation in the WHO suddenly takes on far more weight than which Beijing, to date, seems incapable of grasping as a responsible stakeholder .

Hummm....a longer essay than we intended. In any event, a continual problem, one which is no going to get any better for the forseeable future.


Anonymous said...

Hi Michael:

Your blog should really be mandatory reading for every single Taiwanese person (perhaps translated first, though) and all overseas Taiwanese. The scope of the topics, the quality of the writing and depth of knowledge.

Thanks. - Regards, Amy C.

Michael Turton said...

Thanks, Amy. We aim to please!


channing said...

I agree most with the last sentence. From the probable perspective of Chinese leaders, it's hard to find a solution to give Taiwan its health access rights without giving the pro-independence side too much hype.

And given the bumbling awkwardness and inefficiency of the Chinese government, they won't be coming up with a solution anytime soon.

Anonymous said...

Hi! I'd like to translate this article to chenese. Who should I contact for permission?

Michael Turton said...

Chris Nelson knows his stuff is widely disseminated. I doubt he'll care if you translate it -- he knows sections of the report appear here on my blog, and has never complained. Go for it.