Saturday, September 15, 2007

Forays into the UN US-Taiwan Bog

Rupert Hammond-Chambers of the American Chamber of Commerce in Taiwan US-Taiwan business council published a long piece on the malaise in US-Taiwan relations...Hammond-Chambers makes some excellent points also made in the Tkacik piece I referenced earlier this week:

China's political influence in the U.S. is growing as well. We see it on Capitol Hill, within the Executive Branch, and in the love-hate relationship many American companies maintain with China. As the PRC becomes increasingly able to press its interests within our political system, U.S. relations with Taiwan are left in an increasingly precarious position.

Taiwan policy issues are frequently subject to timing and atmospherics--of the next Chinese delegation visiting Washington or the next U.S. cabinet officer traveling to Beijing--and the timing rarely seems right for positive, long-term steps forward.

Taiwan finds itself in an unenviable political situation. In a recent interview with Hong Kong's Phoenix TV, U.S. Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte made some critical comments in response to an effort on the part of Taiwan's government to implement a referendum on membership in the United Nations under the name Taiwan--as opposed to Taiwan's official name, the Republic of China.

The proposed referendum would take place on March 22, 2008 to coincide with the island's next presidential election. Commenting on the proposal in a speech at the U.S.-Taiwan Business Council's Defense Industry Conference, U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Tom Christensen stated, "We do not recognize Taiwan as an independent state and we do not accept the argument that provocative assertions of Taiwan independence are in any way conducive to maintenance of the status quo or peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait."

Communication--or the lack thereof--is very much at the heart of the inability of the U.S., Taiwan and China to deal with the recent changes in the Taiwan Strait. There is currently excellent communications between the United States and China, partial communication between the U.S. and Taiwan and no communication between China and Taiwan. It is very difficult to comprehend how the triangular relationship between the three will improve when the quality and level of dialogue over shared concerns is so erratic and unbalanced?

As a practical matter, America is in an increasingly untenable position vis-'-vis maintenance of the status quo, particularly as the facts on the ground have changed so dramatically. China's emergence as a global economic power and an emerging regional military power has placed an increasing U.S. emphasis on managing our myriad interests with China.

Everyone on all sides is saying the same thing: communication between Taiwan and the US has to be improved. The State Department needs to lift restrictions on visits to Taiwan by US government officials, and to get its people over here pronto to thwack heads and talk turkey.

The US Taiwan Business Council also released a statement criticizing the US for not selling F-16s to Taiwan, which I discussed in the post below this one. With this piece, is the council setting out to take up some of the slack in US-Taiwan discourse?

The Japanese papers carried a flurry of Taiwan stuff this week, including the announcement that Taiwanese drivers licenses will be recognized in Japan. The editorial section of the Japan Times carried this excellent piece castigating the UN for its neglect of Taiwan (thanks, Sponge Bear)....
The most significant issue on which the international community of states is in complete denial is the way in which Taiwan has been "banned" from the U.N., just like undesirables in apartheid South Africa. Taiwan is refused membership, is not granted observer status, and does not figure in the U.N.'s statistical databases.

The refusal to permit any form of Taiwanese participation in the World Health Organization, for example, means that 23 million people are cut off from information on global health policy discussions, exchanges on technology and best practices, and the monitoring and prevention of epidemics. Japan and the United States are the main backers of increased Taiwanese participation in the WHO.

On July 19, Taiwan submitted, yet again, its application for admission to the U.N. It satisfies all the normal criteria of a state: territory, people and effective control by a stable government. Moreover, as an island it has a natural demarcation. But on July 23, the U.N. Office of Legal Affairs returned the application. The decision has little to do with the merits of the application and everything to do with the geopolitics of China as a permanent member of the Security Council. Questioning the right of the secretariat to decide on the issue, Taiwan will try to take its case directly to the General Assembly, with little chance of success.

Where does this leave all the fine talk of democracy, human rights and self-determination in Kosovo, East Timor and elsewhere? Taiwan is better credentialed than most of them. Its population of 23 million is about the same as the combined total of Australia and New Zealand, and bigger than scores of U.N. members. Is the U.N.'s democracy fund a complete sham?

In his campaign for the post of U.N. secretary general, Ban Ki Moon made much of the fact that he is from a country that has actually made the transition from poor to high income and from an authoritarian to a democratic regime. South Korea's example is much more relevant to most U.N. member states than countries that have failed to make the transition and others that were already developed.

Like South Korea, Taiwan is a vibrant democracy and a dynamic economy. It is the world's only Chinese democracy. Both countries embody U.N. ideals, values and aspirations. In March 2008, the Taiwanese people might get a chance to express their opinion directly on a referendum on U.N. membership. Yet, far from welcoming direct democracy, most outsiders are counseling "restraint" on Taiwan.

So much for "We the people." As the great Soviet dissident Alexander Solzhenitsyn noted, the U.N. is the place where the peoples of the world are often served up to the designs of governments. In the decades to come, we are likely to look back at the Taiwan charade as one of the more shameful examples of the international community lacking the courage of its convictions.

Each year we petition the UN for entry, and each year we're denied. Taiwan is approaching this in typical Chinese fashion: petitioning the emperor. Just picture us in that legendary village of petitioners in Beijing, hoping the Throne will, with a wave of its hand, restore our rightful place in the world. For Taiwan is at the moment a thing out of place, and in Chinese thinking, things that are out of place, that have fallen behind, are sources of chaos and disorder....


Anonymous said...


Chambers is from the US-Taiwan Business Council, not Amcham.


Anonymous said...

I liked that article from the Japan Times, although i would have reservations calling Taiwan a chinese democracy, i prefer to call it a 'Taiwanese' democracy :D

Anonymous said...

All the recent US/Taiwan rhetoric and blather had me wondering just how unified the US message is regarding the Taiwan/China issue.

Rising up at the end of Bush's presidency, this polemic has all the earmarks of mismanaged policymaking. Some lowly State Department drone blasts Taiwan, followed by the president supporting Taiwan, followed by the Pentagon offering Taiwan weapons, followed by attempts of the State Department to arrest such sales. Honestly, it seems like there are three governments in the US: the neo-cons, the State Department, and the lonely lame duck President. Oh yes, and I forgot to include Democratic-controlled Congress, which won't support Taiwan, but is happy to prod China in the ribs with protectionist threats.

In any case, I was curious to know if there has been any coherent policy before now and perhaps found my answer in this six-year-old article for the National Review.

Conclusion: either there is a policy about Taiwan, or there isn't; or if there is, it's a secret, or maybe not a secret, but a changing set of policy recommendations that no one really takes seriously.

Whatever it may be, it doesn't look good for anyone who's counting on the US for support.

Anonymous said...

Hammond-Chambers is US-Taiwan Business Council, not AmCham.