You know it’s autumn when leaves begin to fall, there’s a slight chill in the air, colleges open their doors for another academic year-and the General Assembly rejects Taiwan’s annual bid for membership in the United Nations.
When the 58th session of the General Assembly convenes today, Taiwan’s supporters will once again petition the world body to include in its agenda consideration of “representation of the Republic of China (Taiwan) in the United Nations.”
This will be the 11th such request in as many years. A debate will ensue in which a handful of members will demand fairness for the island’s 23 million people and note that Taiwan has all of the attributes of a sovereign state — including defined borders and a functioning government which exercises authority throughout the nation.
Communist China and its puppets will repeat the preposterous claim that Taiwan (a vibrant democracy with a robust economy and a population larger than two-thirds of the UN’s member-states) is a province of the People’s Republic — which, in reality, has never ruled the island, even for a single day.
The request will be discussed and rejected, without a formal vote, on the grounds that there is “no consensus” in the General Assembly for consideration of Taiwan’s status. Still, the exercise is far from futile. It’s important for Taiwan’s friends to keep the issue alive and to remind us of the gross injustice of Taiwan’s isolation.
With the recent admission of Switzerland and East Timor, Taiwan becomes the only country not represented at the UN. Unlike many of the postage-stamp states seated in the General Assembly, by every measure, Taiwan is a significant player in the global economic system. According to World Bank data, it has the world’s 18th largest economy. The little dynamo is also the 14th most major trading nation (with exports of US $130.6 billion last year.) and has the third largest volume of information-technology exports. In its index of economic freedom for 2003, the Heritage Foundation ranks Taiwan 27th among 161 nations surveyed.
Equally impressive, in the course of less than two decades, Taiwan has gone from authoritarianism to a full-fledged democracy. Freedom House rates it one of the freest nations in Asia. In 1992, citizens of the Republic of China on Taiwan participated in the island’s first general parliamentary elections. This was followed by the first direct election of an ROC president in 1996. The year 2000 saw the first transfer of administrative power from one political party to another, following the ROC’s second presidential election.
Taiwan has a free press. Political protest is alive and well. Human rights are scrupulously protected. In other words, Taiwan stands as a shining example of the UN’s original vision of peace, democracy, human rights and prosperity.
The preamble of the United Nation’s Charter sets forth the organization’s mission to “reaffirm faith in fundamental human rights, in dignity and worth of the human person, in the equal rights of men and women and of nations large and small.” What about the rights, dignity and national aspirations of Taiwan’s 23 million people? Why are they the exception to this grand vision of equality and justice?
The charter declares that membership in the world body “is open to all peace-loving states which accept the obligations of the charter and, in the judgment of the organization, are willing and able to carry out these obligations.” Taiwan is peaceable in the extreme. It’s difficult to imagine a nation more anxious to avoid conflict. The ROC is eager to accept international obligations. Without formal ties to most nations, the island still does its part to promote Third World development. In 32 countries, long-term technical missions share Taiwan’s expertise in the fields of agriculture, horticulture, fisheries, transport, mining, electrical production and medicine.
The only obstacle to Taiwan’s membership in the United Nations lies across the Taiwan Strait. Beijing covets the island. It wants Taiwan’s economy. It needs Taiwan’s strategic position to fulfill its dream of Asian hegemony.
Through a combination of bribery and intimidation, it has managed to get the overwhelming majority of UN member states to agree to the One China fiction — that there is only one China (ruled by a regime which imposes its will on the nation’s 1.3 billion inhabitants). Moreover, according to this myth, the Marxist mandarins are the sole legitimate authority in Taiwan as well as on the mainland.
The proposition is so delusional that it could be concocted only by a totalitarian regime. The communist Party, which has held power on the mainland for over a half-century, has never extended its rule to Taiwan. Over the past 100 years, ties between Taiwan and the Middle Kingdom were practically non-existent. The island was ruled by Japan from 1895 to 1945. From the end of China’s civil war (1949) to the present, the Republic of China has been entirely independent of the mainland.
Beijing’s insistence that it is the legitimate ruler of Taiwan makes as much sense as the United States’ claiming sovereignty over Canada, based on the fact that once we both were part of the British Empire.
The Chinese and Taiwanese share a cultural heritage and ethnic lineage. That’s where the similarities stop. Taiwanese and Mandarin are different languages. Taiwan is a democracy that respects human rights; China is a totalitarian state that crushes dissent. Taiwan has a free economy; China has elements of capitalism and private property grafted onto a collectivist system. Taiwan is forward-looking and peace-loving; China is militaristic and nurses a wounded national pride for affronts that go back to the 19th Century. Taiwan’s leaders are chosen in democratic elections and answerable to the people. Though it may be called The People’s Republic, the people of China have nothing to do with the way they are governed.
Yet for all Taiwan’s manifest virtues and economic/political progress, it is the invisible man of international affairs.
On May 19, 2003, the ROC lost its seventh bid for membership in the World Health Organization, even as SARS ravaged the island. (Per capita, Taiwan had the highest SARS death toll in the world.) Due to Taiwan’s isolation, it took WHO seven weeks to respond to the island’s request for help.
Once again, China orchestrated the rejection of Taiwan-this time for membership in a body whose stated goal is “the attainment by all peoples of the highest possible level of health”-all peoples, that is, except the 23-million people of Taiwan. Ironically, SARS originated in China-which covered up the plague for several crucial months. Then, its policies denied Taiwan speedy assistance in dealing with the disease China had spawned.
In all of this, Beijing’s strategy is painfully clear-to deny Taiwan any standing in the international community. During the 1990s, it routinely stated its intent to absorb the island, by military force if necessary.
By maintaining Taiwan’s status as an international outcast, it hopes eventually to persuade or pressure the Taiwanese to accede to incorporation in the mainland.
Then there’s the military option, which China’s rulers refuse to renounce. If only a handful of states have diplomatic ties with Taiwan, and even the United Nations, which recognizes the nationhood of Andorra (population, 54,500) considers it a nonentity, who will be encouraged to come to the island’s support in a crisis provoked by its colossal neighbor?
Thus, Taiwan’s exclusion from the United Nations is more than an affront to justice. It’s also a threat to peace and stability in East Asia.