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Taiwan's case again confronts China at UN door

Monday, October 6, 2008 Free Headline Alerts

By John Metzler

UNITED NATIONS — In a world organization which stresses universality, commitment to peace, and goals of humanitarian aid and assistance, it would be almost correct to assume that Taiwan, an East Asian democracy, would certainly be among the 192 member states. Yet, a quick reality check shows that despite being undeniably qualified for full United Nations membership, the rights of the 23 million people of the Republic of China on Taiwan are blocked at the door, by Big Brother in Beijing. Few UN members even dare to mention this exclusion lest it incur the diplomatic wrath of the dragon.

First a little history. Back in 1945 at the end of WWII, China was one of the victorious allies along with the United States, Britain, France and the Soviet Union. The Republic of China moreover was one of the UN’s founders and charter members. But the Chinese civil war saw the communist forces seize the Mainland and in 1949, set up the People’s Republic of China while the Chinese Nationalists retrenched to Taiwan where they have been ever since.

Though political persistence, the PRC gained the “China seat” at the United Nations in 1971. But since the 1990’s, Taiwan has been trying to regain UN membership through a creative variety of formulae which would essentially see a two seat solution reflecting the de facto division of China. As with membership for two German states in 1973, or the admission of both South and North Korea in 1991, Taiwan’s tact was to originally press for formal membership, but now concedes to some form of inclusion as feasible.

This year a proposal by seventeen of Taipei’s diplomatic allies mostly from the Caribbean, Central America, Africa and the Pacific islands, proposed yet another political permutation which would “Need to examine the fundamental rights of the 23 million people of the Republic of China (Taiwan) to participate meaningfully in the activities of the United Nations specialized agencies.” What allies like Belize, El Salvador, the Gambia and Swaziland mean by “participate meaningfully” is for Taiwan be allowed to join the World Health Organization (WHO) and such related agencies where Taipei’s medical expertise and generous humanitarian impulses would be able to help poor nations and aid in global medical crises.

Though not a call for formal membership, the proposal was not surprisingly yet again blocked in committee by Beijing, who considers Taiwan to be a “Province” of the People’s Republic of China, and thus a “domestic issue”, even though the communists have never ruled Taiwan island for a single day. Thus while Beijing speaks magnanimously of its “respect for sovereignty and non-interference in the internal affairs of other countries,” the PRC’s purportedly “peace loving” stance sadly does not apply to internal issues such as Tibet (which it controls) or to Taiwan.

During debates in the opening days of the 63rd General Assembly, almost twenty countries called for Taiwan’s “participation” in the UN. Prime Minister Denzil Douglas of St. Kitts and Nevis “We urge that a way be found too facilitate the participation of the Republic of China on Taiwan in the specialized agencies of the United Nations. As world challenges have expanded, the Republic of China on Taiwan has stepped forward to provide technical assistance in the are areas of social and agricultural development, as well as disaster relief in many countries.” True but barely noticed.

Significantly both the United States and European Union have supported Taiwan’s “participation” in UN specialized agencies such as the WHO but do not endorse Taipei’s formal UN membership.

Beijing’s counter-moves nonetheless, while fully expected, lacked the political and rhetorical rancor of the past. This is in part due to the diplomatic truce of sorts across the Taiwan Straits. Newly elected ROC President Ma Ying-jeou of the Nationalist Party (KMT) has made landmark efforts to defuse the increasingly futile standoff with the Mainland and bring about wider and closer ties with the extended but estranged Chinese family on both sides of the Straits.

Still the PRC rulers, now in their post-Olympic afterglow, are unlikely to show flexibility towards “participation” of a democratic Taiwan which has long had social and economic prosperity, but equally trumpets a vibrant democracy. Significantly, PRC Premier Wen Jiabao addressing the Assembly did not mention Taiwan in any context, as compared to the past when Beijing would threaten the island democracy. Beijing looks to the silent treatment to keep Taiwan waiting at the door.

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