In late July, a quiet diplomatic error was made that could severely undermine U.S. foreign policy and security interests in a potentially volatile region of the world. This did not involve the ongoing conflict in Iraq or sanctions against North Korea, but rather the question of whether Taiwan deserves a seat at the United Nations. While not a new question by any means, it was recently raised anew when, on behalf of its 23 million inhabitants, Taiwanese President Chen Shui-bian formally applied for UN membership under the name "Taiwan." And the implications for U.S. interests came in the answer.
On July 23, U.N, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon rejected Taiwan's application. In doing so, he asserted that the 1971 U.N. General Assembly Resolution 2758 had granted China's seat in the General Assembly to the government of the People's Republic of China (PRC), and he also stated that in the view of the United Nations, Taiwan is considered an integral part of the PRC.
The secretary-general offers no basis for denying Taiwan the right to be considered for membership. According to the Rules of Procedure of General Assembly, when an application for U.N. membership is received, the secretary-general shall send it to the General Assembly for its member states to consider. And while Resolution 2758 recognized the PRC as the sole representative of China, it was silent as to the status of Taiwan.
Such overlooking and misrepresentation of this essential diplomatic fact has provoked grave concerns not only in Taipei, but in Washington as well. Why? Because it is precisely this deliberate ambiguity that is the basis for U.S. policy toward Taiwan and the PRC. While acknowledging — although not until 1979 — the U.N.'s decision to recognize the PRC, Congress simultaneously passed the landmark Taiwan Relations Act, in which it resolved to consider Taiwan in nearly all respects a sovereign partner. In 1982, this stance was reinforced when President Reagan informed his Taiwanese counterpart of his "Six Assurances," and, that despite our growing diplomatic contacts with the PRC, the U.S. government would not alter its position regarding sovereignty over Taiwan. Since that time, the United States and Taiwan have enjoyed increasingly close relations, and today they maintain a strategic alliance that few others share.
Beyond its diplomatic status, Taiwan's role as a sovereign entity is manifest in many other ways. Taiwan is the world's 18th-largest economy and the 16th-largest trading nation. The Taiwanese people have a thriving and self-governing democratic political system, which serves as a beacon for others in the region who continue to struggle for freedom. It is a major contributor of foreign assistance and humanitarian programs, and provides vital know-how to efforts against transnational threats like SARS and the avian flu. It is also a party to many bilateral treaties, international agreements and multilateral groups like the World Trade Organization, the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation forum and the International Olympic Committee.
In keeping with the relevant diplomatic agreements, America has steadfastly held the position that differences over the sovereignty issues should be resolved peacefully between Taiwan and the PRC. We have also impressed upon both parties that the status quo should be preserved across the Taiwan Strait and any resolution of cross-strait issues must have the assent of the Taiwanese people, in light of that country's democratic achievements over the years.
Yet the PRC has continually sought to alter the status quo, by amassing military forces aimed at Taiwan, intervening in Taiwan's domestic political affairs and engaging in diplomatic activities that seek to isolate Taiwan — including strident opposition to Taiwan even achieving observer status in international bodies. The PRC refuses to engage in any dialogue with Taiwan's elected leadership, despite multiple entreaties by President Chen in recent years.
In this context, the U.N. secretary-general's recent unilateral rejection of Taiwan's application for membership is at a minimum problematic for U.S. policy and stability in the region. At worst, it is a dangerous misstep that could embolden the PRC to embark on further aggressive measures, such as Beijing's 2005 "Anti-Secession Law," which codifies Taiwan as a part of PRC and might legitimize Beijing's use of force against Taiwan. Given the longstanding U.S. commitment to assist in Taiwan's defense, such developments could take on serious dimensions if not swiftly addressed.
When the U.N. General Assembly conducts its annual meeting tomorrow, Taiwan deserves a fair hearing. Let the United Nations and its member states exercise their authority to judge Taiwan's application. And America's voice must be heard at this forum, supporting Taiwan's right to apply for a meaningful U.N. role and reaffirming its longstanding policy regarding Taiwan. The U.N. Secretariat must be convinced of the need to reevaluate the rationale provided for its recent rejection of Taiwan's membership. Allowing such a diplomatic error to stand will only serve to undermine U.S. foreign policy and the principles of democracy and freedom for which we stand.
Reps. Steve Chabot, Ohio Republican; Shelley Berkley, Nevada Democrat; and Dana Rohrabacher, California Republican are co-chairs of the Congressional Taiwan Caucus.
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