- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 24, 2008

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

OP-ED:

On July 4, as Americans looked upward to skies lit by fireworks symbolizing their freedom, the people of Taiwan also looked to the skies. For us, it was not fireworks but aircraft that attracted our attention and captured our imagination. And for good reason: These aircraft were undertaking the first regular and direct chartered flights between Taiwan and mainland China in more than 60 years.

Just like America’s fireworks, these flights have great symbolic and substantive value for Taiwan. Most immediately, they signify the first results of a new policy agenda that we have initiated under the leadership of President Ma Ying-jeou. Inaugurated just two months ago, Mr. Ma has already broken through barriers and set a new course for Taiwan’s relations with our neighbors and the international community, as well as our strategic partnership with the United States.

In some respects, this new course is needed for us to manage the challenges of globalization and its political, economic and security ramifications. Yet Taiwan’s unique diplomatic status requires that we do even more to preserve the freedom and prosperity that our people have secured over the past several decades. It is for this reason that a hallmark of Mr. Ma’s new foreign policy is his call for both Taipei and Beijing to pursue “reconciliation and truce in both cross-strait and international arenas.” Four principles, articulated by Mr. Ma in his inaugural address, will guide our efforts to achieve this goal: dignity, autonomy, pragmatism and flexibility.

These principles will be applied both to our bilateral ties with allies and multilateral relations through international organizations. Specifically, we will strengthen cooperation with existing allies and devote more resources toward their economic development and national welfare. These activities will take precedence over the pursuit of new allies, which in the past has caught both Taiwan and mainland China in a “zero-sum” game of diplomatic recognition that serves no one’s interests. That said, we will continue to assert a robust and autonomous international agenda, and will vigorously resist efforts to isolate us from the world community or threaten the dignity of our people and their values.

Taiwan’s new international agenda will also include the strengthening of our already close partnership with the United States, Japan, European Union members and other democratic nations. We are confident that by pursuing not confrontational but constructive efforts to advance our agenda, more opportunities will arise for Taiwan and these allies to collaborate on matters of mutual interest and concern. At the very least, our common desire for sustained security and prosperity in the midst of rapid globalization will facilitate an increased level of cooperation as we seek objectives that reflect our shared democratic values.

The same constructive pragmatism will guide our approach to international organizations. Taiwan has pursued through the years a meaningful role in many multilateral institutions, where it can participate in, benefit from, and - most importantly - contribute to joint efforts that advance the well-being of all peoples. Too often, however, we have been denied this opportunity due to squabbles over nomenclature and protocol that have resulted in diplomatic paralysis - and no tangible benefits for the people we represent.

Going forward, a more flexible approach toward nomenclature and related matters will allow us to overcome past obstacles. At the same time, we will ensure that our dignity is sustained as we pursue meaningful and equal participation in international organizations. As evidenced by Taiwan’s leading role in the fight against the SARS epidemic just a few years ago, our collaboration with others in the World Health Organization can only strengthen its ability to serve the global public - including the people of Taiwan. Similarly, Taiwan’s robust economy can serve as a catalyst for both regional and international growth, whether it be in the form of assistance to developing nations through the IMF and World Bank, or in the form of expanded commerce through regional trade groups.

Our recent agreement to start regular weekend charter flights reflects a new mutual interest in finding common ground on multiple fronts. Taiwan will actively seize this opportunity, and has already called for negotiations to achieve cross-strait peace and reconciliation.

We hope that Beijing will reciprocate with a new approach of its own, taking Taiwan’s international space into reasonable consideration as we explore ways to advance cross-strait relations. Acknowledging Taiwan’s meaningful participation in the international community, for example, would go a long way toward building the confidence necessary for further improvements in cross-strait relations.

Just as those looking upward on July 4 saw that we can - literally - rise above seemingly intractable barriers, we are confident that Taiwan’s new foreign policy can produce even more substantial achievements. To do this, however, we will need the continued support of longtime allies and a willingness by others to work with us as equal partners. Encouraged by recent developments and guided by strong principles, Taiwan is ready to spur progress that will allow all in the region to reach new heights.

Francisco H. L. Ou is minister of foreign affairs for the Republic of China (Taiwan).

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