- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 27, 2008

The plight of Kosovo, a newly independent nation on the edge of Europe, strikes an empathetic chord in Taiwan because neither appears welcome in the United Nations.

Taiwan was among the first to recognize Kosovo’s Feb. 17 declaration of independence, along with the United States and European powers including Britain, France and Germany.

But Russia’s rejection of an independent Kosovo came with a pledge to block the landlocked Balkan state of 2 million from entering the United Nations.

“It is the same with Taiwan,” said Chen Shui-bian, president of the Republic of China, as Taiwan calls itself formally.

“It is unfair to the 23 million Taiwanese people that Taiwan has been denied from joining in the United Nations because of China’s pressure,” Mr. Chen said.

China opposes U.N. membership for Kosovo, fearing it would set a precedent for Taiwan’s membership.

Taiwan’s two major political parties — the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) and the Nationalist Party — both seek U.N. membership.

The DPP, however, is demanding a national referendum in which Taiwanese would vote “yes” or “no” on whether to apply to the U.N. under the name “Taiwan.”

According to a survey conducted by Taiwan Thinktank in 2007, almost 80 percent of the people support the idea of a national referendum on U.N. membership.

But the outcome of any U.N.-related vote would most likely reflect a preference for the DPP or the Nationalists.

The latest polls show Ma Ying-jeou, the Nationalist candidate in March presidential elections, with a substantial lead over DPP nominee Frank Hsieh.

Mr. Ma says Taiwan should repair relations with the United States, which have been strained in recent months over the DPP referendum plan.

“We share many common interests with the United States, and we don’t want to become a troublemaker,” the International Herald Tribune quoted Mr. Ma as saying.

The Taiwan Thinktank poll also showed 63 percent of people thought relations with mainland China would improve if both belonged to the United Nations.

Taipei lost its seat in the world body to Beijing in 1971.

Drew Thompson, director of China studies at the Nixon Center, said neither the Taiwanese government nor Taiwanese people would have much say on the issue.

“The United Nations has apparently made it clear that Taiwan is not welcome,” he said.

“The true reason those referendums are being tabled by both parties is to mobilize their voting base, not as a move toward independence from China,” Mr. Thompson said.

Harvey Sicherman, president of the Foreign Policy Research Institute, said it is difficult to compare Taiwan and Kosovo.

Although there is an inconsistency in the U.S. position vis-a-vis Kosovo and Taiwan, practical concerns drive U.S. foreign policy.

“It’s the matter of prudence,” Mr. Sicherman said. “You could make the case that Taiwan is equally deserving of independence as Kosovo but, at the end of it, what do you get?

“In the Kosovo case, people see independence as a way to stabilize the situation, and in the Taiwan case, independence would upset the situation,” he said, referring to Chinese opposition to Taiwanese membership in the United Nations.

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