- The Washington Times - Monday, September 15, 2008





If there was ever a time for China to be reasonable about Taiwan and the United Nations, this is it.

On Sept. 16, the 63rd session of the U.N. General Assembly will open in New York. As they have for the last 14 years, Taiwan’s allies will move to have a consideration of Taipei’s status included in the tentative agenda - a move Beijing has always shot down.

This time, Taiwan’s request is far more modest than in years past. Instead of asking for a consideration of whether it can rejoin the United Nations (which it left in 1973, when the People’s Republic joined), the proposal calls for the General Assembly to explore the possibility of Taiwan participating in U.N. specialized agencies, like the World Health Organization.

The new government of President Ma Ying-jeou is taking a more pragmatic approach than its predecessor. Since he took office in May, Mr. Ma has engaged in a series of confidence-building moves, including resuming regular flights between Taiwan and the mainland for the first time in 59 years.

Mr. Ma also seeks an expansion of trade between the two Chinas. Unlike former President Chen Shui-bian, he will not try to change the Republic of China’s official name to Taiwan - a prospect that seems to drive Beijing up the wall.

On relations with the mainland, Mr. Ma’s formula is “no independence, no unification [absorption of Taiwan by the Peoples’ Republic of China] and no use of force.”

Still, Ma has no intention of compromising the island’s autonomy. Taiwan’s president says unification talks (premised on China becoming a democracy) are unlikely to happen “within our lifetimes.” To underscore the point, he chose a strong supporter of Taiwanese sovereignty to oversee relations with Beijing.

For practical considerations as well as justice, there must be a way for Taiwan to be involved with U.N. agencies.

The world’s 17th-largest trading nation needs to be engaged with the international community. The Republic of China on Taiwan plays a crucial role in the world economy, outperforming 90 percent of U.N. member states. With 23 million people, Taiwan has a larger population than 60 percent of U.N. members. Its citizens enjoy a thriving democracy and all the civil liberties found in Europe and North America.

In its 2006 survey of freedom in the world, Freedom House rated the Taiwanese the freest people in Asia. This year marked the fifth direct election of Taiwan’s president, and the second transfer of power between the parties.

The proposal Taiwan’s allies submitted to the U.N. Secretariat is appropriately, if somewhat verbosely, titled “Need to Examine 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.”

Again, Taiwan isn’t asking for U.N. membership, though, by every conceivable measure, it is eminently qualified to take its place in the world body.

All Taiwan wants is a consideration of its involvement in United Nations’ affiliates like the World Health Organization. This year, its 12th annual bid for WHO membership was rejected, as always, at the behest of China. Participation in WHO would help Taiwan to combat pandemics like SARS, which hit the island hard in 2003 (344 reported cases and 40 fatalities).

Through membership in the World Bank and International Monetary Fund, Taiwan could help to stabilize the global economy. It makes no sense for the 17th-largest trading nation to be excluded from these institutions.

It’s equally illogical to keep Taiwan out of the International Civil Aviation Organization (with 1.5 million flights passing through Taipei International Airport each year) or the International Maritime Organization, given Taiwan’s shipping industry - the 10th largest in the world.

But because Taiwan has no official standing at the United Nations, it is barred from participating in these and other international agencies.

Surely, a formula can be found for Taiwan’s involvement here without violating the so-called One China policy Beijing holds sacred.

If China isn’t willing to compromise now, in light of Mr. Ma’s efforts to calm the diplomatic waters in the Taiwan Straits (after eight years of confrontation under his predecessor) its intransigence will be manifest.

Mr. Ma is looking for creative ways to lead Taiwan out of what he sees as a diplomatic deadlock by pursuing a course of “dignity, autonomy, pragmatism and flexibility,” a policy set forth in his Aug. 4 address at the nation’s Foreign Affairs Ministry.

We will soon learn if China will meet his flexibility with rigidity and his pragmatism with dogmatism.

Don Feder is a free-lance writer and media consultant.

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