Monday, December 31, 2007

What's bad for the Goose is bad for the Gander

There's a little old saying that goes, "What's good for the goose, is good for the gander," meaning that two things almost exactly alike will generally experience the same effects if the same thing happens to them. Conversely, if the proverbial goose is, say, Hong Kong, and the gander is Taiwan, then we could say that 'whats bad for the goose is bad for the gander.'

Indeed, China laid a big goose egg on Hong Kong when officials in Beijing pushed back by five years the planned date for direct elections in the special administrative region, saying the earliest possible year for such a vote is now 2017. There is no reason to believe that when the year 2013 rolls around, the vote will not be pushed back to 2022, and so on, and so forth, ad nauseam.

What does this mean for Taiwan? Well, what's bad for the goose. . .

After the unhappy decree was handed down from Beijing, Hong Kong's democratic leader Martin Lee came out to say that, "I do not see Hong Kong with genuine democracy in 10 years more or 20 years more. It is just a mirage," according to an AFP news story. At this point, it is indeed reasonable to expect that Hong Kong will not enjoy open democracy until, by dint of a miracle, all of China becomes democratic.

With the head of Hong Kong's democratic goose cleanly lopped off, for all to see and just in time for New Year's dinner (t-1:30 in Taipei ; t-14:30 in Washington), the brain in the head of Taiwan's democratic gander is wondering why anyone would expect Taiwan to willingly put its neck to the chopping block (hint: chopping block = unification). From the same AFP story:

A senior Taiwanese official said Beijing's move underlined why the island could not accept reunification [sic] with mainland China.

Tung Chen-yuan, a deputy chief of Taiwan's China policy-making body, known as the Mainland Affairs Council, said the decision sent a clear signal "that the Chinese Communist Party does not allow genuine democracy.
Even the Foreign Ministry of Great Britain—which, as the port city's former colonial ruler, usually remains mute on all things Hong Kong—made a statement describing Beijing's latest anti-democratic antics "a disappointment."

Having flogged the 'goose and gander' analogy sufficiently for the entire year of 2007, we would simply like to wish all who read this a very happy New Year. See you in 2008!

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Taiwan-U.S. Free Trade

When Peru-U.S. Free Trade was approved in the U.S. House of Representatives by a wide margin in early November, the outlook appeared grim for the remaining agreements in the wings--Columbia, Panama and Korea--to find approval soon, as the political climate quickly began to cool towards trade. The Nelson Report in November relayed the news that, "Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton late yesterday let it be known that if and when KORUS, Colombia and Panama FTA's come up for a vote, hers will be 'no'. Whether she ever gets to that point depends, of course, on the House, and today, Majority Leader Steny Hoyer announced that there will be no votes on these three at all this year."

Without Taiwan even on the docket, the prospects for a Taiwan-U.S. Free Trade Agreement in the immediately future are admittedly unlikely. Yet Taiwan is still on Congress' trade radar, as was demonstrated earlier this month when Senator Max Baucus of Montana introduced S. Con. Res. 60, a concurrent resolution which, if passed, would nudge the office of the U.S. Trade Representative towards opening extensive trade negotiations with America's eighth-largest export market.

We've listed in the past many of the prime reasons why it is in both countries' interest that a Taiwan-U.S. free trade agreement (TUFTA) become reality sooner rather than later. The economies of Taiwan and the United States are heavily symbiotic, with little overlap in their respective key industries. Although free trade is seen by many as conributing to the percieved evils of globalization, classic talking points against free trade do not apply to the situation of trade between Taiwan and the United States.

S. Con. Res. 60 has been referred to the Senate Finance Committee, which is incedentally chaired by Senator Baucus. If you have a Senator on the committee, drop his/her office a line and voice your support for the resolution.

Friday, December 21, 2007

More Food for Thought

Exerpt from 12/20 article, "Blind in Beijing" by Dan Blumenthal
published in The American, an AEI publication

If economic growth and “peace and development” are China’s main goals—as the Communist Party states, and as many Chinese surely desire—then why is China engaged in the most significant military buildup in the world? The PRC enjoys a secure external environment: East Asia is more stable today than it has been in decades. Chinese protestations that the military buildup is “all about Taiwan” are less than reassuring. For one thing, the very idea that China would prepare for war with a de facto sovereign nation over which it has had no official control since the late 1800s is totally inconsistent with modern notions of sovereignty. There are many English-speaking countries that are no longer part of the British Empire; nor are all German-speaking countries part of Germany. Both England and Germany are doing just fine without their former colonies. And should China’s intentions change as its strength increases, the same military capabilities that could be used against Taiwan could also be deployed against American forces in a range of scenarios.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

UN for Taiwan 101

Experts assess national referendum at Heritage

We were at the Heritage Foundation Tuesday, where Taiwan's Representative to the United States, Dr. Jaushieh Joseph Wu, addressed policy experts, media and conference attendees during an event entitled, "Taiwan's UN Bid: Domestic Democracy or International Crisis?"

Representative Wu’s address covered the legal and practical arguments in support of Taiwan’s bid to become a UN member. He asserted that both Taiwan and the international community have a substantial interest in Taiwan’s full participation in the UN, reminding the audience of Taiwan’s status as the world’s eighteenth largest economy and its role as a regional “beacon of freedom,” due to its national journey from authoritarian rule under the old Chiang regime to today’s “active, vibrant democracy.” Wu noted that “despite its legal and substantive standing, Taiwan has been stifled by the People’s Republic of China in its attempts to join the United Nations and other international organizations.”

The ensuing panel discussions came together as a tour-de-force of the many factors enmeshed in the issue of Taiwan's proposed UN referendum. Thankfully, the dialogue seemed to be relatively balanced, although each speaker seemed more intent on listing what they saw as the key issues and possible consequences surrounding the controversy rather than explicitly weighing in on whether or not Taiwan should go ahead with the planned votes in March. One thing the panelists did agree on, is that at this point in time, the referendum seems likely to take place.

China expert Randy Shriver, former Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs, listed the many facets of the political climate in Taiwan which have lead to the general need to hold a referendum, including a “genuine desire on the part of the people of Taiwan to be a part of the United Nations,” as well as a “desire to deepen and strengthen Taiwan’s democracy” and to “provide evidence to the world of differentiation between the PRC and Taiwan.” Mr. Shriver also listed “continuing efforts to define and express [Taiwan’s] national identity” and “political motivations” as contributing factors to Taiwan’s referendum drive.

David Brown, a professor at the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies, struck a more precautionary tone. He stated that the planned referendum was part of a “vicious circle between Taiwan and the mainland,” in which military buildup and increased pressure from the mainland causes Taiwan to become increasingly assertive on behalf of its separate national entity, in response to which the government in Beijing becomes increasingly more belligerent. Unfortunately, Brown seemed to believe that the onus is on Taiwan to cease its efforts to gain international representation rather than on Beijing to halt and reduce its military buildup opposite Taiwan on China's southeastern coast.

Overall, the conference may be best described as a 'hung jury,' which in our view isn't necessarily a bad thing. Although it may be difficult separate the various contributing factors that make international and domestic politics on Taiwan such a perplexing milieu, it seemed clear to most or all present at Tuesday's event that the referenda are not solely the products of crass political maneuvering by political parties on Taiwan. If that were the case, the DPP and KMT would have never gained enough signatures to go ahead with the vote.

Note: You can see video of Tuesday's event on Heritage's website by clicking here.

Crashing the Corruption Party

Chinese officials launched a website ( this week where concerned citizens can report incidences of corruption in an effort to clean up China's notoriously crooked economic and political structure. The result? Multiple website crashes, as the URL was flooded with angry reports of ill-doing as well as critiques of the website's appearance and messages of encouragement for this latest effort to fight corruption.

Some posters departed from reports of specific incidents to comment on larger problems, such as the posh lifestyles led by officials and their families. As the Washington Post reported, one poster, "condemned what he described as the soft life led by officials' offspring. With no visible source of income, he said, the young princelings drive new cars, live in new houses and spend money like there is no tomorrow. 'This is not normal,' he added. 'You should look into it.'"

We hope that, once the government has fixed the website so that it is nice and stable, some of the reports will actually be read and addressed (in the case of princelings, not very likely). Otherwise, the site represents nothing more than a digital Potemkin village.

Friday, December 7, 2007

Quick Jot: New PINR report on U.S.-PRC relations

Power and Interest News Report (PINR) released a rather detailed and insightful brief on Sino-U.S. relations and how they have been effected by the recent Kitty Hawk spat. Overall, the sense seems to be that, wheras in the short term there obviously seems to be no cataclysmic rupture in the U.S.-China relationship or the strategic landscape of the West Pacific Rim, several highly nuanced shifts in international power politics can be gleaned from this episode. Many of these shifts have an effect on Taiwan, and these relevancies are enumerated in the report.

Many thanks to the China Digital Times news update service for drawing our attention to this valuable report.

Friday, November 30, 2007

A gaffe-and-a-half: Kitty Hawk & minesweeper follow-up

The government of China and/or People's Liberation Army (somtimes its tough to figure out who's calling the shots) really shot themselves in the foot with this latest blunder concerning the refusal of American naval vessels seeking entry into Hong Kong harbor. Not only does this latest blunder add to what is becoming a rather long list of bones the American public has to pick with China these days, its effect is exacerbated by the pride the United States has for its blue-water navy, not to mention the belief that America's heavily maritime-influenced culture holds in an honor code on the high seas.

For an excellent example of how the PRC government is hurting China's image with irrational actions arising from equally irrational grievances—over the U.S. honoring the Dalai Lama, or selling Patriot missiles defense upgrades to its ally, Taiwan, etc.—read this editorial by Lorna Hahn, executive director of the Association on Third World Affairs in today's Washington Times:

China-Taiwan tensions

In violation of the long-established principle that all nations should assist ships at sea that are in distress, China recently refused to allow two American minesweepers threatened by a storm to enter Hong Kong harbor for safety and fuel ("China's action troubles admiral," Page 1, Wednesday). Shortly thereafter, it withdrew permission for an American aircraft carrier, carrying sailors planning to spend Thanksgiving with relatives, to enter Hong Kong.

The reason, according to U.S. officials, was the announcement on Nov. 9 that Washington would sell Taiwan $939 million worth of upgraded Patriot missile defense systems in order to "help improve the security of the recipient and assist in maintaining political stability, military balance and economic progress in the region."

If China would begin to dismantle its 900-some missiles aimed at Taiwan rather than continually increase their number, Taiwan would not need to increase its defenses against them. Furthermore, if Beijing's leaders would meet with Taiwan's President Chen Shui-bian, as he has suggested often, tensions in the Taiwan Strait, which often affect other countries, could be replaced by cooperation.

Executive director
Association on Third World

The open sea is perhaps the last place on earth that operates under what, for lack of a better phrase, can be referred to as a 'frontier-style' culture. Just like the fabled unwritten Code of the West in American frontier history, there are certain things on the high seas that—no matter who you are—you just don't do. One of those unwritten taboos is to bar entry into a harbor to any vessel threatened by stormy seas. As long as there's room in the harbor, there's room for more ships, especially when the seas are a-rockin'.

So really, does China's government exhibit the sense of maturity, much less the sense of humanity, to be allowed to recklessly manipulate the international community in the way that it does? Does it have any inherent right to lay claim to a democratic and self-sustaining island when it can't even responsibly attend to its own affairs? We'll leave you with that thought in this wrap-up of the recent PRC-USN SNAFU.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

U.S.-Taiwan Free Trade Agreement Roundtable

Photo of the aircraft carrier U.S.S. Kitty Hawk, which became the centerpiece
of a Sino-U.S. diplomatic tussle when it was not allowed to carry out a planned
visit to the port of Hong Kong this past Thursday and was forced to return to its
home port in Japan. Many family members of the sailors had traveled to
Hong Kong, looking forward to celebrating Thanksgiving with the crew.

Yesterday at the Sigur Center, the Asian Studies center within the international affairs school at the George Washington University, a panel discussion was held that featured guests from the Taipei Economic and Cultural Representative Office (TECRO, Taiwan's officially 'unofficial' embassy in Washington) as well as the Heritage Foundation and the American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research, two eminent Washington policy think-tanks.

The issue of the day was whether the United States and Taiwan should enter into serious negotiations and eventually finalize and enact a free trade agreement. The event began with a rather informative presentation by the director of TECRO's economic division, Mr. Francis Liang, who highlighted the many reasons why a Taiwan-U.S. FTA would be beneficial to the economies and populations of both countries involved. Thanks to the provision of extra copies of this presentation in paper form for audience members at the event, we are able to forward some of the more interesting facts and figures to you:
  • Taiwan has experienced an average annual growth in GDP of 7.8 % over the past half century, and currently engages in foreign trade to the tune of $437 billion U.S. dollars and is the second largest holder of Foreign Exchange Reserves in the world ($266 billion).

  • Taiwan produces 72% of the world's laptops, 79% of PDAs and 68% of LCD monitors. In the cover article of a May 2005 issue of Business Week, Bruce Einhorn referred to Taiwan as "the hidden center of the global economy."
  • In 2006, Taiwan was the United States' 9th largest trading partner, 11th largest export market, and the largest importer per capita of U.S. agricultural products. In the same year, the United States served as Taiwan's 3rd largest trading partner, second largest export market, and Taiwan's largest source of foreign direct investment. Taiwan-U.S. bilateral trade was worth $62 billion dollars last year.

In addition to hard facts and figures, Mr. Liang helped explain the current trade situation in the Pacific Rim and how this adds to the need for an FTA. Currently, major Pacific Rim players such as Japan, China, Korea, Singapore, and Australia are vigorously signing and seeking new free trade agreements in the region. If the United States doesn't work to improve its trade relations and hammer out agreements with its top East Asia/Pacific allies, it may get edged out of the trade game in the Pacific.

This is just a sampling of what Mr. Liang had to say. On the other hand, Philip Levy, a resident scholar at AEI, was rather hesitant about the prospects for TUFTA. Mr. Levy's major hang-up when it comes to this topic is the "China factor." To put it simply, he, like many other academics, government officials, and 'China hands' in the United States, is simply fraught with worry at the prospect of 'antagonizing' the government of China in any way whatsoever.

Levy argues that whatever benefit Taiwan gains by formalizing an FTA with the United States will be cancelled out by the drop in foreign investment that would presumably follow if the PRC government stepped up its threats, military activity, and the familiar sabre-rattling routine in general in response. According to his hypothesis, Taiwan would then be unable to reap the benefits of TUFTA and would only have caused greater threat to its very existence.

What we believe is overlooked in Levy's line of reasoning, is why the very idea of a Taiwan-U.S. Free Trade Agreement raises the hackles of any PRC government official or general in the PLA. By engaging in deeper trade relations with Taiwan, the United States would be affirming in a practical way its values-based alliance with Taiwan's government. Rather than increasing the likelihood of Chinese acts of aggression against Taiwan, this step would make it more difficult for China to recklessly threaten Taiwan without thereby antagonizing the United States!

Humanists and 'starry-eyed idealists' in the U.S. are already more likely to favor Taipei over Beijing due to our countries' common interests in democracy, human rights, civil freedom, etc. More cynical observers of American foreign policy on the other hand—who were probably thinking yadi-yadi-yada by the time they got to the end of the last sentence—would also be more unlikely to tolerate PRC aggression against Taiwan, as American economic interests would become increasingly tied to Taiwan's national interests.

Besides, as Mr. Tkacik touched upon in his usual fire-and-brimstone manner, what with all the recent news concerning ongoing Chinese involvement in human rights violations, faulty Chinese commercial imports and the snubbing of the United States Navy with the recent U.S.S. Kitty Hawk Thanksgiving Day incident (just to name a few), maybe its high time that the United States did engage in a little diplomatic antagonizing towards the PRC government.

Summarily, at the conclusion of a free trade agreement between Taiwan and the United States, American officials would perhaps reasonably be a bit on edge for fear of economic and political backlash from Beijing. More important however is that, from that point onward, every time officials in Beijing contemplated the forceful unification of Taiwan with China, they would worry more than ever about the prospects of antagonizing the country that represents China's largest export market and the world's sole remaining superpower.

It seems to us that, in terms of American foreign policy vis-a-vis Taiwan and the People's Republic of China, improving American trade relations with Taiwan using the vehicle of a Free Trade Agreement is one of the best moves that can be made within the even the most conservative definition of the status quo.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Some Helpful Articles:

Yesterday we saw two helpful and refreshingly fair articles on the internet.

The first is an editorial by the Houston Chronicle, entitled, "Their dilemma, and ours," in which the Chronicle underscorses the dark irony we have to live with when democratic Taiwan continues to get the international 'cold shoulder', while oppressive Beijing happily frolicks towards the 2008 Summer Olympics without the slightest reform to China's cruel and stifling political system. Some highlights:

Neither independent nor subjugated, commanding one of the world's largest economies but officially recognized by few nations, the island democracy of Taiwan endures a tenuous existence in a world that requires global access. If that weren't bad enough, it is menaced by a hostile neighbor that claims ownership.


Taiwan's dilemma offers a similar set of difficulties for the United States. Taiwan's de facto U.S. ambassador, Joseph Wu, outlined for members of the Houston World Affairs Council the several bitter ironies of the situation. The United States must maintain workable relations with China and can't recognize Taiwan, even though:

• China menaces Taiwan with missiles and threats, while Taiwan poses a danger to no one.
• Taiwan is a major U.S. trading partner, importing many tons of agricultural products, including Texas beef, and exporting electronic equipment that meets high standards of quality and safety. China sends us tainted food and toxic toys.
• Taiwan has curbed its air and water pollution, but China's regime fears environmental activists more than environmental degradation.

Chinese leader Hu Jintao recently called for talks with Taipei officials to maintain peace in the region. China and Taiwan should "resume talks on an equal footing as soon as possible," Hu said before his recent summit with President Bush in Washington.


As for the United States, the least it can do is grant Taiwan the same generous trading terms it recently gave South Korea, one of Taiwan's chief competitors. Washington should also champion Taiwan's desire to work with vital international institutions such as the United Nations' World Health Organization. To deny Taiwan access is to punish a peaceful, democratic ally while rewarding an oppressive competitor.

We couldn't have said it better ourselves. Pay particular attention to the call for increased trade (TUFTA?) and UN/WHO membership for Taiwan in the pentultimate sentence. These actions are the first solid step towards righting the wrongs collectively forced upon Taiwan over the many years that it has been a legitimate democracy.

The second article was by Simon Tisdall of the U.K. rag The Guardian. Entitled, "Taiwan squeezed as US and China negotiate," it highlights an unsettlying dynamic that was recently discussed during a panel discussion at the Heritage Foundation: the more the United States suffers from diplomatic tunnel vision dealing with the Middle East, the more it is forced to rely on major regional players like China to help maintain at least a semblance of order elsewhere in the world. In doing so however, the United States may end up bargaining away foreign affairs objectives it would never have conceded otherwise. One can easily see how this might apply to Taiwan:

According to Taiwan's president, Chen Shui-ban, China now has 988 missiles aimed at Taiwanese targets and is continually adding to its arsenal. Chen, who strongly opposes unification and the communists' "one China" mantra, recently described Beijing as a threat to regional peace and said it was preparing to take the island by force by 2015. Last month China said it had deployed a high-performance radar system designed to complement its surface-to-air missiles and jet fighter interceptors.

Robert Gates, the US defence secretary, questioned the build-up during a visit to Beijing last week. The two sides agreed to create a military hotline to help defuse crises. But Gates' overriding stated priority was securing China's backing for steps to curb Iran's nuclear activities. On Taiwan, he merely reiterated Washington's formulaic support for maintaining the status quo.

. . .Taiwanese officials say China has become adept at manipulating the Bush administration. "They are under pressure from China. China is very clever. If they want to do something on Taiwan, they call the White House and tell the Americans that Taiwan is rocking the boat. Then the US government puts pressure on us," a senior official said. "Of course we are afraid about the growing cooperation between the US and China. It's a problem for us. It is definitely squeezing Taiwan."

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Lost in the Mail: PRC fails to deliver vital health alerts to Taiwan

What do the government of China and the classic computer game "Oregon Trail" have in common?

They both will give you the occasional case of dysentery:

The government of China recently delayed relaying crucial information provided to it by the World Health Organization (WHO) to Taiwan for 10 days, an unnecessary decision that risked exposing thousands of Taiwanese to the deadly bacterial disease dysentery.

The news came from within the WHO that Thailand had recently exported several shipments of baby corn that were possibly contaminated with the pathogenic bacteria Shigella dysenteriae, which, when ingested, induces the deadliest form of the disease dysentery. Taiwan is barred from membership in the WHO as it is an organization under the umbrella of the United Nations. The government of the People's Republic of China, due to its consistently irrational bouts of paranoia regarding Taiwan's international status, has repeatedly pressured the WHO to sign memoranda of understanding (MOUs), some of which are classified, which more or less assure Beijing that the World Health Organization will continue to toe the China line.

Meanwhile, the 23 million citizens of Taiwan have been excluded from direct representation in the organization, an alarming fact that represents a gaping hole in the global health, disease control and response network the WHO was formed to maintain. Of course, the PRC claims that Taiwan is covered by the WHO, as the island is supposedly a province of China -- a dilusionary assertion that the international community is forced to accept.

The consequence of this policy of appeasement towards Beijing is that the global health network remains incomplete, at great risk not only to the 23 million people on Taiwan but indeed to people everywhere. Imagine what happens when the government of China decides to use the same stalling tactics if, say, they are informed that an airborne pathogen has possibly traveled to Taiwan. As a large shipping and commercial transportation hub, such a disease could easily leapfrog all over the planet using Taiwan as a departure point before Beijing decides it has the time of day to let the authorities on Taiwan know about it. Such a global risk taken for the sake of Beijing's hubris is unacceptable.

These recent developments provide a case in point. Beijing claims that Taiwan is a territory that falls under its jurisdiction, yet when the international community agrees to go along with this bogus idea, China's government consistently shirks all responsibilities regarding Taiwan. Not only does it consistently wave military threats under Taiwan's nose and take every measure to isolate Taiwan's people politically and economically, the PRC government also apparently finds it acceptable to wait ten whole days to inform the people of Taiwan that, sorry:

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

2007 Baseball World Cup opens in Taiwan

Baseball has become a truly international sport over the years, even if many in the United States may not be very aware of the increasing popularity of their favorite pastime. When Cuba won last year's World Cup over second place-winner the Netherlands, there were many American baseball fans who opened their paper to the sports page the next day, and then exclaimed to themeselves, "the Netherlands?"

[The International Baseball Federation, IBAF, notes on their website that the Netherlands has had a professional baseball league since 1922]

Alas, it is the fortunate truth: today baseball has a presence in countries all over the globe. This year's Baseball World Cup, which opened today after a day of rain delays on Taiwan, includes as diverse a set as you'll find anywhere. More diverse, in fact, than in the UN, as Taiwan's own national team is competing in the event, albeit under the name "Chinese Taipei." Just to give you an idea, todays matches were (winner w/ asterisk): Spain v. Panama*, South Africa v. Japan*, Mexico v. United States*, Cuba* v. Australia, Netherlands* v. Thailand, Korea v. Canada*, and Germany v. Venezuela*, with Taiwan v. Italy postponed due to rain.

In our opinion, anything international hosted in Taiwan, especially a sport as fun and accessible as baseball, is a win for the good guys when it comes to furthering Taiwan's status in the international community. We wish Taiwan's baseball team much luck and hope they progress far into the tournament. As for the Netherlands, we here at R.O.C. the Boat have a new-found respect for the Dutch when it comes to all things stickball.

Oh, and by the way:

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Refocused: Beijing, Burma, and the UN

In his article, "Burmese Blood is the UN's Shame," Professor Hu Shaojiang of the University of Cambrige's China Research Center reminds us of the real "shame" when it comes to the UN: the organizational composition of the UN allows powerful-yet-irresponsible nations with permanent seats on the Security Council to hijack the entire international political process.

There was essentially only one moment during the six decade-long history of the United Nations, Hu reminds us, that the UN was able to take firm action in response to an international crisis. That was when the Soviet Union boycotted a session of the General Assembly back in the 1950s, unintentionally clearing the way for the Western powers to lock in a vote in favor of fighting North Korea at the outset of the Korean War.

Before and ever since, virtually every renegade dictator, every despotic and backwards government to arise during the history of the UN has been able to find at least one supporter among the five permanent members of the Security Council. In his commentary, Hu illustrates the repeated political hamstringing that has resulted from this dynamic, paired with the notoriously gratuitous veto power enshrined in the UN Charter:

It is the totalitarian Chinese government that is supporting its counterpart in Burma. In fact, back in January, several democratic countries submitted a proposal that the United Nations pressure the military government in Burma to stop political repression. However, China and Russia, as permanent members of the Security Council, vetoed the proposal.

On the eve of the crackdown against monks and civilians in September, a number of countries had proposed a U.N. resolution calling for restraint in Burma, to prevent a repeat of the brutal suppression that occurred in Burma 19 years ago. But again China's opposition put the proposal on the shelf. With the support of big brother China, the Burmese military leaders were especially violent in suppressing the protests.

The United Nations accomplished nothing toward protecting the legal rights of Burma's citizens, once again revealing its incapability in dealing with major international affairs. As a matter of fact, since the United Nations was founded it has almost never played a decisive role in major international issues.

The only exception was in the early 1950s when the United Nations discussed whether or not to fight against the North Korean regime led by Kim Il Sung, which had invaded South Korea. Because the former Soviet Union made a wrong decision and did not attend the meeting, the United Nations had a good opportunity to exercise justice.

During the Cold War period, there was no understanding and no forgiveness among the superpowers. The United Nations didn't have the chance to work even in a superficial function as a rubber stamp. This situation hasn't really improved substantially even now that the Cold War is over.

. . . and so on, and so forth.

It is this same veto power, of course, that has been the central factor in barring Taiwan's government from even observer status in the UN all these years since 1971. Yet political disenfranchisement pales in comparison to the horrendous atrocities that are allowed to run their course, as concerned nations with a respect for international law feel they must pass the buck to the UN for action, only to run into the recurring truth that the UN is inherently unable to act.

China's government repeatedly reminds us that an unrestricted veto is more power than any member of the United Nations is fit to singularly wield. As Hu states:

"Equality among countries" is not equivalent to "equality among governments." If we let totalitarian governments enjoy the same rights as democratic ones that are elected by their citizens' free choice, it is humiliating to people who are deprived of their rights under totalitarian governments. . . .if a country violently suppresses its people's right to participate in political affairs, that country's right to speak and participate in international affairs should be taken away.
Currently, each individual UN Resolution, no matter how token in nature, can be tossed out at the drop of a hat without the slightest need of justification. At the very least, it would seem reasonable for the individual veto power of the five permanent members of the Security Council to be replaced with, say, a single veto that can only be wielded by a 3-2 vote or with the unanimous consent of all five members.

Only when the world's majority of humanitarian, peaceful-minded nations are free to act in concert despite the dissent of a small minority of powerful despots will the UN be a politically relavent institution, and the reward for every nation will be a more peaceful and democratic globe.

Monday, November 5, 2007


A birds-eye view of the Industrial Technology Research Institute in
Hsinchu County, Taiwan [image courtesy of Taiwan Journal]

. . . many of our global competitors are actively seeking to "lock-up" East Asia's fast growing economies into economic relationships that exclude the United States and U.S. firms, it is worth reflecting on this trend.

Today, there are 176 free trade agreements in existence in the Asia Pacific region alone, and many more either under negotiation or consideration.

  • China already has an FTA with ASEAN that covers goods, and a comprehensive services FTA between the two parties will enter in to force[sic] in July. In addition, the Chinese are actively negotiating or have proposed FTA discussions with, among others, Korea, Japan, India, Australia, New Zealand, the GCC, Pakistan, and the South African Customs Union.
  • Japan has concluded FTAs with Singapore, Malaysia, and the Philippines, and is considering engagement with the major players within Asia.
  • India has implemented FTAs with Thailand, Singapore, and Sri Lanka and, as the aforementioned facts indicate, is actively entertaining discussions with the region's larger economies.
  • Demonstrating that the interest in establishing trade deals in Asia is not limited to the region itself, the EU is actively courting partners that include China, India and. . .Korea.
  • We are witnessing efforts to construct an exclusive Asia Pacific regional free trade bloc – so-called ASEAN +3 or +6 arrangements.

A number of these FTAs unfortunately do not constitute high standard, comprehensive FTAs of the variety that we have negotiated. However, they do afford preferential trading positions to the companies of these countries, and do have the effect of placing U.S. businesses, workers, and farmers at a relative disadvantage in accessing fast-growing East Asian markets. One potential effect of this web of agreements is to encourage U.S. companies seeking to compete in these markets to relocate production to those countries.

- from the testimony of Ambassador Karan Bhatia, Deputy U.S. Trade Representative to the House Ways and Means Trade Subcommittee, 20 March 2007

Although the above excerpt is from testimony given by DUSTR Bhatia to the Trade Subcommittee regarding a free trade agreement with Korea (KORUS), Mr. Bhatia's words ring just as true when one considers the need for a Taiwan-U.S. free trade agreement (TUFTA) and, indeed, further trade agreements with many countries in the East Asia-Pacific region.

Without lowered tariffs and higher levels of economic cooperation with key countries in the region, American industry and economic interests will increasingly be edged out of the Pacific Rim marketplace. In order to remain competitive, the United States ought to act to increase its free trade portfolio in this region, and a good place to start would be agreements with strong regional players -- like Taiwan -- that pose relatively little direct competition to major American industries.

The beauty of a U.S.-Taiwan FTA is that each economy brings to the table strengths that the other lacks. Lowered prices on Taiwan-produced electrical components that are crucial to the electronics industry (and are probably in the computer that allows you to read this), will lower overall prices of electronics sold in the United States. Taiwan's investment and financial sectors will encounter added stability with the increased service quality brought about by improved competition from American financial service companies, and so on, and so forth. Even the Korea-U.S. Free Trade Agreement that Ambassador Bhatia so aptly endorsed in the Trade Subcommittee hearing is in some respects less attractive than TUFTA, in that any final form of KORUS will have to negotiate around headed competition between the large automotive industries that are so important to each country's economy.

Hence, we have here a few more reasons why Congress and the Administration should take more time to seriously look at and move towards the signing of a free trade agreement between Taiwan and the United States.

Monday, October 29, 2007

The Case for Taiwan-U.S. Free Trade

Free Trade has for some time been a driving force behind United States foreign relations and the role many Americans envision for their nation in the twenty-first century. Scholars, economists, innovators and businessmen and women envision a global marketplace where trade barriers have been drastically lowered or eliminated altogether; where products are more easily distributed worldwide and exchanged freely internationally as well as domestically.

Free trade, of course, is not an idea that has arrived without protest. There are concerns that unique cultures and the identities of underdeveloped nations will fall prey to the larger international market, as purveyors of locally produced goods are driven out of business by large corporations producing similar goods for less elsewhere. Yet when two modern and industrially developed nations engage each other in free trade, there cannot be much doubt that the relationship is beneficial for both.In this light, there is much to gain and little to lose when it comes to a Free Trade Agreement (FTA) between the United States and Taiwan.

Proponents of such a bilateral international deal on both sides of the Pacific have brought forth various proposals for a Taiwan-U.S. Free Trade Agreement, or TUFTA. Beginning in 2001 with the introduction of a bill by Senator Max Baucus of Montana (D) entitled, “United States-Taiwan Free Trade Agreement Act of 2001,” members of Congress from both sides of the aisle have increasingly sought to hammer out a finalized version of TUFTA for approval by the governments of the United States and Taiwan.

Most recently, on May 1, 2007, House Concurrent Resolution 137 was introduced by Congresswoman Shelley Berkley of Nevada (D) on behalf of herself and Congressmen Jim Ramstad (R-MN), Robert Wexler (D-FL), Steve Chabot (R-OH) and Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA). The bill would express “the sense of the Congress that the United States should increase trade opportunities with Taiwan by launching negotiations without delay to enter into a free trade agreement with Taiwan.” H. Con. Res. 137 currently has 27 cosponsors and is awaiting action by the House Subcommittee on Trade.

We believe that a Free Trade Agreement between Taiwan and the United States is an important next step in preserving and strengthening the economic and strategic alliance between Taiwan and the United States. Taiwan is a natural economic hub for the East Asia and Pacific region, and by negotiating lower trade barriers, the U.S. government will secure an arrangement in which American firms will be better able to access supply chains throughout the region (including in China) by participating in Taiwan’s marketplace. Taiwan too will benefit by increasing the level of bilateral trade with its fourth largest trading partner and introducing American influence and competition into its large yet underdeveloped domestic services sector.

Taiwan already heavily imports quality U.S. agricultural goods such as beef, fruits, and nuts, and these imports would expand under lower tariff rates. Taiwan’s consumers would benefit from lower overall prices while American farmers, ranchers and growers would benefit from an expanded market for their products. In short, the current proposal for TUFTA would enhance and catalyze an already symbiotic economic relationship.Every year that passes without the creation of a United States-Taiwan Free Trade Agreement represents a massive missed opportunity worth billions of U.S. dollars in terms of bilateral trade and the strengthening of commercial networks in the western Pacific Rim.

As the United States continues to expand its international Free Trade portfolio, we can only hope that TUFTA appears at or near the top of the list.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Not Quite Beating Swords into Ploughshares, but. . .

. . . turning old artillery shells into top quality knives is also a good idea.

Here's an interesting feature story in the latest edition of Taiwan Journal, which explores the world of a master knifemaker on the island of Kinmen.

We could hardly believe reading this article that the PRC once ran a propoganda campaign by actually shelling the island of Kinmen with artillery rounds full of printed material in the '60s (the knifemaker uses metal from these old shells as material to make the knives). It doesn't take a particularly bright individual to realize that the target propoganda audience isn't going to take much interest in your pro-Communist literature when you just put a shell through the roof of their house, apparently without much concern for the welfare of that reader's family or neighbors. Whatever happened to the good old-fashioned method of dropping leaflets out of a plane or even unmanned hot-air balloons? Way to be, PRC.

Reporting We Like

Kudos to the AP for running a pretty fair and balanced article on cross-Strait relations. We read it today on the International Herald-Tribune's website. It concerns Taipei's response to a PRC offer for negotiations on a peace accord. The text follows:

TAIPEI, Taiwan: Taiwan on Monday rejected a call by Chinese President Hu Jintao for a formal peace accord between the two rivals, saying it lacked any significance.

Government spokesman Shieh Jhy-wey's comments came several hours after Hu told a major Communist Party meeting that Beijing favored a peaceful, negotiated settlement to the 58-year-old conflict, provided Taiwan accepts that it is a part of China.

Taiwan and China split amid civil war in 1949. The "one-China principle" has formed the basis of Beijing's policy toward the self-ruled island ever since.

In Taiwan's first official reaction to Hu's comments, Shieh said that the Chinese leader's invitation "was devoid of any significance whatsoever."

"We will not discuss peace, unification, or any other issues with a regime that has suppressed the Tibetans, killed its own people and supported the military junta of Myanmar," he said.

Taiwan frequently castigates Beijing for its human rights policies, including its support for military or dictatorial governments abroad.

Emphasizing the differences between the two, Shieh said that Taiwan is founded on human rights and democracy, while China's ruling Communist Party does not represent the will of its own people.

"China is threatening Taiwan with war," he added, referring to Beijing's promises to attack the island of 23 million people if it makes it de facto independence permanent.

Though Taiwan's government once vowed to reunite with the mainland, over the past several years it has emphasized its separate identity, drawing threats from Beijing to use the military option.

Hu warned in his speech that Taiwan's independence forces were "stepping up their secessionist activities," jeopardizing chances for peace between the two sides. He said people in China and Taiwan should work to "oppose and constrain such activities" and offered to work with any political parties in Taiwan as long as they agreed that Taiwan was part of China.

Beijing is particularly worried that with Taiwan's next presidential election due in March and the Beijing Olympics in August, Taiwanese leaders might be tempted to test the limits of China's tolerance. Last month, Taiwan's ruling Democratic Progressive Party passed a resolution calling for a referendum on Taiwan's sovereignty.

President Chen Shui-bian has also pushed for Taiwan's entry into the United Nations under its own name, rather than its formal title of the Republic of China, which connotes fealty to the one China policy.

This reporter took the time to explain Taiwan's valid grievances concerning the lack of human rights and democracy in China under the PRC regime, rather than painting an all-too-common loose sketch of the situation that leaves Taiwan's government looking like a stubborn and naïve agitator. One can hardly imagine criticizing Taiwan for being an island that "frequently castigates Beijing for its human rights policies, including its support for military or dictatorial governments abroad."

The only thing we could see that might be worth knit-picking over is this sentence: "Taiwan and China split amid civil war in 1949." Perhaps the unfamiliar reader would interpret this to mean that the civil war was simply a matter of Taiwan seceeding from China or, even worse, the PRC the same way states in the American South attempted to seceed from the Union during the American Civil War. Perhaps a better sentence would be: "China and Taiwan split at the end of civil war on the mainland in 1949," or, if the writer can afford the extra real estate: "In 1949 at the end of the China's civil war, the Nationalists fled to Taiwan, maintaining there a seperate government from the PRC in Beijing."

These two suggestions seem to better convey the historical reality--although we can hardly claim to be seasoned hands concerning Taiwan-PRC relations If any one of our readers can think of a better line for the press, please feel free to post it in the comments section!

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Beijing in '08: No Issue Irrelevant

Today's “World News” section of the Washington Post contained an article on the Chinese government’s attempt to disassociate all international political controversies involving the People’s Republic of China from the Beijing Olympics. As reported in the article, a spokesman for the Chinese Embassy in the United States, “argued against efforts by activists to link participation in the Beijing-based 2008 Summer Olympics to China’s handling of Burma,” calling the issue of Burma and other regions such as Darfur “irrelevant.”

Our message to the PRC?
Good luck with that.

It would seem that the import of hosting the Olympic Games, the quadrennial international match of skill, dexterity and strength that dates back to ancient Greece, was lost on the folks in Beijing when they put in their bid for ’08. Let us look at some of the reasons why it is folly to believe that a host country’s diplomatic posture should not be altered; can even avoid alteration, during the run-up and actual passage of the Games:

1) The Olympics are about humanity.
Hosting the Olympics is a terribly attractive prospect for any government, because the successful preparation for the Olympic Games and the cultural events and security apparatus that come along with them represents an excellent chance for a government to exhibit its logistical, economic, and visionary capabilities, while at the same time displaying before the world the unique cultural identity of its citizens.
Yet along with this privilege comes great responsibility. As the world’s all-inclusive global sporting event, in their most basic sense the Olympic Games are about humankind testing of the capacities and physical limits of the human body. They are about the strength and vigor of our species. So the question the “live” or at-home spectator will inevitably ask about the host country when humanity itself is so prominently being paraded before the world public is, “What has this country done for the betterment of humanity lately?” In the case of China under the leadership of the PRC government the answer is, of course, “nothing much.”

2) The Olympics are also about equality.
The Olympics—unlike the United Nations these days—are inextricably founded upon the principle that all may participate. It is the reason the Jamaicans famously once placed a bobsled team in competition. It is also the reason why even athletes from a country as isolated as Taiwan are not and cannot be prohibited from competing on an athletically—if not politically—equal playing field with athletes from everywhere else. The Games are based on the premise that we are equal and born with inherent gifts and abilities, and that those among us with the greatest athletic abilities have the right, even the duty, to compete with their peers to push the physical limits of human strength and endurance.

3) ergo: the Olympics are about democracy.
It is no coincidence that the tradition of the Olympic Games originated in the Greek city-state remembered as the world’s first democracy. The Olympics are inherently democratic. During the Games, athletes and fans depart from every corner of the globe to converge on a single venue—to meet one another and test their common strength, weakness, and mettle via controlled competition. Ideas are exchanged, philosophies are expounded through the language of sport, and all are invited to participate. Humankind’s strength is reaffirmed through the celebration of both teamwork and individuality. These factors were no less intrinsic and valuable at the first Olympics in ancient Athens, although to the Athenians of the day the world was much, much smaller.

These three statements—that the Olympics are about humanity, equality, and therefore democracy—are, of course, rather idealistic in nature. But if there is one thing that is so blatantly obvious about the Olympics that might as well be taped to the bottom of a frying pan and repeatedly banged over one’s head, it is that these Games are about ideals. They have always been about a ideals, they always will be, and any nation that plans to host the Games should understand that its government, culture, and people will be scrutinized through the lens of those ideals. It is our personal belief that, in the case of China, the culture and the people will stand admirably up to Olympic scrutiny. China’s government on the other hand, will likely be found in relation to these ideals tragically lacking.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Recommended Light Reading

Mann, James. The China Fantasy. New York: Viking, 2007.

112 pages.

We recently heard about this book, written by Johns Hopkins China expert James Mann, in which the author argues against the common wisdom in American society that the eventual liberalization and democratization of China's political culture is inevitable.

It sounded like it was worth a trip to the local public library and, now that we are on page forty-nine and have already found the arguments within "China Fantasy" very valuable, we are comfortable with recommending this title to any reader interested in better understanding the upper hand China enjoys in almost every aspect of American politics.

Mann's initial argument is laid out by first sketching the two commonly held preconceptions of China's future that are pervasive in American society. He calls these somewhat antipodal hypotheses the "Soothing Scenario" and the "Upheaval Scenario." Without betraying too much of the book's argument (you really should read it), Mann rejects these two concepts: that China will either a) inevitably evolve into a democratic society through free trade with the United States and the West, the introduction of elections at the village level, etc., or b) that China is traveling down an unsustainable politic path that, like the Soviet Union, must inevitably end in political upheaval and the overthrow of the ruling Communist regime.

Instead Mann introduces a 'Third Scenario', which he sees, at the very least, as just as probable as the other two (and therefore rather disturbing). This Third Scenario is the possibility that, despite the arrival of the Internet and rapid globalization, the ruling government in Beijing will be able to maintain its economic and military rise coupled with domestic political hegemony and human rights violations indefinitely. Much of the book is dedicated to explaining how and why this is very, very possible, and what might be done to more effectively counter the arguments of adherents to the first two scenarios and more effectively coerce the government in Beijing to change.

One of our favorite sections of the book thus far is a chapter entitled "The Lexicon of Dismissal", in which Mann lists many of the terms and phrases used by academics, politicians, and promoted by the Beijing government itself, to assuage or detract those who fear that China is headed down the wrong road. Here is a Taiwan-related excerpt from the book (see Michael Turton's recent post for related analysis) about how China critics--there's also a breakdown of the term "China-basher"--are often painted as overly provocative:

"PROVOCATIVE": This epithet is most commonly applied to government actions that challenge or criticize the Chinese regime--although the actions of individuals are sometimes branded as "provocative," too.

The implication is that the actor has gone too far, is unwise, or is an extremist. Let's scrutinize the meaning a bit more closely. Literally, "provocative" means likely to anger the Chinese leadership. This is an inherently subjective standard; it is of course up to Chinese leaders to define what makes them angry. An action could conceivably be legal, just, wise, and well-founded yet still provocative. To describe some policy or action as "provocative" is either meaningless or, worse, based on the view that the Chinese government is personalized in nature and that what counts are its leaders' feelings.

Individuals who take "provocative" actions are usually branded with another derogatory label: They are "TROUBLEMAKERS." Taiwan's two most recent presidents, Chen Shui-bian and, before him, Lee Teng-hui, were both troublemakers." The Dalai Lama is a "troublemaker," too. Once again, taken literally, this is a meaningless epithet. The Chinese government itself makes "trouble" from time to time--and, like other international troublemakers (including the United States), it might even occasionally be right to do so. Calling someone a "troublemaker" reduces international diplomacy to the level of kindergarten recess.

Whenever troublemakers take some action that the government of the People's Republic of China won't like, the China hands in the United States can be expected to use a third metaphor-cliché: the troublemakers are said to be "PUSHING THE ENVELOPE." Taiwan officials in particular are regularly said to be "pushing the envelope." The implications of this cliché is that someone is trying to overcome existing restraints, to break through to something new.

Indeed, this shopworn cliché does sometimes accurately describe the actions of Taiwan leaders such as President Chen Shui-bian and his predecessor Lee Teng-hui, who have repeatedly attempted to broaden the limits imposed upon them by the reality that most of the world has not diplomatic relations with Taiwan. It's noteworthy that Chinese leaders, too, sometimes try to get the United States to impose new limits on Taiwan, ones that have never been set down before. Yet in Washington's clichéd discourse, the PRC's actions are almost never described as "pushing the envelope." When China seeks a new American statement or communiqué concerning Taiwan, or asks for an American denunciation of terrorism in Xinjiang province, for some reason America's China hands drop the envelope metaphor and instead resort to explaining why the United States should be careful not to "anger China."

OK, hopefully we have divulged enough of this title's insightful contents to whet your appetite. We feel it is an essential handbook to anyone who wants to learn, or take a refresher course in, how to effectively deconstruct and parry criticisms made in defense of the Chinese government despite the PRC's continuing abhorrent human rights record and disdain for political change.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Thinly Veiled Threats

Some great commentary from journalist Ian Williams has been up on the Guardian's website since Monday. Apparently Mr. Williams got a little phone call from Beijing's Bureau of Public Diplomacy - Mobster Division:

Bullying and diplomacy
Ian Williams
September 17, 2007 8:30 PM

Last week I got a personal taste of Beijing's diplomacy. Their mission to the United Nations called me up and warned at the beginning and end of a 20 minute impromptu telephone debate that if I appeared on a panel with Taiwan's "so-called" President Chen Shui-bian they would "take it very seriously."

Around the world, most governments seem to quail in the face of such implied threats. In contrast, seeing no sign of Chinese gunboats in the East River, and reckoning that the worst that could happen was my missing the 2008 Olympics, the bluster reinforced my determination.On Friday I appeared not only with President Chen on a video link but with John Bolton, the former US ambassador to the UN, in person, and on Saturday on a platform with the Taiwanese sea-goddess Matsu, flown over on her own seat to New York.

I was thinking that if Bolton and I could agree on any issue, Matsu may have been working hard on the miracle front. She will have to work even harder to get Beijing in a reasonable mode.
China's diplomat told me that Chen was a trouble-maker, and took even more umbrage when I pointed out that in fact it was the mainland that was pointing almost a thousand missiles at Taiwan, and not the other way round. "We will consider that you support Taiwanese independence," she accused ominously. Actually, I pointed out that I was neutral on that question, which was up to the Taiwanese to decide, but that I did strongly support their right to decide, just as I had vociferously supported the right to self determination of the Timorese, the Sahrawis of the Western Sahara, Palestinians and Kosovans.

"That is in violation of international law," she snapped. Well, no, I pointed out. Self-determination for former colonial territories was a basic principle of the United Nations, and indeed Mao told Edgar Snow, as reported in Red Star Over China, that Formosa - as Taiwan was then known - would be able to choose its own destiny when Japan was defeated.
The PRC is more used to an attitude of "whatever you say, comrade," than being argued with, and it all just seemed to make her angrier. However, as often, the discussion made me think. Possibly the worst way to dissuade people who are determined to secede is to try to bully them. I pointed out that if forty years ago Spain had made nice with the Gibraltarians, then by now the people on the Rock would be petitioning to join Spain and buy all those giveaway fincas along the coast.

If the British had given Ireland dominion status before the first world war, Mrs Windsor would likely be making annual visits to open the Irish parliament. In contrast , much later in the century, London had conceded bilingualism, and Welsh radio and TV and in the end almost had to force the Welsh to accept devolution.

The negative examples, from Timor to Kosovo are quite clear. Battering people into loyalty is a highly ineffective strategy.

So why should anyone worry about a small faraway island of which we know little? Well of course, there is the little matter that Taiwan is a democracy, whose people want to choose their own fate, but experience teaches us that defending democracy usually only works politically in conjunction with less altruistic motives.

Well, there is one serious matter of self-interest for much of the globe. Of course it is a bit much to expect a joined-up foreign policy from the Bush administration but even so I was shocked to discover that Washington, kowtowing to Beijing, has almost no official contacts with Taiwan - even though the US is committed to defending the island against Chinese attacks. They restricted President Chen to a 15 minute stopover in Alaska on his last trip back from central America. They do not allow him to visit Washington. That is seriously worrying. US should keep its word to Taiwan. But the signals it is currently sending to China, of acquiescence to its policies towards the island, are reminiscent of those Margaret Thatcher sent to Galtieri of Argentina over the Falklands. But any conflict resulting would be far, far bigger than a side show in semi-arctic islands full of sheep and penguins.

General Committee keeps Taiwan membership off the Agenda

UN General Assembly President Kerim opens the 62nd Session
(UN Photo/Marco Castro)
Wednesday, around 10 AM Eastern Time, the UN General Committee convened to deliberate over and finalize the agenda for the 62nd UN General Assembly. 16 of Taiwan's allies had proposed August 14 in a written document that Taiwan's application for membership be added for consideration to the GA's agenda. Before voting on this measure, the chairman (also the President of the General Assembly: Srgjan Kerim of Macedonia) suggested that it be debated with representative arguments from two supporters of Taiwan membership and two of its detractors.

Palau, one of Taiwan's Pacific allies, voiced its opposition to the chairman's proposal, stating that the floor should be left open for all interested parties to have a voice in the debate. Sri Lanka, one of the PRC's allies, voiced its support for the chairman's suggestion. The chairman's proposal for a "2 v. 2" debate was put to a vote and passed, 34 countries in favor and 3 against.

In the ensuing debate, St. Vincent and the Grenadines took the floor first on behalf of Taiwan, followed by China, after which spoke Taiwan's ally the Solomon Islands, and lastly Egypt, which was in opposition to adding the item to the General Assembly agenda.

No consensus was reached on whether to add the item to the agenda, therefore the Chairman dismissed the item and the issue of Taiwan's application for UN membership was not allowed to be openly debated in the General Assembly this year.

Those were the proceedings and, this being Friday, the "failure" of Taiwan's fifteenth consecutive application to the UN is allready old news. We apologize in our tardiness for putting off this post.

Our analysis is that, although China is continuing to successfully bar Taiwan from the UN, it had better be careful, as each year's victory may become increasingly pyrrhic. China's severe whip-cracking in the UN when it comes to this issue may get the job done, but many countries may start to chafe at the incessant pressure to openly ignore the ideals of open dialogue and equal representation upon which the United Nations is based.

Furthermore, this is backward motion if China ever hopes to endear itself with the Taiwanese. China may be holding off on taking military action to get what they want (because they can't), but Beijing sure isn't making any progress towards a political resolution in the meantime. Every year that common citizens on Taiwan go without international representation is another year that Taiwanese get increasingly estranged from their mainland neighbor.

And what was the deal with Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon during this whole process anyway? The Secretariat continues to cling to its ludicrous interpretation of Res. 2758 even though any first-year law student or even a high school senior on the mock trial club could deduce that the logic behind the UN's so-called One China Policy is absolutely bogus.

As we said before, Secretary-General Ban's job wasn't that difficult: he merely had to pass the letter along to the Security Council where it would surely be defeated by China's veto. If Ban is in the China pocket (the only explanation we can think of), why would China be so paranoid as to request that the Secretary-General risk his legitimacy simply to create a second layer of defense for what is allready admittedly a fool-proof firewall? It's proof of China's characteristic authoritarian paranoia and an embarrasment to the organization as a whole.

China loves to point the finger and portray Taiwan as the irresponsible "agitator" vis-à-vis the status quo, when in reality, Taiwan's government is cautiously attempting to extricate its people from political limbo while China continues to shrug off the idea of participating in global trade and politics with even a modicum of responsibility. When will the double-standard end?

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

62nd General Assembly Convenes Today

Today the first session of the 62nd United Nations General Assembly will convene in New York City, albeit incomplete with the continued exclusion of one nation: Taiwan. Proceedings can be viewed live from the UN web site -- just click on the link that says "Radio, TV, Photo" and go from there.

At Zero Hour, Indian Academic Weighs In

Yesterday an op-ed piece by Ramesh Thakur, a professor at the University of Waterloo and former senior vice rector of the UN University in Tokyo, appeared in the Times of India supporting Taiwan's application for UN membership. Mr. Thakur's essay follows:

Membership to the United Nations is supposed to be open to ‘all peace-loving states which accept the obligations contained in the present Charter and are able and willing to carry out these obligations’. The 51 founding members were the original coalition of the able and willing, but things have come a long way since. Those both able and willing are not able to be members, even as it would appear that the UN has adopted a liberal approach to membership.

Over the years, the desire to have at least one international organisation aspiring to universal representation of the full human family trumped all doubts and hesitations. The member-ship has accordingly almost quadrupled to 192.

This remarkable growth, however, does not mean the membership issues have been settled. In some cases the battle over membership took the form of representation. An especially egregious example was Cambodia when the western and South East Asian countries preferred to recognise and deal with the murderous Khmer Rouge rather than Hun Sen regime.

Taipei represented China since the inception of the UN to 1971, even as the communists were ruling China. This continued because the Cold War was raging, the West controlled the numbers and called the shots in the United Nations.

However, the more things change, the more they remain the same. As China took its rightful place, Taiwan was made to 'disappear'. In July, Taiwan’s bid for UN membership was unceremoniously rejected.

More than an international bureaucracy and a forum for engaging in intergovernmental trench warfare, the UN represents an idealised world in which nations work together harmoniously for the common good. Values are central to its identity. That is why corruption, fraud and sexual misconduct by UN personnel are so damaging. While the oil-for-food scandal was mostly a media beat-up, financial and sexual misconduct by UN peacekeepers is more pervasive and has been going on for a longer period than the organisation is prepared to admit. Because it will not admit to the scale, it cannot get rid of the problem.

The biggest and longest running scandal is the way in which Taiwan has been banned from the UN. Taiwan is refused membership, is not granted observer status, and does not figure in the UN’s statistical databases.

On July 19, Taiwan submitted, yet again, its application for admission to the UN. It satisfies all the normal criteria of a state: territory, people and effective control by a stable government. But on July 23 the UN Office of Legal Affairs returned the application. The decision has little to do with the merits of the application and everything to do with the geopolitics of China as a permanent member of the Security Council.

Where does this leave all the fine talk of democracy, human rights and self-determination in Kosovo, East Timor and elsewhere? Taiwan is better credentialled than most of them. Its population of 23 million is almost the combined total of Australia and New Zealand, and bigger than scores of UN member states, including East Timor (under one million) and Kosovo (over two million).

In his impressive campaign for the post of UN secretary general, Ban Ki Moon made much of the fact that he is from a country that has actually made the transition from poor to high-income and from an authoritarian to a democratic regime.

Like South Korea, Taiwan is a vibrant democracy and a dynamic economy. Both countries embody fundamental UN ideals, values and aspirations.

As Soviet dissident Alexander Solzhe-nitsyn noted, the United Nations is the place where the peoples of the world are often served up to the designs of governments. Ban was memorably described by an unnamed diplomat as having hit the ground stumbling in January. He could redeem himself by speaking up for the rights of Taiwanese to determine their own destiny and the duty of the international community to respect their choice.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

The Art of (Diplomatic) War

Now that the three-way public tussle between China, Taiwan, and the United States is sufficiently focused in our collective rear-view, several helpful analyses have come across our radar that practically evaluate the reasoning behind each government's recent actions and the best step forward. In particular, these articles and documents focus on how Taiwan-U.S. relations may be improved -- one may even say salvaged -- in the near future.

The first was brought to our attention by Michael Turton in a posting yesterday on his blog, The View From Taiwan. John Tkacik of the Heritage Foundation has weighed in with a logically-argued Web Memo, suggesting some very attainable tactical changes on the part of Washington and Taipei. Number one on our list out of Tkacik's recommendations is enhanced communication. To Taipei Tkacik says:

Coordinating with the United States and other key democracies is essential to preserving Taiwan's international personality in the United Nations, in its agencies, and across a broad spectrum of world organizations. Taiwan's leaders must approach these issues with a systematic and strategic outlook.

And for Washington?

Upgrading the rank and influence of the U.S. representative in Taiwan would be a good start. Giving Taiwan's representatives in the U.S. regular access to the National Security Counsel, along with Defense, State, and Commerce Department staff, is also desirable.

When it comes to maintaining friendships -- personally or internationally -- communication always helps.

Tkacik's call for a more systematic and strategic outlook concerning Taiwan's participation in the global community was echoed in yesterday's Nelson Report -- which quotes remarks made by Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for China Tom Christensen at the U.S.-Taiwan Business Council meeting in Annapolis. Some of Christensen's words:

Whether we like it or not, most countries in the world accept Beijing's characterization of Taiwan, and, when energized, the PRC can call in overwhelming support to marginalize Taipei. The Taiwan people are, of course, long accustomed to PRC pressure, and we are certainly not telling them not to resist these efforts; our own position is far from passive. That said, Taipei needs to push back intelligently and in a sophisticated manner that plays to its strengths. Frontal assaults on Beijing's sensitivities are bound to fail and, at the end of the day, leave Taipei further behind.

Whether Taiwan ultimately holds the referendum on UN membership or not, it is certainly a valuable point that 'assymetric' diplomatic challenges to China's eminence in the United Nations are needed.

Direct and open appeals for the realization of equal rights work great for drumming up publicity, but Taipei will probably have to work in a more oblique and creative (as a chess player might say, "baroque") fashion in order to navigate around Beijing's strengths and play off of China's weaknesses.

Keeping the world community skeptical about Beijing '08 -- some are allready calling 2008 the "Genocide Olympics" -- seems to us like a logical start. In the meantime, we're breaking open our copies of Sun Tzu and Carl von Clausewitz.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Taiwan Hindered in Helping Environment

Today the Taipei Times reports on how delegates from Taiwan's Environmental Protection Agency, after being invited to participate in the Basel Convention on Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and their Disposal (fun title), were turned away upon arrival because their idendification documents had been issued by the Taiwan government:

The administration sent a total of six representatives to the Basel Convention this year. Two of them returned to Taiwan early on Sunday and told reporters about the situation.

Lai Ying-ying (賴瑩瑩), a senior specialist at the EPA's waste management department, said the convention was mainly attended by professionals to discuss the latest technology for handling hazardous waste.

Lai said that the administration submitted an online application to the UN Secretariat before departing for the convention. To avoid sensitive political issues, the administration applied under the name of the Institute of Environment and Resource (IER), a non-governmental group that is partially supported by the EPA.

Lai noted the Basel Secretariat in Geneva had also sent them a confirmation e-mail upon receipt of their application, telling representatives to bring a copy of the e-mail to the registration department to get badges.

However, Lai said that the Taiwanese representatives were denied entry to the convention after they showed the registration officials their passports, and were told that there had been a change in regulations governing the admission of observers.

Based on a report issued last Friday by the UN Environment Programme, the UN Security and Safety Section in Geneva had advised that representatives from Taiwan "could not be accredited to participate at the current session because their accreditation documents had been issued by Taiwan, which is not a Member State of the United Nations."

The report said the Secretariat of the Basel Convention in Geneva "had been surprised" by the situation, as the rule had never been applied previously and Taiwan had made useful contributions on the issue of e-waste.
This is a textbook example of how the United Nations is going overboard in its efforts to please China and snub Taiwan at every turn. It also underscores China's general disconcern for issues pertaining to the environment, world health, or any of the other numerous issues UN bodies are created to address. Taiwan is a major playor in the electronics industry, as this article points out -- and yet China could care less if the convention doesn't benefit from the islands expertise with handling electronic waste. Apparently the UN also doesn't care, or at least not enough to refrain from kow-towing to Beijing at every turn.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Financial Times: Bush Pushes China on Democracy

APEC roundup.

It seems that for now the United States will persist in pressuring Taiwan's President Chen to back down over the proposed referendum on UN membership, yet the pitched battle of rhetoric that took place at the end of last week seems to have produced more gains than losses for Taiwan.

First, there was the diplomatic intervention by the United States that quashed China's proposal to hold a vote in the General Assembly on Taiwan's sovereign status. Then during the APEC meeting, as the rock-solid Financial Times reports, President Bush took the opportunity to drive home the message to Chinese President Hu Jintao:
The remarks were made in a speech on Friday attended by Mr Hu at the Sydney Opera House, ahead of the Apec regional summit in the city this weekend.

“We will encourage China to open up its political system and give greater voice to its people,” said Mr Bush, according to remarks released prior to delivery. “As our relationships with South Korea and Taiwan during the cold war prove, it is possible to maintain friendships and push toward democracy at the same time.”

He said the Olympics would be a “moment of pride for the Chinese people”, when “the eyes of the world fall on Beijing”.

“We urge China’s leaders to use this moment to show confidence by demonstrating a commitment to greater openness and tolerance,” he added.

The message to China seems clear -- whereas the Bush and Chen administrations may currently stand in disagreement over the timeliness and prudence of the retooled and renewed push for UN membership, Taiwan democracy remains a regional strategic asset and a valuable cause the United States is willing to defend. Furthermore, Beijing should use the 2008 Summer Olympics as an opportunity to appreciate the open flow of information that Beijing will either permit during the Beijing Games, or that will be pried from the government's clutches by international reporters.

With its lust for absolute power, as with all other forms of addiction, Beijing admitting it has a problem will have to be the first step on its 'long road to recovery'.

Friday, September 7, 2007

President Chen at AEI, Presidents Bush and Hu at APEC

Initially, reports coming out of the bilataral meeting between American and Chinese Presidents George Bush and Hu Jintao suggested that the two leaders had sidestepped the issue of Taiwan while speaking on the sidelines of the APEC meeting in Sydney. Major topics of discussion were initially reported as Chinese product safety (graciously brought up by President Hu without any prodding from the U.S. side), artificially low valuation of the yuan, North Korea and -- 'oh yes, Mr. President, would you be so kind as to attend the Beijing Olympics next summer?' (Bush is reportedly planning to leave international politics in the States and attend the Games as a sports fan).

Yet a second wave of news coverage published this morning brought to light for us two new aspects of the Bush-Hu bilateral talks: an agreement to establish what sounds like a Cold War-style military hotline between Washington and Beijing and President Hu voicing his concern over Taiwan.

The hotline strikes us as good news, instantaneous and direct dialogue is the best way to prevent misunderstanding during times of heightened tensions between global powers (unfortunately, Beijing has a past record of mysteriously not answering Washington's phone calls when Sino-U.S. tensions are high -- just because Mr. Bush no longer has to "dial" when he reaches for the reciever doesn't mean that Beijing is going to pick up).

Not so good news from yesterday's meeting comes in the form of President Hu's ominous remarks on Taiwan, reported this morning in the Washington Times:

"This year and next year are a period of high danger for the Taiwan situation," Mr. Hu told Mr. Bush in bilateral talks, according to a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman.

"We must give stronger warnings to the Taiwan authorities," Liu Jianchao quoted the Chinese President as saying. "We cannot allow anyone to use any means to split Taiwan from the motherland."
We ask readers to take into account two aspects of President Hu's language:

1) Hu speaks of the "period of high danger" as though he is a weatherman reporting a high frequency of thundershowers over the weekend -- it can't be helped, that's just the way it is! In other words, President Bush, feel free to forget that China is the physical source of all this heightened danger.

2) We may be going out on a limb here, but refering to your country as the "Motherland" while speaking with the President of the United States (often referred to as the 'Leader of the Free World') -- probably not the best idea. Such lingo tends to reboot your average American brain and fill it with memories of our former adversary, the Soviet Union, bringing to mind stereotypical McCarthy-era images of vodka-swilling generals behind the Iron Curtain extolling the virtues and immortal greatness of 'Mother Russia' while grinding the liberties of the Common Man into the dirt with their patent leather boots.

In condensed form: refering to your country as the Motherland; Fatherland; Parental Gaurdianland . . . not the best way to ingratiate yourself with any American leader.

Meanwhile, back on the ranch (ie: back in the virtual ether, where the image and words of President Chen were being beamed via satellite into the top-story conference room at the American Enterprise Institute, which held an event on Taiwan's bid for UN membership yesterday), President Chen was refusing to give any ground on UN membership or the referendum, laying out clearly and concisely at the well-publicized event Taiwan's rational for persisting in the pursuit of both of these. Fairly well-timed, the AEI event seems to have stirred up a new round of public discourse over cross-Strait relations during a period when coverage of the issue seemed to be flagging.

For video of the conference, you can visit this page on AEI's website. Click the video link on the right of the page.

We poked around for some web video coverage of the APEC bilateral meeting (found plenty on the security-flaunting stunt put on by the cast of Chasers yesterday) but were unable to come up with anything so far. We'll take another shot at it soon.

Chris Nelson attended the AEI conference yesterday and, as perhaps Washington's top non-governmental Asia-Pacific insider, was hounded by reporters after the session. Nelson tips his hat in yesterday's Nelson Report to many of the hard-to-argue-with-both-legally-and-morally points made by Chen at the conference, but (Congressman Rohrabacher's effusive support nothwithstanding) seems to think things are going to get rougher between Taipei and Washington before they get better:

Taiwan's president Chen delivered an emotional but legalistic explanation and defense of why he will continue to pursue a national referendum on whether to pursue UN membership under the name "Taiwan", despite firm US opposition.

Chen seems to calculate that if there is a large enough public vote for the referendum next March, as planned, then a ground swell of pressure will be created on the Bush Administration to, at a minimum, stop criticizing Chen's various efforts to redefine Taiwan's international space.

No serious observer of US-Taiwan and US-China relations thinks such a plan has any chance of success, regardless of the vote, so a continued rise in tensions between
Washington and Taipei seems inevitable...with clear risks for all involved.

. . .

We'll discuss all this below, but will briefly note that it looks to us as though the US, China, and Taiwan are now locked into very different definitions of the "status quo" which increasingly conflict, and which by their very structure make maintaining the peaceful status quo increasingly difficult.

. . .

We thought there were many aspects of President Chen's presentation this morning which, from a strictly legal or strictly moral, or even strictly logical point of view, you couldn't argue much.

Who in this country is opposed to the legitimate exercise of democracy? Who doesn't
wish more democracy, more respect for the rule of law in China?

But we thought that the potentially most revealing thing Chen said and did...something which the AEI panel gamely tried to pass off with mild jokes about alternative song titles...was to actually recite word for word as his "credo" in this
matter, the lyrics from "Man of LaMancha" in which the doomed hero, Don Quixote,
says he is prepared to end up in Hell, so long as he fights the good fight and
dies with a clean conscience.

So that's about all we have for you at the moment. Yesterday was a big day in cross-strait relations and for Taiwan's UN bid -- surely there will be more news on the subject to come.

On a side note: Rest in peace, Luciano Pavarotti -- you touched the world with your voice and persona, and you really knew how to bring an audience to its knees. Nessun dorma 4 Life!

"I think a life in music is a life beautifully spent, and this is what I have devoted my life to." -LP