Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Korea Times: Taiwan's Bid to Join UN

Frank Ching authored an editorial that ran today in the Korea Times. An excerpt follows:

For months, President Chen Shui-bian has been talking about the importance of holding a referendum to see if the 23 million people of Taiwan would support the government applying to join the United Nations not under its formal name, the Republic of China, but under the name Taiwan.

So vigorously has Chen championed this cause that even the opposition Nationalist Party, or Kuomintang, is now in favor of holding a referendum on the island joining the United Nations and the name that it should use.

However, any referendum, if it is going to be held, will not be conducted until next year, probably in conjunction with the presidential election in March. It came as something of a surprise, therefore, to discover that President Chen has jumped the gun and sent a letter to the United Nations Secretariat applying to join the United Nations, and to do so in the name Taiwan. If he could do this anyway, without benefit of a referendum, then why was there so much fuss about holding a referendum?

Also, in the past, Taiwan did not submit an application until September, when the General Assembly begins its annual session. This time, why did Chen not wait for September when it can be done properly by going to the General Assembly rather than approaching Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon?

The answer to both questions is politics,

As you may have gleaned from this opening narrative, the editorial is more than a bit critical of the tactics employed by Chen and the R.O.C. government during this year's UN membership campaign. Although we don't agree with much of what Mr. Ching says, it is often useful to consider different opinions concerning issues as complex as this one.

Some things that strike us as inaccurate or misleading in this Korea Times editorial include:

1. The government of Taiwan's decision to apply under the name "Taiwan" rather than the country's official name has been a decision based on efficacy, providing an alternative to past efforts conducted under the official name which have consistently been criticized and denied. Taiwanese officials have consistently assured skeptics that the government's official name remains "Republic of China", as set forth in the government's constitution. Furthermore applying under a more commonly used name (Taiwan is surely the more commonly used name) is not without precedent: both the Swiss Confederation and the Republic of Macedonia go by commonly used yet unofficial names in the United Nations (Switzerland and Macedonia, respectively).

2. There is no reason to believe that submitting Taiwan's application to the UN earlier than usual this year provides a bigger boost to the DPP's presidential candidate than it would have if it the application campaign had begun at the usual time. As Mr. Ching states himself, the application in the past was submitted in September, and presidential elections on Taiwan do not take place until March. If this year's application is solely a political stunt (as Ching suggests), Chen could have easily waited for the usual time to roll around and still would have had plenty of time for such political posturing to work its magic.

3. Mr. Ching suggests that Beijing hasn't publicly criticized Taiwan much recently because China's government recognizes that this only shifts the PR balance in Taipei's favor (this may indeed be true). Yet he would have us believe that, during this pause in criticism, Beijing has some how arranged to have Washington to all the 'dirty work' for them. We are fairly certain this isn't the case.

4. There are indeed many things different about Taiwan's application for UN membership this year, not just the time of year and the name used. Taiwan recognizes that their past strategy, faithfully repeated annually for fifteen years, hasn't been working. This year's change in tactics is in order if Taiwan is to have any hope of joining the UN. As we've mentioned in earlier posts, the government has even endorsed a popular metal band from Taiwan in hopes of drumming up publicity for this year's campaign.

Finally, to turn Mr. Ching's argument on its head, one thing that is certainly different about the campaign this year is the man acting as UN Secretary-General. Is there any reason to believe that, if Kofi Annan were still Secretary-General, Mr. Annan wouldn't have faithfully forwarded along the application to the General Assembly (as the Secretariat has always done)? Would he have really tossed out the 2007 application because it is August and not September? Of course Mr. Ching bringing up the time of year in the first place is fallacious. Ban Ki-moon's Secretariat rejects this year's application by citing UN Resolution 2758 rather than a wall calendar. Ban Ki-moon's denial of President Chen's request is a reaction that is not just unprecedented, more importantly it is legally flawed.

To us, Secretary Ban's reinterpretation of Resolution 2758 parallels allegations in the United States of Supreme Court Justices "legislating from the bench". When it comes down to it, Secretary-General Ban has overstepped his authority under the UN Charter, and you can expect Taiwan to persist in this year's application until their case is at least considered for addition to this year's General Assembly agenda.

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