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

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

United States coerces China to back down on UN vote

News from early this morning:

Taipei - China, under pressure from the United States, has dropped a plan to initiate a United Nations vote affirming that Taiwan is part of China, a Taiwan newspaper said on Wednesday.

The China Times, in a dispatch from Washington DC, said China has canceled the plan for the UN vote. China now says that it is UN members' consensus that Taiwan is part of China, so there is no need for a vote.

In a nine-point clarification, the US told the UN that the assertion, 'Taiwan is part of the People's Republic of China,' is not the consensus of the majority UN members, and is not the consistent policy of the US.

Washington has conveyed this stance to both the UN and Taipei, the mass-circulation Chinese-language paper said.

China originally planned to ask UN members to vote on the statement, 'Taiwan is part of China,' to block Taiwan's bid to join the UN. . .

© 2007 DPA - Deutsche Presse-Agentur

This is a major development, as an affirmative vote on the statement "Taiwan is part of China", when linked with the Resolution 2758 statement that the "representatives of the People's Republic of China are the only lawful representatives of China to the United Nations" would have more or less permanently closed the door to UN membership for Taiwan. Undoubtedly, more details on how the U.S. was able to lean on China and convince the PRC to give up the proposed vote will follow.

Interestingly enough, China used essentially the same justification to back away from this vote that Taiwanese politicians use in regards to declaring Taiwan's independence. Taiwan leaders will say that there is no need to declare independence because Taiwan is allready an independent country. China is now saying that there is no need to put "Taiwan is a part of China" to a vote in the UN, because it is allready a commonly accepted view by the majority of UN members. The United States explicity rejected this assertion in a nine-point clarification, saying "'Taiwan is part of the People's Republic of China,' is not the consensus of the majority UN members, and is not the consistent policy of the US."

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Food for Thought

This in the Taipei Times today from Gerrit van der Wees of the Taiwan Communiqué:

The most authoritative -- and internationally accepted -- definition of the nation state is given in the 1933 Montevideo Convention on Rights and Duties of States, to which the US is a signatory. The convention gives the following qualifications for recognition as a nation state: One, a defined territory, two, a permanent population and three, a government capable of entering into relations with other states.

Taiwan fulfills all these requirements: It is thus a nation-state. Indeed, it has diplomatic ties with 24 -- albeit small -- countries.

Recognition by other nations, however, is not a pre-condition.

If Wilder would go back into the history of the US, he would find that for the first few years of its existence, the US was not recognized by any nation and that it only attained the number of 24 diplomatic ties in 1848 -- some 72 years after the Declaration of Independence. Was the US therefore not a nation-state during that time?

In the case of Taiwan, the issue is also clouded by the fact that until only 15 years ago, the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) still claimed to be the rightful government of China.

That claim was indeed not recognized by the international community.

However, following its remarkable transition to democracy in the early 1990s, Taiwan is now a free and democratic nation and its government deserves to be internationally recognized as such. We should not let Taiwan's future be held hostage by either the unsavory legacy of the KMT's repressive rule or the dictates of the Chinese Communist Party.

Taiwan is a full-fledged democracy of world citizens who want their country to be a full and equal member in the international community.

If we are serious about supporting democracy around the world, then we need to nurture the nation's fragile democracy and support its desire to join international organizations such as the UN and the WHO.

Taiwan can join the UN if the US and other Western nations have the political will to stand up for their basic principles of human rights and democracy.