Tuesday, September 18, 2007

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.

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