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.

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