Thursday, February 21, 2008

The Kosovo Question

As many who read this undoubdtedly know by now, over the weekend the parliament of Kosovo declared independence from Serbia. Soon thereafter, the controversial new European state was recognized by the United States and most of the major European nations. Spain, however, witheld its recognition, most likley due to the implications Kosovar independence holds for independence-minded Basques and Catalans inside Spain. Russia withheld its recognition for reasons that were twofold: 1) Russia has its own problems with groups inside its borders in places such as Chechnya seeking independce from Moscow, and 2) Russia has historically played the role of Serbia's international backer due to strong ethnic, religious and cultural ties. At this point you should be able to guess what the People's Republic of China's stance is on the new country of Kosovo -- due to concerns about implications for its several administrative regions (Tibet, Xinjiang, etc.) and, yes, Taiwan, Beijing has voiced its staunch opposition.

In an interesting twist of affairs, it seemed that for a brief while Russia and China's opposition to the new Kosovar state might actually benefit Taiwan in its battle for diplomatic allies. At face value, it would seem to bode ill for Taiwan's quest for UN membership that a new state openly backed by the U.S. and most of Europe is feeling so much heat from two of the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council, yet Kosovo's practical need to obtain as much international recognition as possible also spelled an opportunity for Taiwan to gain another diplomatic partner. In short, there some saw an opportunity for two internationally suffocated nations -- one new and one not so new -- to run into each other's arms. Taiwan's government quickly moved to recognize the new Republic of Kosovo over the past couple of days.

Unfortunately however, it seems like this glimmer of chance for official diplomatic relations between Taiwan and Kosovo may be on the backburner for the time being, as Kosovo's government seeks to assuage Russia and China's concerns and holds out hope for eventual entry into the UN. Patrick Goodenough of the Cybercast News Service (CNS) explained the situation as thus:

If Kosovo does recognize Taiwan, it would be a coup for Taipei: The Vatican is currently its only diplomatic ally in Europe; the remainder are mostly small, developing nations in Africa and the Pacific who benefit economically from their allegiance.

But Kosovo's hopes for the widest possible recognition and - if it can overcome Russian and Chinese opposition - eventual membership at the United Nations, makes it unlikely that Taiwan will obtain a new ally.

China wields significant economic and political clout in the international community, especially among developing and Islamic nations, and the pressure on Pristina to shun Taiwan will be considerable.

In what some Taiwanese worry may be a sign of things to come, a Web site that has been naming and thanking countries as they formally recognize the new state added, and then removed, Taiwan from its list, saying it had decided to only list those countries that are U.N. member states.

Although the site is not linked to the Kosovo government, Taiwanese media took note of the change. Foreign ministry spokeswoman Phoebe Yeh said the ministry was glad Taiwan had appeared on the list at all, even briefly.

The China-Taiwan dispute could work in Kosovo's favor, giving the new state's government the opportunity to indicate to Beijing that Kosovo will recognize Taiwan unless Beijing recognizes it. Thus, China would deny Taiwan another ally, while Kosovo would edge closer to a U.N. seat by having on its side a fourth permanent member of the U.N. Security Council.

In other words, there are concerns that Kosovo's politicians may be willing to use Taiwan as a leverage-increasing stepping stone rather than viewing Taiwan as a fellow fighter for the same sort of international recognition Kosovars believe they themselves deserve. It will be an unfortunate turn of events indeed if this new, barely economically viable nation of 2 million manages to bargain its way into the United Nations at the expense of Taiwan -- a nation of 23 million that is a crucial link in the global economic supply chain and a bastion of human rights and democracy in its region, yet does not enjoy UN membership itself. For now, Taiwan's government warmly extends its offer of diplomatic recognition and support to the people of Kosovo. It remains to be seen whether Kosovo's government will decide to accept it.

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