Taiwan’s rejection—for the fifteenth time in a row—by the agenda-setting committee of the General Assembly of the United Nations last Wednesday may well be seen, before too long, to have been a turning point. After all, who can believe that Taiwan will be turned down another fifteen times?
Chinese diplomats are nervous. They don’t want Taiwan even on the agenda, because they fear, correctly, that an open discussion might not go their way. They know that no one believes on principle that Taiwan should be excluded. Other countries are simply afraid of China.
How long can China continue to intimidate otherwise free-thinking nations? The answer is, not indefinitely.
Consider India. In an article on the op-ed page of the Times of India, Ramesh Thakur, formerly a senior vice rector of the U.N. University in Tokyo, wrote:
The biggest and longest running scandal is the way in which Taiwan has been banned from the U.N.. Taiwan is refused membership, is not granted observer status, and does not figure in the U.N.’s statistical databases.
Concluding that the exclusion of Taiwan “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,” Thakur asked:
Where does this leave all the fine talk of democracy, human rights, and self-determination in Kosovo, East Timor, and elsewhere? Taiwan is better credentialed than most of them. Its population of 23 million is almost the combined total of Australia and New Zealand, and bigger than scores of U.N. member states, including East Timor (under one million) and Kosovo (over two million).
To our shame, official jaws in Washington have been clenched tightly shut with respect to this issue, except when reiterating hoary formulas whose authors, with a handful of exceptions, are long dead.
The Bush administration portrays Taiwan’s increasingly audible demands as no more than local political posturing and manipulation, for which their elected president is to blame, and resolutely declines comment on the merits of Taiwan’s case.
Some former officials, however, are talking sense: Michael Green, for instance, Bush’s former top Asian aide, now at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. He was recently quoted as saying:
For the U.S. side, we need to recognize the issue of identity in Taiwan is not a political game, it’s not a tactical move in Taipei, it’s a very fundamental issue, not at all unique to its 23 million people…. Look at Korea, Japan, the national identity is at the top of the agenda in every country in Asia and there is no reason why Taiwan should be any different.
Thakur and Green are absolutely right. The issues and processes they describe will not disappear or cease simply because we and China wish they would. We are dealing with nationalism. Difficult as it may be, we need to think ahead.