If there was ever a time for China to be reasonable about Taiwan and the United Nations, this is it.
On Sept. 16, the 63rd session of the U.N. General Assembly will open in
New York. As they have for the last 14 years, Taiwan's allies will move
to have a consideration of Taipei's status included in the tentative
agenda - a move Beijing has always shot down.
This time, Taiwan's request is far more modest than in years past.
Instead of asking for a consideration of whether it can rejoin the
United Nations (which it left in 1973, when the People's Republic
joined), the proposal calls for the General Assembly to explore the
possibility of Taiwan participating in U.N. specialized agencies, like
the World Health Organization.
The new government of President Ma Ying-jeou is taking a more
pragmatic approach than its predecessor. Since he took office in May,
Mr. Ma has engaged in a series of confidence-building moves, including
resuming regular flights between Taiwan and the mainland for the first
time in 59 years.
Mr. Ma also seeks an expansion of trade between the two Chinas.
Unlike former President Chen Shui-bian, he will not try to change the
Republic of China's official name to Taiwan - a prospect that seems to
drive Beijing up the wall.
On relations with the mainland, Mr. Ma's formula is "no
independence, no unification [absorption of Taiwan by the Peoples'
Republic of China] and no use of force."
Still, Ma has no intention of compromising the island's autonomy.
Taiwan's president says unification talks (premised on China becoming a
democracy) are unlikely to happen "within our lifetimes." To underscore
the point, he chose a strong supporter of Taiwanese sovereignty to
oversee relations with Beijing.
For practical considerations as well as justice, there must be a way for Taiwan to be involved with U.N. agencies.
The world's 17th-largest trading nation needs to be engaged with the
international community. The Republic of China on Taiwan plays a
crucial role in the world economy, outperforming 90 percent of U.N.
member states. With 23 million people, Taiwan has a larger population
than 60 percent of U.N. members. Its citizens enjoy a thriving
democracy and all the civil liberties found in Europe and North
In its 2006 survey of freedom in the world, Freedom House rated the
Taiwanese the freest people in Asia. This year marked the fifth direct
election of Taiwan's president, and the second transfer of power
between the parties.
The proposal Taiwan's allies submitted to the U.N. Secretariat is
appropriately, if somewhat verbosely, titled "Need to Examine
Fundamental Rights of the 23 million People of the Republic of China
(Taiwan) to Participate Meaningfully in the Activities of the United
Nations Specialized Agencies."
Again, Taiwan isn't asking for U.N. membership, though, by every
conceivable measure, it is eminently qualified to take its place in the
All Taiwan wants is a consideration of its involvement in United
Nations' affiliates like the World Health Organization. This year, its
12th annual bid for WHO membership was rejected, as always, at the
behest of China. Participation in WHO would help Taiwan to combat
pandemics like SARS, which hit the island hard in 2003 (344 reported
cases and 40 fatalities).
Through membership in the World Bank and International Monetary
Fund, Taiwan could help to stabilize the global economy. It makes no
sense for the 17th-largest trading nation to be excluded from these
It's equally illogical to keep Taiwan out of the International Civil
Aviation Organization (with 1.5 million flights passing through Taipei
International Airport each year) or the International Maritime
Organization, given Taiwan's shipping industry - the 10th largest in
But because Taiwan has no official standing at the United Nations,
it is barred from participating in these and other international
Surely, a formula can be found for Taiwan's involvement here without
violating the so-called One China policy Beijing holds sacred.
If China isn't willing to compromise now, in light of Mr. Ma's
efforts to calm the diplomatic waters in the Taiwan Straits (after
eight years of confrontation under his predecessor) its intransigence
will be manifest.
Mr. Ma is looking for creative ways to lead Taiwan out of what he
sees as a diplomatic deadlock by pursuing a course of "dignity,
autonomy, pragmatism and flexibility," a policy set forth in his Aug. 4
address at the nation's Foreign Affairs Ministry.
We will soon learn if China will meet his flexibility with rigidity and his pragmatism with dogmatism.