Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Shrill Demands for UN Membership are not Pragmatic Diplomacy

Shrill Demands for UN Membership are not Pragmatic Diplomacy
China Times editorial (Taipei, Taiwan, ROC)
A Translation
September 22, 2009

Beginning In 1993, the Republic of China government in Taipei began actively seeking to rejoin the United Nations. For 16 years it knocked on the UN's door. This year, for the first time, it changed its strategy. It no longer asks its diplomatic allies in the General Assembly to petition on its behalf. Instead it seeks participation in the peripheral organizations. This change in approach has provoked some controversy. But the concept of "choosing one's battlefield" is the right one.
Over the past 16 years, Taipei has sought to rejoin the UN by means of high profile political gestures. It has urged its allies in the General Assembly to petition on behalf of Taipei. When Taipei and Beijing arranged their agendas, or when the General Assembly was in session, their allies would speak on their behalf. Other countries would also join the melee. Taipei meanwhile, would hold demonstrations outside the UN. Taipei has long made a mighty ruckus in its effort to gain readmission to the UN. Now that it has suddenly called a halt to such activities, the silence is deafening. Readmission to the United Nations has long been a public aspiration. Once the government says "Stop!" the public is bound to feel disappointed and dissatisfied.

But diplomats have explained clearly that this is merely a change in tactics. We are not forsaking our quest for readmission to the UN. But we are no longer asking diplomatic allies to petition on our behalf. Instead we are seeking a roundabout way to participate in organizations at the periphery of the United Nations. These include the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), and the International Maritime Organization (IMO). Taipei was successful in its effort to seek observer status in the World Health Organization in May of this year. Clearly it hopes to use this model to join other international organizations.

Choosing one's battles in this manner offers a greater chance of victory. It avoids major battles in which the result is certain defeat and pointless casualties. To determine whether such a change in tactics is cost-effective, one must compare gains and losses.

Taipei's past practice was a frontal assault with a great deal of fanfare. The goal was readmission to the United Nations. The United Nations General Assembly was our stage. The advantage to this approach was that it was easy to attract attention and provoke debate. It prompted the international community to consider Taipei's aspirations, and consider better arrangements on behalf of Taipei in terms of its international status. In terms of initial impact, it was unquestionably an attention grabber.

But this tactic has disadvantages. Given Taipei's lack of international clout, the barriers are simply too high. Beijing has repeatedly checked our moves. It has also contributed to public frustration and anger. It has harmed cross-Strait relations and exacerbated conflict on Taiwan over the issue of reunification vs. independence. It has allowed diplomatic allies to take advantage of us by demanding "endorsement fees." It has squandered hard-earned taxpayer money. Each year, to ensure that a certain number of allies petitioned on our behalf, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs would work itself to death. In terms of return on investment, this was an expensive and brutal tactic, with little chance of victory.

The new tactic is to temporarily avoid the main battlefield. It is to turn instead toward a number of peripheral organizations of practical significance for Taipei. These include the WHO, ICAO, UNFCCC, and other organizations affecting people's lives. If we can participate in these organizations, it will increase cooperation between Taipei and the international community. It will safeguard the interests of citizens of the Republic of China. Through increased interaction, it will make our existence increasingly felt in other countries and international organizations. It can also increase support for our formal acceptance.

Another advantage is that it concentrates our efforts and resources in practical exchanges and cooperation. By contrast, our previous attempts to gain readmission to the UN were nothing more than noisy rituals. The excitement soon died down. The boat would pass, leaving no trace on the water. It would be better to focus attention on a few peripheral organizations of vital interest to Taipei. It would be better to cultivate such exchanges and cooperation. This would give Taipei the opportunity to contribute and become a constructive member of the international community. This would enable Taipei and Beijing to inhabit an atmosphere of relative calm and rationality.

Of course, the new tactic has its risks. Taipei's participation requires Beijing's consent. Participation may involve bargaining. But basically the framework is Beijing's. Does this promote the Republic of China's national dignity, or does it sacrifice its sovereignty? This is a matter of debate. With the passage of time, will Taipei's participation lead to a "sub-sovereign" status? Will it become an obstacle to full sovereignty and dignity? Will Taipei's international space be decided by Beijing? These are matters of concern.

But considering the advantages and disadvantages, we support this new tactic. Because survival, prosperity, and dignity are the Republic of China's most basic national interests. Participation in the UN is merely one means of attaining this goal. The means are optional. To safeguard the Republic of China's legacy of democracy and civilization, we must prolong its survival. Increased international interaction will strengthen and deepen these values. Taipei's power is limited. A more economical use of its resources, and a more pragmatic approach to international exchanges, are to Taipei's advantage.

Of course, even if such a "regional power beseiging the central power" tactic works, the process will be long and arduous. We are bound to suffer setbacks. Our diplomacy must strike a balance between different interests. The new tactic for gaining readmission to the UN offers new opportunities, but also conceals new risks. Those calling the shots must carefully plan their steps. Only then will the new battlefield win new space.

中時電子報 新聞
中國時報  2009.09.22
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