Wed, Jul 04, 2001 - Page 8 News List

Discard the myth about diplomatic relations

By Ernie Ko 葛傳宇

On July 18 Taiwan's government made the unpleasant decision to cut diplomatic ties with Mace-donia, which had decided to turn to Beijing in exchange for China's support of the UN's peacekeeping mission in the Balkans. The decision further reduces the number of allies that recognize the country to 27, mostly small and underdeveloped countries in Africa and Latin America.

Economically it is a relief for Taiwan to break up with Macedonia, which has all the attractiveness of any country suffering civil war, political/economic turmoil and underdevelopment. However, Taiwan has learned a hard lesson from this incident. In terms of economic losses, the price for diplomatic recognition originally was set at US$300 million soon after Taiwan obtained Macedonia's recognition on Jan. 21, 1999. So far Taiwan has actually pledged and provided grants and loans totaling US$160 million dollars. Naturally, the taxpayers are picking up the tab.

In terms of international relations, Taiwan is in a diplomatic crisis that revolves around the myth that there is a magic effect created by being formally recognized by other nations. Conventional wisdom states that it's essential to maintain diplomatic relations with other countries in order to safeguard Taiwan's sovereignty and de facto independence from China. But the truth is that foreign recognition is just one means of maintaining sovereignty and independence. Instead of an end in itself -- to secure Taiwan's a place in the international community -- diplomatic recognition should be viewed as one tool among many.

Statistics show the number of countries that recognize Taiwan diplomatically has gradually declined from 78 to 27 since the US dropped recognition of Taipei as the rightful government of all of China in favor of the communists in Beijing in 1979. The truth is, 20 years of international political and diplomatic isolation has not affected Taiwan's de facto independence.

With impressive economic growth, a respectable distribution of wealth ratio and a vibrant democracy, unrecognized and unheralded Taiwan takes for granted a lifestyle and standard of living that most countries with broad diplomatic and UN recognition can only dream of. Regard-less of the decreasing number of countries that formally recognize our nation, Taiwan's sovereignty and security remain healthy and intact. So, there is no compelling reason to worry about how many countries recognize Taiwan.

More importantly, mainstream public opinion in Taiwan is increasingly against dollar diplomacy. The government has an obligation to follow the expressed will of the people and, therefore, to leverage domestic support in reshaping its foreign policy.

It is in Taiwan's best interest to work closely and jointly with experienced international development agencies, such as the World Bank, Asian Development Bank and Inter-American Devel-opment Bank, in support of international poverty reduction, environmental protection and best business practice promotion efforts in all developing countries.

In other words, Taiwan can and should balance its dual role as an idealist in humanitarian assistance on the one hand and as a realist in helping its busi-nesspeople seek commercial opportunities in overseas markets. Taiwan can secure its ultimate survival and security only if it can ensure its own economic strength and sustained growth. In light of the current economic slowdown, time is running out, and neither the government or the people can afford to be trapped in the myth that giving hundreds of millions of dollars to despots and dictators will insure Taiwan's sovereign future.

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