Tue, Oct 14, 2003 - Page 8 News List

Editorial: Shed no tears over lost ally

With the severing of diplomatic relations with Liberia, the number of Taiwan's diplomatic allies has fallen to 26. To take political responsibility, Minister of Foreign Affairs Eugene Chien (簡又新) has tendered his resignation. This is a responsible action by a political appointee, but Chien does not really need to step down over the issue. On the contrary, it was a big relief for Taiwan to bid farewell to Liberia.

Liberia has been notorious for its endless civil wars, which have made the country one of the poorest in the world. Former president Charles Taylor earned international condemnation with his human rights abuses and brutal suppression of dissent. In 2001, the UN passed a resolution imposing sanctions on the country. In response to calls from the Liberian people, the US has sent troops there and forced Taylor to leave the country. From abroad, however, Taylor continues to wield influence on Liberian politics.

Taiwan's diplomatic predicament leaves little room for the country to be picky about with whom it wants to make friends. But a disreputable friend like the Taylor government has been an embarrassment for a country that claims to attach importance to human rights. Taiwan knew that Taylor's government ignored its people's welfare and trampled on human rights, that the country's economy was a shambles and that bureaucratic corruption was rampant. But diplomatic ties prevented Taiwan from condemning Liberia. Instead, Taiwan had to support such a government. In the face of international criticism regarding its double standards on human rights, Taiwan could only stay quiet. Liberia's departure frees Taiwan from a huge burden.

In a broader context, the severance of ties with Liberia was driven by international factors that Taiwan can hardly reverse. Like Macedonia, Liberia has been facing civil war and needs to rely on UN resources and peacekeeping forces. Using its power as a permanent member of the Security Council, China has pressured Liberia to switch diplomatic relations, and Liberia has obliged, for the sake of peacekeeping troops and US$250 million in aid. All this was not due to any lapse or mistake on the part of Taiwan's foreign affairs authorities. They have done their best. Chien does not need to resign.

Ostensibly, China has won another diplomatic ally and further isolated Taiwan. In reality, however, the Taiwanese public's perceptions of the ROC's diplomatic fortunes have been changing ever since former president Lee Teng-hui (李登輝) made the assertion that the ROC no longer exists and pointed out that Taiwan will only shackle itself by clinging to its ROC baggage.

China has been low-key about establishing diplomatic ties with Liberia, apparently loathe to agitate Taiwan. But knowledgeable people in Taiwan have already woken up to the fact that the more China tries to squeeze the ROC's diplomatic space, the more Taiwanese people will realize that the ROC no longer exists in the international community. This will see more people supporting the movements promoting a name change for the ROC and a new constitution. Perhaps many Taiwanese will thank China for helping to cut diplomatic ties with Liberia.

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