Mon, Oct 20, 2003 - Page 8 News List

NGOs keep diplomacy on track

By Dennis Hickey

Taiwan has changed dramatically since the lifting of martial law and the nation's accompanying democratization.

So, too, has Taiwan's foreign policy. The changes associated with democratization, and their consequences, raise important questions concerning the making of Taiwan's foreign policy. How will foreign policy be made? What will be the role of the president, the bureaucracy, the legislature and non-governmental actors?

When discussing the making of foreign policy in Washington, a political scientist once observed that "the pieces of the foreign policy package are scattered all over town."

This observation applies with special force to foreign policy decision making in Taipei. Numerous governmental institutions now play a role in shaping foreign policy. Perhaps most intriguing, however, is President Chen Shui-bian's (陳水扁) advancement of "people's diplomacy" or "people-to-people-diplomacy."

The Chen administration contends that creative means of diplomacy must be pursued if Taiwan is to successfully circumvent the growing economic, political and military power of China.

By employing a variety of unconventional diplomatic tactics that fall under the broad rubric of "people-to-people diplomacy," Taipei is seeking, with some degree of success, to boost its international profile and improve relations with foreign nations. These tactics include the use of inter-parliamentary diplomacy, party-to-party diplomacy and non-governmental organization (NGO) diplomacy.

Inter-parliamentary diplomacy calls for Taiwan's lawmakers to become involved in international affairs and develop relationships with legislators in other democracies. And it has contributed to a string of small victories for Taipei.

For example, the US Congress has passed a series of pro-Taiwan resolutions and laws, including a demand that the Bush administration treat Taiwan as a non-NATO ally.

Taiwanese lawmakers also played an important role in convincing American lawmakers to establish a new bi-partisan, pro-Taiwan association in the US Congress -- the Taiwan Caucus.

The European Parliament, the only popularly elected legislative body that represents all the citizens of the EU's 15 member states, has passed a variety of pro-Taiwan resolutions. These range from demands that China remove the roughly 350 missiles it has deployed directly opposite Taiwan to pleas for the international community to support Taiwan's bid for membership in the WHO.

Party-to-party diplomacy involves Taiwanese political parties establishing friendly ties with their foreign counterparts and joining inter-party organizations.

Taiwan does enjoy deep support among a wide range of foreign political parties -- particularly America's political parties. But even minor Taiwanese parties have discovered that their counterparts overseas will support the country if threatened by China.

For example, when the PRC conducted a series of provocative "missile tests" off Taiwan's coastline in 1996, Taiwan's Green Party appealed to the European Federation of Green Parties for support.

Finally, the Chen administration has seized upon the idea of increased NGO participation as a means by which the public can help raise Taiwan's international profile and ultimately help the government achieve its diplomatic goals.

NGOs are viewed as a vital part of the drive to use more unconventional diplomatic tactics to achieve foreign policy goals.

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