Wed, Nov 17, 2004 - Page 8 News List

Editorial: More open diplomacy needed

After some twists and turns, the Vanuatu Council of Ministers on Nov. 15 finally approved diplomatic ties between Taiwan and Vanuatu. Looking at the development of diplomatic relations between the two countries, the efforts of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs are worthy of praise, but there is cause for concern over its abrupt manner in handling the signing of a new ally.

Minister of Foreign Affairs Mark Chen (陳唐山) and Vanuatuan Prime Minister Serge Vohor signed a joint communique on the establishment of diplomatic ties on Nov. 3. Chen immediately announced the acquisition of a new ally, and the flag of the Republic of China (ROC) was raised over the temporary embassy in Vanuatu, which began operations immediately.

However, since the ties had not yet been approved by the Vanuatuan Cabinet, it declined to recognize these ties. The ROC flag was taken down almost as quickly as it was raised.

Due to the ministry's rash announcement, Taipei and Beijing staged a diplomatic battle on the world stage. This situation was caused by procedural flaws and should serve as a reminder of what not to do when seeking diplomatic allies.

With the establishment of formal diplomatic relations with Vanuatu, the government dropped its insistence that the nation's allies not have diplomatic ties with China. But this new model also has drawbacks and may lead to more diplomatic tussles with China. Beijing's representatives in Vanuatu will remain there and the cross-strait seesaw battle may lead to China trying to sever Taipei's diplomatic ties, or, at least, embarrass Taiwan.

Vohor has not attempted to hide the fact that his decision to sign the joint communique in Taipei was done in exchange for financial support. Vanuatu has a legitimate right to consider its own best national interests, while it hopes that the two sides of the Taiwan Strait will jointly assist in its domestic development.

Taiwan has a responsibility to help its diplomatic allies. But if it only operates through the medium of diplomatic aid organized on a person-to-person basis, it is likely that Taipei will continue to be criticized for practicing "dollar diplomacy." From the recent scandals over funds provided to Costa Rica and Nicaragua, it is clear that the ministry needs to develop more open and transparent operational procedures for providing aid to diplomatic allies and exercise caution over the method by which aid is delivered. This will help prevent funds going into the pockets of individuals, political parties or other organizations.

Payment methods should be based on open discussion of the aid requests and should target specific public work projects to ensure that the projects benefit all the people of the recipient country.

If we do not develop open and transparent procedures for providing aid, the people of Vanuatu will not be in a position to acknowledge Taiwan's goodwill and efforts on their behalf. This will provide opportunities for China's diplomats to make trouble. If this happens, Taiwan will not be able to build its diplomatic relations with Vanuatu on a solid foundation of recognition by all the people of the allied country.

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