Tue, Feb 22, 2005 - Page 8 News List

We cannot ignore island nations

By Bernard Chih-chieh Chou 周志杰

Several recent major incidents, such as the tsunami disaster in Asia, Taiwan's diplomatic setbacks, and President Chen Shui-bian's (陳水扁) state trip to Taiwan's Pacific allies, have all centered on a group of nations that have long been ignored by the international community.

The tsunami-ravaged Republic of Maldives and Sri Lanka, Chen's visit to Palau and the Solomon Islands, the recent severing of diplomatic ties with Grenada and Vanuatu, and even Taiwan itself with its substantial geographic territory, are all issues involving "small island states."

For the Taiwanese, these states, with the exception of Taiwan itself, are no more than tourist resorts or figures in the tally of Taiwan's diplomatic allies. In fact, everyone seems to have overlooked how vitally inter-related the survival and development of these nations is with our own stability.

The Dec. 26 tsunami disaster, was also related to the deterioration of the global ecological environment. As early as Nov. 2001, Tuvalu, one of our diplomatic allies in the South Pacific announced that all its people would migrate to New Zealand as a result of its gradually diminishing geographic territory.

A storm hitting the South Pacific in Nov. 2003 also caused many islands to be completely submerged, including nine islands in Tuvalu. Besides, in this tsunami, a half of Male, the capital of the Maldives, was inundated, and the Maldives Tourist Office even ran an ironic advertisement urging tourists to come and visit Maldives before it is too late. As a result, this kind of ecological disaster is forcing a re-evaluation of the conventional conception of national sovereignty as being of the first importance.

Therefore, globalism in the post-Cold War era emphasizes cooperation among sovereign nations so that, on one hand, we can negotiate enforceable international covenants; and on the other hand, attempt to establish corresponding international organizations -- or supervisory regulations -- for these policies.

The aim is to draw strength from many nations in order to achieve solutions. It is ironic that even before these small island states can catch up with the changing concept of national sovereignty, the very thing that defines them as a nation -- namely, their territories -- may be obliterated.

In 1994, with support from the UN, a number of small island states established the Alliance of Small Island States, to jointly formulate policy in response to this situation. Currently, membership includes 43 island states and territories. Unfortunately, the key problems that face these island states, including the question of the rising ocean level and marine ecological conservation, sovereignty and relocation are beyond the ability of these generally poor, backward nations with small land areas and small populations to solve.

It is no surprise that these island states hope for the support of more technologically advanced and economically developed Western nations, which are mostly continental powers. But then, with the US refusing to sign the Kyoto Protocol, and with Australia using harsh immigration conditions to restrict access by Tuvalu islanders seeking to enter the country with "refugee" status, conditions that are little different from the outright rejection of immigration from the island group, it is clear that larger sovereign nations are the ultimate arbiters for the distribution of the world's resources; but also that globalization cannot counterbalance the demands of national interests.

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