The most recent controversy over the titles of Taiwan's permanent representatives to the WTO is most definitely not "just about a phonebook." If it was just that, the Chinese government would not have bothered and the WTO Secretariat Office would not have been placed in such an embarrassing predicament over the matter.
In an interview, the WTO's chief spokesman Keith Rockwell explained that the official title for each WTO member's representative is uniformly "Permanent Representative."
Within the WTO, whether a member's representative is addressed as "ambassador" is completely at the discretion of each member, and also depends on whether the representative is accorded such a title by their own government, Rockwell said.
More simply put, they can call themselves whatever they want. Plus, since the WTO is neither a political organization nor a government, the issue of whether it recognizes or does not recognize the sovereign status of a member is a non-issue to begin with.
Since that is the case, why do the WTO and the Chinese government care what titles Taiwan's representatives use in the WTO phone directory? If the problem is the government's own titles for the envoys, since Taiwan is to send a new representative to the WTO, why not send someone with the title of ambassador? Will the new representative then be able to use the title of "ambassador" in the phone directory?
The central issue of this whole thing is that the WTO Secretariat Office caved in to pressure from China's government and asked the Taiwanese government to comply with Beijing's demands.
One thing that must not be overlooked is that the reason cited by China for making this demand is completely political. Surely the reason given by Beijing cannot be that the current Taiwanese representative had not been given the title of "ambassador" at home. It goes without saying that Beijing's explanation is that Taiwan is not a sovereign country. Downplaying the political motives and implications of this whole thing suggests a pacifist mentality -- which has caused not only the WTO but the international community to cave in to China's demands on the Taiwan issue time and time again.
This isn't the first time the WTO has given in to Chinese pressure and, unfortunately, it won't be the last. Taiwan's entry into the WTO was delayed repeatedly during the course of its 10-year campaign for membership because China insisted that its entry into the trade body must take place first.
Rockwell indicated that the solution to the controversy must be acceptable to both Taiwan and China. The problem is this: What right does China possess to have any say over this? Although Taiwan entered the WTO under the title of the "Separate Customs Territory of Taiwan, Penghu, Kinmen and Matsu," its membership is completely separate and independent from China's membership. What is the legal basis within the WTO for this kind of interference on the part of Beijing?
In addition, as a result of Chinese pressure, in 2003 the WTO Secretariat Office told the Taiwanese government that the title of Taiwan's "Permanent Mission" to the WTO must be changed to "Economic and Trade Office" in the WTO phone directory. The name "permanent mission" is officially used to describe all delegations sent to the WTO by its members. While the government declined to make the change, this leaves room to suspect that the current controversy is not really as simple as the WTO's spokesman outlined it to be.