The world is a strange place.
Witness the attack on the Ministry of Foreign Affairs yesterday as it sought to ignore a news report that Germany and Italy were upset with Taiwan over a supposed breach of diplomatic protocol.
The Chinese-language Apple Daily reported that President Chen Shui-bian (
Now, the first thing that tips off any reasonably intelligent person that such an outlandish report is pure poppycock is the fact that it is in the Apple Daily. Berlin and Rome are going to condemn Taiwan in an official EU meeting over Chen not touching their tarmac? It is equally likely that the US will hold a G8 summit to discuss Taiwan's perfidy the next time a Giant bicycle gets a flat tire in California.
Although the report is merely the latest in a series of what the Apple Daily calls ``journalistic coups,'' it is still interesting because of what it exposes.
And that is this: Taiwan's deep-rooted neurosis about its international status.
Admittedly, Taiwan, more than most countries in the world, has every right to be paranoid about how other countries treat it.
What other democracy suffers the callousness with which Taiwan is treated?
When Taiwan's democratic leaders go abroad, they are treated like lepers: People go out of their way to avoid them. One would not be surprised to see a bevy of tuxedo-clad diplomats drop their champagne flutes and scurry out of an embassy ball like rats from a sinking ship upon hearing the words "Ladies and Gentlemen, the President of Taiwan."
Even rogue states and dictatorships get more respect than this. If Kim Jong-il showed up drunk on the White House lawn, clad only in a pair of skivvies and demanding an immediate summit meeting, he would undoubtedly be given a 21-gun salute and a parade -- although he might not get to shake hands with Laura Bush.
And yet Taiwan's president -- the head of a vibrant democracy and a US ally -- can't even go to the Big Apple to watch his son graduate without causing an international incident.
Such are the realities that Taiwan's foreign affairs personnel must contend with. And since this is so, what is the use in obsessing over every detail of a diplomatic mission?
The media and the opposition parties have ripped apart Chen's recent trip to the point of absurdity, finding ponderous diplomatic meanings in every tiny gesture made by foreign officials.
Did the Slovenian ambassador's left eye twitch slightly when Chen reached for that second glass of iced tea at the reception in Costa Rica? Perhaps it was a signal that the EU is considering reversing its decision about the arms-sale embargo against China, because of its anger over the abolition of the National Unification Council.
Maybe it is unreasonable to expect common sense to prevail over paranoia in Taiwan's dealings with other countries.
But at the very least, one can hope that people will recognize when someone is merely making much ado about nothing in an effort to knock a little chrome off a prominent figure.