Fri, Aug 11, 2006 - Page 8 News List

Editorial: Axis of Evil? We're the Axis of Nice

Does Taiwan support terrorism?

According to some commentators, the meeting between Minister of Foreign Affairs James Huang (黃志芳) and Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah in Beirut in April can be perceived as such support.

This insinuation is patently absurd.

Taiwan is no rogue state, like North Korea, Syria or Iran. In fact, Taiwan is a more dutiful member of the international community -- which it is technically not even a part of -- than many countries that enjoy good standing at the UN.

Take China, for instance. China has played a key role in helping Iran develop its nuclear program. Ditto for Russia and Pakistan.

Unlike these countries, Taiwan plays by the rules when it comes to international commitments on the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.

Taiwan has a very advanced arms industry that is capable of producing ballistic and cruise missiles. Since Taiwan is ignored by the international community -- which goes to great lengths to keep this country's enemy placated -- why doesn't Taipei take advantage of its "non-state" status and make some quick cash?

The answer is best summed up in this way: Taipei doesn't emulate Pyongyang because Taiwan is a free, democratic state whose citizens believe in the rule of law. Taiwan even obeys treaties it isn't allowed to sign because of its status, such as the Kyoto accord.

Taiwan also plays an important and oft-ignored role in international law enforcement efforts to track and thwart illicit activity, including terrorism.

Taiwan is a major transshipment point for goods of all kinds, with three of the busiest ports in Asia. US Customs even has a team of officers permanently based in Kaohsiung, the nation's largest port. Taiwanese intelligence and law enforcement officials regularly cooperate with regional and international partners.

This seems all very nice for an international pariah.

Taiwan's diplomacy is like the cliche about whether or not a tree makes a sound when it falls in the forest: "If the Ministry of Foreign Affairs does something, does anybody care?"

Well, for most people, the answer is usually "No." The first time that most Taiwanese hear the name of one of their diplomatic allies is when it severs ties in favor of China. And the only time people hear about Taiwan internationally is when Beijing threatens to invade it.

So it is easy to mock the efforts of the nation's diplomats, and the opposition parties in particular have been using foreign relations as a stick with which to beat the administration.

But one must ask the question: If the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) were running things, would Taiwan's diplomatic obstacles suddenly disappear? Not likely. The country would certainly still be down to 24 official allies, as it is now.

What has motivated countries to bow to China's pressure has little to do with Taiwan's domestic politics or the policies of President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁).

The real problem is that the world cares little about the fate of this wonderful democracy, which has a bigger population and economy than many European states.

Perhaps this is purely out of ignorance. One hopes that when, for example, New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark flatly refuses to support Taiwan's efforts to join the WHO, it isn't because she is unaware of Taiwan's contribution to the world.

But when people justify such actions as "be[ing] inconsistent with the `one China' policy which most nations ... adhere to," one begins to wonder how much reality intrudes on international perceptions.

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