Politicians tend to thrive on ambiguity as it keeps them out of the corner and can leave any issue open for a favorable interpretation. It is a comfort zone; a vantage point with plenty of escape routes should real issues and hard questions come their way.
Enter new UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon with a response last week to Taiwan's latest bid to join the UN. He states that Resolution 2758 "clearly mentions that the government of China is the sole and legitimate government." There is nothing new there. We frequently hear from all sides how China, at least, is recognized as a sole and legitimate government. However, he goes on to clarify that "the position of the United Nations is that Taiwan is part of China."
It really doesn't get any clearer than this. Regardless of all claims and counter-claims about the post-war status of Taiwan, and regardless of the ambiguous one China policy and its varied interpretations, and despite the content of Resolution 2758, the simple fact is that the UN considers Taiwan to be part of China.
This position completely flies in the face of reality; but then in terms of global economics and international conflict, the reality on the ground doesn't tend to be the UN's strong point.
But that aside, this is the situation facing Taiwan and it is no time to be running for the familiar comfort zones of "one China" policy interpretations.
All the letters in the world arguing about due process and the authority of the UN chief to reject Taiwan's application does little to confront the real issue and nothing to work toward a solution. This is the worst aspect of "comfort-zone politics."
UN membership is a worthwhile cause for Taiwan but in the grand scheme of things inroads need to be made in other areas first. Taiwan needs to raise its profile in cities and countries around Europe and the US, where most people could not distinguish between the Republic of China and the People's Republic of China.
With China suppressing the normal diplomatic routes, other avenues such as cultural and educational exchanges, tourism, literature and sports should be pursued to highlight the Taiwanese as a unique identity in Asia (development and promotion of Taiwan's overseas representative offices would be a good starting point). This does not, in fact should not, need to be presented in the context of Taiwanese independence from China. It is high time the rest of the world read or heard something about Taiwan without the usual affirmation or denunciation of links with China. It is an important point that many citizens of UN countries, in Europe in particular, have a very strong sense of national identity and a history of struggles for independence. Taiwan needs to tap into this sentiment. But it needs to do it in the right way.
The final point, upon which the previous is based, is that of nationalist sentiment here in Taiwan.
It is difficult both to garner and gauge nationalist sentiment in a country that is for all intents and purposes independent, and where the majority of its people is generally content with the current standards of living; there is nothing like poverty and violent suppression to bring out the raging nationalism in people.
But in order for Taiwan and its elected representatives to be taken seriously on the international stage, the type of partisan bickering that has dogged Taiwan for so long needs to be transcended by a unique sense of identity and belonging from one end of this island to the other. So that the next time the UN states it believes Taiwan to be part of China, it gets a clear and unambiguous answer from 23 million Taiwanese: "Well we don't!"