Mon, Aug 20, 2007 - Page 8 News List

Proposal, true or not, puts US in a tough spot

By Emerson Chang 張子揚

According to US media reports, China may try to solve the Taiwan issue by asking the UN General Assembly to decide on the question of Taiwan's sovereignty, an issue not dealt with in UN Resolution 2758. President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) has suddenly decided not to request permission to transit through the US, clearly in hopes that Washington will attempt to stop China's proposal.

This may be an overestimate of US influence in the UN. It is also difficult to decide whether the reports are true, and we cannot rule out a US attempt to control Taiwan through the UN in order to make up for China's failed attempt to control it through Washington.

First, US power in the UN is not what it used to be. The only UN institution where the US has any influence these days is the Security Council, thanks to its veto right. After UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon exceeded his powers and willfully rejected an issue that should be handled by the council, the US said his actions were inappropriate and that it was dealing with the issue through official channels, without revealing how.

There are only two alternatives: Ask Ban to issue a correction or ask that Taiwan's membership application be handed to the Security Council for a decision. Ban has changed his position to say that Taiwan is a part of China rather than the People's Republic of China (PRC), but has not retracted his order.

As for the second alternative, the US doesn't seem to have made up its mind, because once a decision is made, the issue will surely become a hot potato for the US. Since China has veto power in the Security Council, a rejection is all but certain, but that still poses a dilemma for the US. Not rejecting the application, would make it appear the US is colluding with Taiwan to bring about de jure Taiwanese independence, while rejecting it would not be beneficial to maintaining US influence over Taiwan.

The fact that US media suddenly reported that the US government is worried China will submit a proposal to the General Assembly stating that Taiwan is part of the PRC, while a hesitant US is unwilling to accept Ban's decision and to clarify where it stands, raises three questions: Who leaked the news? To what purpose? Will it actually happen?

Taiwan tends to believe that the US has found out about China's plan, but by not trying to find the underlying reason, the US will risk hurting cross-strait relations, risk forcing Taiwan independence, risk provoking hostility toward the US and risk admitting that Taiwan's sovereignty remains unresolved. Other issues may also arise due to attempts to change the "status quo."

If China really dares risk asking the assembly to resolve the issue once and for all, the US will face an uphill battle. It will likely send top level representatives to Beijing soon to persuade China not to go ahead while also lobbying other countries to prepare for the assembly meeting in the middle of next month.

If this doesn't happen, the news was probably released by the US, for three reasons: Relieve pressure from Taiwanese groups lobbying for Chen's transit stops; respond to Chinese protests over Taiwan's referendum plans; warn Chen not to overplay UN Resolution 2758 to avoid pitting the US and China openly against each other; and force Chen to reconsider the repercussions of a UN referendum and shake his determination so that US-China-Taiwan relations can return to square one.

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