Sun, Sep 09, 2007 - Page 8 News List

Tide for UN referendum cannot be stemmed

By Mei-chin van der Wees

The US has traditionally been perceived as a friend of Taiwan. The US model of democracy inspired Taiwan's democratization movement in the Martial Law era, which ended only 15 years ago.

But the US is risking alienating the people of Taiwan because of strong opposition by Washington officials to a proposed referendum on UN membership under the name "Taiwan."

US Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte said on Aug. 27 that Taiwan's UN initiative was changing the "status quo" in the Taiwan Strait.

However, the people of Taiwan are not happy with the status quo. They do not want to be treated like second-class citizens of the world. Their yearnings to be an equal member of the international community is manifest in opinion polls that show more than 75 percent of the people in Taiwan support the government's UN initiative.

The peaceful transformation of Taiwan from a one-party dictatorship to a full-fledged democracy in less than 20 years was lauded as a political miracle. But Taiwan has never been accorded the dignity and respect it deserves. It is often sidelined, isolated and chided as a troublemaker whenever it attempts to break out of its international isolation.

In May, Taiwan's effort to join the WHO was rebuffed as a result of pressure from China. The people of Taiwan are consequently being excluded from the global network of prevention of contagious diseases.

Anachronistic policy guidelines in the US State Department prevent high-ranking officials from Taiwan from visiting Washington. Only last month President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁), on his way to South America for a summit with allies, was relegated to a stopover in far-flung Alaska.

Even Taiwanese children are discriminated against. The organizers of a little-league game in Venezuela reversed the decision to invite a team from Taiwan at the last minute. When athletes from Taiwan compete in international events, their shirts bear the odd name "Chinese Taipei," not Taiwan.

There are numerous reports by tour operators that Taiwanese tourists are discriminated against in Southeast Asian countries and have to resort to bribery to make it through customs.

Taiwan's nemesis is China and it is trying to strangle the nation's international space. Because China is emerging as an economic and military power, the US and other democracies seem to turn a blind eye to China's bullying of Taiwan.

In spite of diplomatic isolation, Taiwan has developed into an economic power. It is the eighth-largest trading partner of the US and the 10th-largest of the EU. Taiwan ranks as the world's 18th-largest economy and is the 16th-largest trading nation.

These statistics would have been even more impressive if the people of Taiwan were given a free hand in their economic development without all the hurdles placed by China.

Taiwan is a major success story. The process of democratization has greatly strengthened Taiwanese identity and in turn it raises people's awareness and desire to be a member of the international community. The Democratic Progressive Party's drive for UN membership has hit the right chord. A "Taiwan for UN" rally will be held in Kaohsiung next Saturday with hundreds of thousands of people expected to take part.

By insisting on the outdated "one China" concept as its policy framework -- which was enacted during the Nixon-Kissinger era -- the US is losing touch with the reality of a democratic Taiwan. The US should come to terms with the fact that the wish of the people of Taiwan to enter the UN is a genuine reflection of popular will, and cannot be reversed. The US should give a helping hand instead of stifling democracy.

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