Tue, Jan 29, 2008 - Page 8 News List

EDITORIAL: Who'd mistake Taiwan for Iran?

These countries couldn't be more different.

One, shrouded in mystery and at times threatening, is led by theocrats and a firebrand president who uses international venues to heckle the "Great Satan" while calling for the "destruction" of Israel. It stands accused of seeking to develop nuclear weapons, interfering in Iraq, fueling terrorism in Israel and Lebanon and threatening a strategic oil passage with venturesome attack craft.

Invidious or not, the charges leveled against that state have resulted in a seemingly logical development: It faces growing isolation and increasingly punitive sanctions.

A similarly cruel fate has befallen Taiwan, a small, vibrant democracy that threatens no one, except perhaps with its excessive greenhouse gas emissions, a country that seeks to participate in and contribute to international organizations and has long abandoned a desire for nuclear weapons.

In the bizarre world of diplomacy, the great and not-so-great powers have put Iran -- a state sponsor of terrorism and select member of the "axis of evil" -- and Taiwan, Asia's truest democracy, in the same rocky boat. Both face isolation at the UN and, if the new set of sanctions against Iran is adopted by the UN Security Council this week, both Iran and Taiwan will be among states whose officials are barred from traveling to most countries.

With one exception: Only Iranian officials found to be involved in missile and nuclear programs would face the travel ban. For Taiwanese, initiating a referendum on joining the UN -- or being Taiwanese -- is enough to attract the same punitive measures, as if both threatened international security equally.

Illogical though it may seem, seeking to develop weapons that can devastate the atmosphere and wanting to participate in multilateral organizations appear to be coterminous. If one didn't know any better, one would think that Taiwan is also part of the "axis of evil."

Although diplomatic ties with Tehran are not being officially terminated, the US and its Western allies have managed to force it into a corner, both diplomatically and financially, until it mends its ways, comes clean on the nuclear issue, stops opposing the peace process and ends its sponsoring of organizations like Hamas and Hezbollah.

In similar fashion, Beijing has used its considerable financial weight to whittle away at Taiwan's ramshackle retinue of allies, the latest one to be plucked out being Malawi. And just as the West has threatened whoever continues to deal with Iran, Beijing has also made it clear that diplomatic relations with Taiwan will cost those countries dearly. The only difference is that Taiwan does not have ways to mend and even if it did, its isolation would continue.

What, therefore, must Taiwan do to break out of this isolation? If, in this topsy-turvy world, good behavior brings nothing but opprobrium while irresponsible acts go unpunished, what are states expected to do?

What kind of example are we giving future generations when states that ask for nothing but recognition and peaceful coexistence -- so much so that a would-be president's vow "not to use force" can only be construed as the epitome of redundancy -- are treated like rogues, while those that repress their own people, aim more than 1,000 missiles at another country and possess enough nuclear weapons to give birth to a second sun are given the red-carpet treatment of business deals, diplomatic niceties and the Olympic Games?

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