Thu, Feb 21, 2008 - Page 8 News List

EDITORIAL: One rule for Kosovo, one for Taiwan

News about the creation of a new country or a declaration of independence is guaranteed to grab attention here, given Taiwan's unique international status, and more often than not spark passionate discussion among those who believe Taiwan should do the same.

This was the case on Sunday when Kosovo announced its independence from Serbia, attempting to follow in the footsteps of East Timor and Montenegro to become the third country born this century.

Time will tell if Kosovo can succeed, as it remains wracked with many problems, including an unemployment rate that hovers around 50 percent, a hostile neighbor and a fiercely anti-independence Serb minority. But with the support of major powers such as the US and several large European nations on hand, the tiny land stands a better chance of success than most.

The fact that nations such as the US and the UK are willing to recognize Kosovo in the face of fierce opposition from Russia and China must be particularly galling for Taiwan's independence supporters, but apart from a few obvious parallels that can be drawn, the similarities between Kosovo and Taiwan end there.

The main difference is that an overwhelming majority of the population in Kosovo -- the 90 percent who are ethnic Albanians -- support independence, while in Taiwan support for independence remains to the side of mainstream public opinion and is even divided among ethnic groups.

Add to this the fact that no other country -- bar the handful of small Latin American, African and Pacific states that make up Taipei's diplomatic allies -- would be willing to support a declaration by Taipei. As such, Pristina's bold move should not raise the hopes of too many independence supporters.

Indeed, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and several European foreign ministers have been quick to point out that the hasty recognition afforded Kosovo should not be taken as "a precedent for separatist states elsewhere," comments that have been interpreted as a warning to Taiwan, among others.

Rice cited the ethnic cleansing and "crimes against civilians" that took part during the breakup of the former Yugoslavia as proof of Kosovo's unique status.

The problem for Taiwan is that it experienced a form of ethnic cleansing -- the 228 Incident and White Terror ethnic discrimination -- at a time when such events were better hidden from the scrutiny of the world press. Add to that the geopolitical situation in the region, which meant that any support for a nascent independence movement was ignored.

Without strong support, any such move would be dead in the water, so the best Taipei can hope for in the meantime is another addition to the ranks of countries willing to recognize Taipei. In fact, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has already made overtures to that effect.

Given China's opposition to Kosovo's move and its unwillingness to recognize its independence, it would seem like an ideal opportunity to forge ties with another country that shares ideals with Taiwan. But even that small hope could soon be dashed.

The problem is that UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon must now decide whether to hand complete control of Kosovo over to NATO, a decision that can only be made by the UN Security Council -- where China and Russia have veto powers.

Until that decision is made, Kosovo remains in the hands of UN peacekeepers and at the mercy of China, meaning that in all likelihood Taiwan will end up empty-handed and independence-minded Taiwanese will once again have to sit on the sidelines jealously watching a newly formed nation celebrate its freedom.

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