Taiwan’s diplomatic predicament lies in the unclear definition of its sovereignty and the fact that China and other countries deny Taiwan’s sovereignty. Both the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) and the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) governments used diplomatic ties to show that Taiwan is a sovereign country, leading to the misplaced idea that the total number of allies is of extreme importance.
Taiwan’s diplomatic policy, however, has led to the following problems:
First is the uncertainty surrounding Taiwan’s status. From the perspective of international law, Taiwan does possess the main factors constituting a nation: a people, territory, a government and sovereignty.
Recognition by others is not a necessary condition for a country’s existence. Thus, it is unwise for the government to hinge Taiwan’s sovereignty on other countries’ recognition of its status through the establishment of diplomatic ties.
The second problem is the high cost of competing for sovereignty. Taiwan and China have always been competing for allies in a zero-sum game. Taiwan’s diplomatic policy has led to competition with China that has forced it to pay a considerable price.
If Taipei can view the number of allies objectively instead of looking at the establishment of ties as a means to affirm its sovereignty, the price of sovereignty will drop as the competition slows, thus lowering the cost for Taiwan’s diplomatic work.
The third problem is the unpredictability of secret diplomacy. Because of the diplomatic battle with Beijing, the government is forced to develop relations through nonofficial and secret methods.
Although such methods are concealed and can only with difficulty be prevented by Beijing, it creates a diplomatic mechanism without public monitoring. This causes problems such as the president’s so-called “state affairs funds.”
Then there are also the possible losses that may result from asymmetric information caused by the use of diplomatic brokers.
Moreover, the results that this policy have bought may disappear overnight if Beijing gives Taiwan’s allies a better offer or when one of the allies sees a change in government.
Not only does this mean that Taiwan’s sovereignty is connected to the number of diplomatic allies while ignoring the fact that it is an independent and sovereign state, but it also means that the establishment or severing of diplomatic ties can affect public morale.
The government should actively push for Taiwan’s participation in different international organizations, and it should also build reliable long-term cooperative relationships with the world’s leading non-governmental organizations. It should no longer pour all its diplomatic resources into the establishment of diplomatic ties, which not only wastes taxpayers’ money but also damages the nation’s dignity.
A thorough review of Taiwan’s foreign policy is badly needed.
Tim Hsu is an assistant professor in the School of Law at Chinese Cultural University.
Translated by Eddy Chang