For many days, the Papua New Guinea diplomacy case involving former vice premier Chiou I-jen (邱義仁) has been at the center of media attention. The embezzlement of funds intended for aid in exchange for diplomatic relations clearly shows the flaws in the diplomatic system and the harsh reality that huge diplomatic investment is not cost-efficient. Government officials appear content to abuse authority and revel in diplomatic games outside the official framework.
Often, the excuse that diplomatic affairs are matters of national security is enough to hoodwink the public so that huge sums can avoid legislative supervision and a select group of officials can engage in dollar diplomacy through brokers.
The US has also practiced secret diplomacy. Former president Richard Nixon sent his national security advisor Henry Kissinger on a secret trip to Beijing in July 1971 to sell out Taiwan. In order to finance contras in Nicaragua, former president Ronald Reagan sold arms to Iran without the knowledge of the US Congress, resulting in a political crisis that almost led to his resignation. The secret diplomacy of the US occurs almost entirely on the fringes of the law and those involved try to avoid congressional or media scrutiny. There are many examples of how morals are compromised when there is a lack of oversight.
With Taiwan diplomatically isolated since it left the UN in 1971, the government seems to have caught a “diplomatic isolation-phobia.” Taiwan has followed the lead of the US, and on the way it succumbed to the delusion that it has to build diplomatic relations with as many countries as possible.
Every minister of foreign affairs has been pressed to build new diplomatic relations, regardless of whether the countries are large or small, rich or poor — even tiny islands. Relations are sought by all means necessary.
Such scrambling for diplomatic allies results from the misunderstanding that if Taiwan can establish diplomatic relations, then it has foreign relations, making it an independent country. The new government of president-elect Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) should concentrate not on increasing the number of diplomatic allies, but on breaking through the country’s “diplomatic isolation-phobia.”
In terms of real diplomatic benefits, the Buddhist Compassionate Relief Tzu Chi Foundation can win a lot more international respect than the Ministry of Foreign Affairs; the laptop computers made in Taiwan are more famous than the country itself and Taiwan’s agriculture and its small to middle-sized businesses attract more international attention than its foreign policy.
One can’t help but ask what Taiwan has to show for its many years of dollar diplomacy. The structural limitations to the country’s space in international relations are mostly caused by the fact that China is so much stronger than Taiwan. A framework of international power sets these limitations: Even with the help of a diplomatic deus ex machina, a change in the situation would be impossible. In any case, how can we expect the two greedy brokers called on by Chiou and former minister of foreign affairs James Huang (黃志芳) to change the existing structure of international political power?
The only things that the government needs to do are change the frame of mind with which it rules the country and cure itself of its “diplomatic isolation-phobia.” Since the difficulties of Taiwan’s international relations are not easy to solve, the government should turn its attention to domestic affairs. Every minister in the past has earnestly pledged to boost foreign relations, but rarely have they said they want to improve domestic affairs.