Recent media reports on a WHO memo designating Taiwan as a province of China have angered many.
The WHO memo does not come out of nowhere. Not long ago, Su Chi (蘇起), former secretary-general of the National Security Council and currently a professor at Tamkang University, published a paper entitled “Myths Surrounding the Sovereignty Issue,” in defense of the policies of President Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) administration. In the article, he argues that under international law, the concept of sovereignty is neither absolute nor exclusive, and that the sovereignty issue is a myth.
By calling it a myth he is saying it doesn’t exist. Su starts by quoting former Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) chairman Hsu Hsin-liang (許信良) as saying that Taiwan does not have a sovereignty problem. He lauds Hsu for saying that DPP accusations that the Ma administration is damaging Taiwan’s sovereignty are unfounded. It was disingenuous of him to have quoted Hsu.
Su cited the fact that Taiwan was represented in the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games under the name Zhonghua Taibei (中華台北) — in which the emphasis is on ethnicity — and not Zhongguo Taibei (中國台北), or Taipei, China. It was also the name used when former Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) chairman Lien Chan (連戰) attended the APEC leaders’ summit in 2008 and then-Department of Health minister Yeh Ching-chuan (葉金川) attended the World Health Assembly (WHA) meeting in Geneva in 2009 in his official capacity as minister, Su said, adding that all three were major achievements for the Ma administration.
Sovereignty is a concept that has developed over centuries, the result of the application of the accumulated experience of the international community. Academics and politicians may well debate the matter, but that won’t change things. Su’s article, which represents the government view, reeks of the arrogance of academia. He is trying to pull the wool over the public’s eyes.
After centuries of interaction, the international community has developed a consensus and set of conventions regarding the concept of sovereignty and how it should be managed. Ambassadors and diplomats enjoy special rights and diplomatic immunity, as well as the right of passage along international rivers and waterways. In addition, there are bilateral agreements, such as status of forces agreements, that place certain limitations on national sovereignty.
These limitations are based on the principles of equality and reciprocity and do not impinge on a country’s autonomy. But take a look at how China and the WHO have colluded against Taiwan from the perspective of these international regulations. If Taiwan wants to participate in international health activities, it has to do so within the framework of China and negotiate each instance on a case-by-case basis with Beijing. Such participation is the ultimate insult to the dignity of Taiwanese — and yet the government claims it as a major achievement.
As far as I am concerned, both “Zhonghua Taipei” and “Zhongguo Taipei” mean “Chinese Taipei,” and for the life of me, I cannot see how the distinction means anything regarding Taiwan’s international status.
Some think Taiwan is in dire straits and that the effect of participation in international forums would lend it some form of “creeping officiality” on the world stage. Nevertheless, the government should not risk sinking further into the quicksand that is cross-straits relations by scoring political points in international affairs. If the government is not careful, China will back Taiwan into a corner from which it cannot escape.