When Beijing, at a UN tribunal over tensions concerning sovereignty in the South China Sea, included Taiwan and Penghu as part of its territorial claims, nobody in the government reacted or uttered a single word in response. When pressed about this by the media, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) merely said: “We protested this 55 years ago.”
However, 55 years ago, the Republic of China had a permanent seat on the UN Security Council, as the sole representative of China, and the People’s Republic of China did not have a seat. Back then, nobody listened to what China had to say. Today, the situation is reversed: Now, everybody listens when China speaks, while Taiwan has no voice.
Recently, China has been flexing its muscles wherever it sees fit. It has challenged Japan on sovereignty claims in the East China Sea, and it has tried to expand its claims in the South China Sea, using tactics designed to intimidate such countries as Vietnam, the Philippines and Indonesia, showing them that a new bully is on the block, while insisting it is all part of its “peaceful rise.”
While exploiting the tensions in the South China Sea with a sleight of hand, it has slipped in a claim to Taiwan and the Penghu Islands as part of its ambition to annex Taiwan, and all the ministry can do is say, “Oh, we dealt with all this 55 years ago.” It is no wonder that Taiwan is less and less visible on the international stage.
The government boasts that Taiwan has visa waiver agreements with 130 countries, but for the most part this is a result of Taiwan putting aside certain passport requirements in compliance with the visa waiver agreements, and the courtesy of having a visa waiver program with Taiwan is a far cry from recognizing its sovereignty.
The government is so proud of its “diplomatic truce” with China and that it has not suspended diplomatic ties with any country in the time it has been in power, yet Sao Tomean President Manuel Pinto da Costa recently visited Shanghai and Beijing, which was hugely embarrassing for President Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) administration. Many of Taiwan’s allies are casting coy glances at China, and unless Beijing is concerned that pursuing closer ties with them would damage diplomatic relations with Taiwan, the situation could well escalate.
China boasts military might and prodigious economic clout, but Taiwan is still an economic force to be reckoned with in the global economy, and its commitment to democracy and human rights and its development model have all won it plaudits from the international community, despite the political infighting that still exists.
However, when Beijing violates the principle of “shelving controversies and pursuing a win-win solution” (擱置爭議、共創雙贏), which we are supposed to be following, the government here just feigns ignorance.
Also, when the media asks what China is trying to do during this UN tribunal, the ministry only offers a 10-character declaration — not one character critical of China — merely reiterating its stance of more than half a century ago.
When the ministry treats this serious slight to our sovereignty as a domestic issue, the thing that grates most is not the precarious international situation in which Taiwan finds itself, but rather that our government is reluctant to speak up and fight in our corner.