A crucial element in cross-strait tensions at the moment is the question of Taiwan’s participation in the international community. As China insists on the “one China” principle, it is very difficult for Taiwan to take part in international organizations.
Since President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) has been in office for six years, the nation has yet to break free of this insistence and can only engage with these organizations through special invitation, and only with China’s agreement, as it has done with the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) and the World Health Assembly (WHA). The chances of formal membership in one of these international organizations remain remote.
Taiwan was invited to participate in a WHA meeting for the first time in 2009, in the capacity of observer nation. However, this observer nation status needed Beijing’s permission and was made possible by China’s recommendation, and Taiwan needed to be officially invited by the WHA. It can only participate in future WHA events if China continues to give its permission. The participation has been largely nominal and produced little actual benefit, and neither are there any guarantees that the experience will be repeated in the future. Taiwan certainly will not be there with full membership status or rights.
Last year, the head of the Civil Aeronautics Administration was invited to take part in an ICAO conference as a “guest,” akin to the nation’s participation in the WHA. However, as ICAO guidelines contain no provisions for observer nation status, participation as a guest did not give Taiwan any actual rights to speak of and, again, there are no guarantees that it will be able to continue attending as a guest in the future.
The nation’s participation in WHA and ICAO meetings has been purely nominal, and does not ensure a heightened national profile or guarantee its national interests.
Taiwan should participate in other international organizations in the same way in which it participates in the WTO.
Article 12 of the WTO Protocol of Accession for Chinese Taipei says that Taiwan accedes the WTO as a separate customs territory, and enjoys complete and independent membership status. It does not mention anything about being subjugated by, or placed in the jurisdiction of, any third country.
Given that world powers — including China — do not accept Taiwan’s participation in international organizations in the capacity of an independent country, Taiwan should adopt the second-best alternative of proceeding in line with the WTO model, seeking to achieve membership status in international organizations as a political, legal, economic, social, cultural, health or civil aeronautical entity.
For example, through the UN Fish Stocks Agreement, Taiwan has participated, since 1997, in at least nine international fisheries organizations in the capacity of a fishing entity, five of which were joined when former president Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) was in office. In addition, during Chen’s tenure, Taiwan requested to take part in the WHA as a health entity.
Since the stipulations of internal organizations do not have provisions for status as a separate customs territory, as in the WTO documentation, in the initial stage Taiwan should try to get observer status within international organizations as different entities, but not allow itself to be pushed around or subjugated in any way by China.