Taiwan has diplomatic relations with 22 countries. Twenty-one of these are developing countries in the South Pacific, Latin America, Africa and the Caribbean: Kiribati, the Marshall Islands, Nauru, Palau, the Solomon Islands, Tuvalu, Belize, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Burkina Faso, Sao Tome, Swaziland, the Dominican Republic, Haiti, Saint Kitts, Saint Lucia, and Saint Vincent. Only one of them is developed and in Europe: The Holy See, whose territorial residence is the Vatican.
The Republic of China (ROC) established official diplomatic relations with the Holy See in 1942, during World War II. Their smooth diplomatic relationship continued when the ROC fled to Taiwan in 1949 after the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) lost the Chinese Civil War. Today, the Holy See is the only country in Europe that does not have diplomatic relations with China.
If Taiwan does not play its cards right, the Vatican might jump ship and establish relations with the giant bully on the other side of the Taiwan Strait.
Since the 1990s, while aggressively courting foreign trade and investment amid a wave of economic reforms in the early 1990s, the Chinese Communist Party began forcing nations around the world to choose between either maintaining diplomatic relations with Taipei or Beijing.
Then, last month, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs suddenly indicated that the Vatican might be moving closer to establishing diplomatic relations with China. In addition, Hong Kong media outlets reported that Hong Kong Cardinal John Tong Hon (湯漢) said that “the Vatican and China might have reached a preliminary agreement on the appointment of bishops” in China.
However, salvation might be around the corner. Tomorrow, Vice President Chen Chien-jen (陳建仁) is to visit the Vatican to attend the canonization of Mother Teresa and convey to the pope the congratulations of Taiwanese and Catholics nationwide. Chen, a devout Catholic, has been invited to the Vatican several times and has met Pope Francis and former popes Benedict XVI and John Paul II.
Considering Chen’s lengthy and excellent relationship with the Vatican, I wrote him a letter at the end of last month, as president of the Formosan Association for Public Affairs (FAPA) — a US-based grassroots organization that promotes freedom, human rights and democracy for the people of Taiwan — imploring him, when in Rome, to call upon the Pope to move toward “dual recognition” of Taiwan and China.
I wrote him that such dual diplomatic recognition of both Taipei and Beijing would entail embracing Chinese and not abandoning the 23 million Taiwanese, and would be a way to foster and encourage peaceful coexistence and mutual respect between Taiwan and China. In addition, it would set a precedent for other nations to emulate.
Pope Francis played a critical initiating role in getting the establishment of US-Cuba diplomatic relations on track. It therefore makes a lot of sense that the pope takes the lead in officially recognizing that Taiwan and China are two countries on either side of the Taiwan Strait that the international community wants to see develop into friendly neighbors.
For Taiwan to lose the Vatican as its diplomatic ally could set Taiwan on a precarious road. A cutting off of official diplomatic relations between Taiwan and the Vatican might cause a domino effect, and the rest of Taiwan’s allies might follow.
We at FAPA therefore urge Chen to use his good offices next week to call upon the pope to move toward “dual recognition.” It is an idea that is not only long overdue, it is now or never.
Peter Chen is president of the Formosan Association for Public Affairs.
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