The People’s Republic of China in 1971 obtained a seat at the UN as the sole representative of China. From that time, and as a result of intimidation through soft and hard power, Taiwan has found it impossible to become a normalized nation.
In the past two decades, Taiwan and China have continued to exist as separate nations on either side of the Taiwan Strait, and Taiwanese have not given up on the idea of independence and autonomy. Every September, including this year, Taiwanese have arranged a group to promote the nation’s entry to the UN, taking Taiwan’s cause to the UN building in New York.
On Sept. 17, a large contingent of Taiwanese traveled to New York and chanted the slogans: “UN for Taiwan” and “Keep Taiwan free.” Many second-generation Taiwanese living in the city came out in support.
Taiwan now has a new party in power and Taiwanese are thankful for the hard work that the nation’s forebears contributed to the normalization of Taiwan.
And while we recognize the difficulties President Tsai Ing-wen’s (蔡英文) administration is facing, I remember 20 years ago, in 1996, when direct elections were introduced.
A lot of worried people left Taiwan or sent money overseas. Then-president Lee Teng-hui (李登輝) showed his resolve, calming people’s nerves. When the immediate danger passed, the fact that Taiwanese were able to vote in direct presidential elections declared to the world that Taiwan was a sovereign, independent nation.
Think what you like of Lee, but it is difficult to argue against the fact that he had the clearest foreign policy vision of the presidents who followed him. Lee’s foreign policy strategy posed a dilemma for China, making it unable to decide whether to seduce Taiwan.
His foreign policy strategy assured Taiwan of its claim to sovereignty. At the time it was a point of faith that a nation must participate in international affairs before it could be said to exist, and it was only through involvement that it really meant anything to be a nation.
Today, Beijing is casting around, seeing how far it can push Taiwan.
Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平) is facing internal pressure and dealing with tensions with neighbors, and Beijing is increasing pressure on Taiwan. However, neither the US nor ASEAN is too happy with the aggressiveness China is displaying and they are unlikely to countenance further Chinese expansionism.
The US’ Asia-Pacific strategy has changed since US President Barack Obama took office seven years ago, with a reorientation of foreign policy. In 2012 Obama embarked upon a shift of strategic focus away from the Middle East to Asia, including containing China and rebalancing regional power relations.
Taiwan, which is within the first island chain, is in an important geopolitical location. As a result, crucial to Taiwan’s continued existence — as Tsai herself has put it — is that “Taiwan needs to be indispensable to the international community.”
Taiwan can best be protected by proactively establishing partnerships within the international community.
In 1990 the Cold War came to an end and nations around the world were anxious to start participating in international organizations. Lee had the foresight to set up an organization in New York to continue lobbying for Taiwan’s return to the UN. At the same time, he proposed his “southbound policy,” reminding us that China is trying to entrap Taiwan through economic means: “Come into my parlor, said the spider to the fly.”
If we are not careful, Lee told us, we would end up losing our nation.
Tsai would do well to follow Lee’s lead. Democratic values are our bargaining chips. We have already come so far in fighting for our nation and we need to support Tsai and her administration to ensure that Taiwan becomes a normalized nation; that it becomes a truly independent, sovereign nation.
Chu Meng-hsiang is an art educator and former deputy secretary-general of the Lee Foundation.
Translated by Paul Cooper
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