Taiwan now has 18 diplomatic allies left. Seventeen are developing nations 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, Paraguay, Eswatini, Haiti, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia, and Saint Vincent.
Only one of them is in Europe: The Holy See, whose territorial residence is the Vatican. The tiny city-state has an area of 44 hectares and a population of about 1,000. It is the smallest state in the world by area and population.
The Holy See is also the only country in Europe that does not have diplomatic relations with China.
To help Taiwan get off the slippery slope it is on when it comes to losing its diplomatic allies to China, the Holy See can and must play a crucial role.
The Republic of China (ROC) established official diplomatic relations with the Holy See in 1942, during World War II.
Their diplomatic relationship continued after the ROC fled to Taiwan in 1949 after the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) lost the Chinese Civil War.
However, since 1987, Beijing and the Holy See have held 30 rounds of talks to establish relations. Over the past several years, Beijing and the Vatican have genuinely began to cozy up, discussing the establishment of formal diplomatic relations.
However, last month it became clear that due to multiple points of friction, such as the appointment of bishops and the Holy See’s doubts that China would keep the promises it has made, an agreement solving the nearly 70-year rift is not expected any time soon.
“There is no imminent signature of an agreement between the Holy See and the People’s Republic of China,” a Vatican spokesman said early last month.
This presents a window of opportunity for Taiwan.
In a September 2016 letter, the Formosan Association for Public Affairs (FAPA) called on Vice President Chen Chien-jen (陳建仁), who was about to embark on a trip to Rome and meet with Pope Francis, to urge the pope to move toward “dual recognition” (also known as “separate recognition”) of Taiwan and China.
Such dual diplomatic recognition by the Holy See of Taipei and Beijing would entail embracing Chinese Catholics 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.
At the time, the pope had played a critical role in initiating US-Cuba diplomatic relations.
So it makes sense that the pope take the lead in officially recognizing that Taiwan and China are two nations on either side of the Taiwan Strait, which the international community wants to see develop into friendly neighbors.
For Taiwan to lose the Vatican as its diplomatic ally could set the nation further and faster on the road it is on.
Having the Vatican establish diplomatic relations with both Taiwan and China would stop Taiwan from continuing on this trajectory.
The US can also play a role in this process.
Over the past two decades, several members of the US House of Representatives have repeatedly introduced legislation calling for the resumption of diplomatic relations with Taiwan.
They were motivated by indignation over the fact that the US has diplomatic relations with every nation around the world except four: North Korea, Iran, Bhutan and Taiwan.
The US representatives felt, and still feel, that Taiwan does not belong in that little band of rogue nations — they are right, of course.
We at FAPA therefore urge Chen again to use his good offices and call upon the pope to move toward “dual recognition.” It is an idea that is long overdue — it is now or never.
Mike Kuo is president of the Formosan Association for Public Affairs.
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