Last week, Chang Liang-yi’s (張良伊) election as a focal point of YOUNGO — an international youth climate movement with official constituency status with the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) — was widely celebrated in Taiwan as a breakthrough for the nation’s participation in the UN.
However, the festive mood quickly turned into furor after it was revealed that Chang was elected with “Taiwan (Province of China)” as his nationality.
This incident raises two issues: First, how does one weigh the trade-off between national dignity and international participation? Chang said that his actions were non-political and that participating in an international organization was more important than getting caught up in naming disputes.
However, this line of reasoning overlooks that getting Taiwan’s name “right” is one of the major hurdles obstructing the county from participating in the UN and other international organizations.
In other words, China would more than welcome Taiwan into all such organizations if Taipei used a name which explicitly or implicitly suggests that it is a part of China, reinforcing Beijing’s “one China” principle. Consequently, arguing for participation at the expense of sovereign dignity is a dangerous position to take.
Second, to what degree can individuals and non-governmental organizations from Taiwan be flexible with the naming issue?
Even though people and non-governmental organizations participate in private capacities, they should not do so under a title which denigrates Taiwan. After all, it is the duty of all Taiwanese to defend their nation’s sovereignty, status and dignity in the international arena.
Hence, the circumstances of Chang’s election are unacceptable, even if the nationality alteration was carried out unilaterally by the UNFCCC Secretariat without his knowledge or approval. Chang’s actions are absolutely disgraceful if — as is suspected by some — he acquiesced to this change in order to win support from the Chinese representatives.
Both of these points are reflected in Taiwan’s current participation in the UNFCCC.
There are currently four Taiwanese organizations accredited by the UNFCCC with the following country designations: The Delta Electronics Foundation, Taipei, China; the Environmental Quality Protection Foundation, Taipei, China; the Taiwan Institute for Sustainable Energy, Taipei, China (this NGO was founded and led by Chien You-hsin (簡又新), foreign minister of Taiwan under former president Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) from 2002 to 2004); and the Industrial Technology Research Institute, Hsinchu, China.
As with Chang, there are serious concerns regarding the trade-off between participation and national dignity regarding these organizations. However, public discourse on their participation is virtually nonexistent, even though the fourth institute has been accredited by the UNFCCC under the Hsinchu, China designation since 1995.
The expansion of Taiwan’s presence in the international arena is the responsibility of both the government and its citizens, but a careful and balanced approach needs to be taken when pursuing this goal.
It is hoped that the Chang incident will provide a catalyst for Taiwan to examine these critical issues as the nation continues its bid for meaningful participation in the UN and other international organizations.
I-chun Hsiao is a graduate student at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University and Jerry Hsiao is a lecturer in law at the University of Liverpool.