Small Taiwan has big pull
A few weeks ago, I attended this year’s cross-strait development conference held by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington. Important topics discussed at this forum included Taiwan’s “guest” status at the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) triennial assembly and its international participation efforts.
I want to focus on the tendency among the conference speakers from Taiwan — in particular Arthur Shuh-fan Ding (丁樹範) — to downplay Taiwan and its ability to influence its own future.
At the forum, Ding characterized Taiwan as a “small actor” within a future G2 framework and emphasized the nation’s inability to affect the policies of the US and China.
As said by one of the US panelists, Cynthia Watson of the National Defense University, the statement that Taiwan has not exerted any influence on the US over the past 60 years is simply not true.
I would add that, especially since Taiwan is a relatively small country, it needs to strongly defend its sovereignty and freedom, as opposed to watering it down, as the present government is doing.
David Vital said that the aim of any small power is to “broaden the field of maneuver and choice, and increase the total resources on which the state can count in times of stress.”
Realizing this would require the actor in question to have certain leverage over larger actors within the same theater and contrary to what Ding claims, Taiwan has plenty.
Vibrant international participation is another salient characteristic of any small power. The lack of this has greatly impacted Taiwan’s ability to maintain the “status quo” of being a free and de facto independent country, which is what more than 85 percent of Taiwan’s population prefer at this moment. However, whatever Taiwan attempts to do on the international stage, it always finds China standing firmly in its way.
Another panelist at the conference, Huang Kuei-bo, said that Taiwan’s international participation hinges on China’s tacit understanding. I would propose that if Taiwan always waits for China’s “tacit understanding,” that automatically grants Beijing veto power over its participation in international organizations — a lose-lose situation.
However, this is what the policies that the President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) administration has adopted since its inauguration are based on: avoiding confrontation and promoting goodwill toward China. It is clear from the experience of the past five years that this is a dead-end street.
A much better avenue is to promote the right of Taiwanese to be fully represented in the international community. This is the principle of universality as enshrined in the UN Charter.
So, instead of traveling the low road advocated by the government, Taiwan and its international friends need to voice the nation’s high aspirations and principles. Having such a moral high ground emanating from a democratic, liberal Taiwan will resonate within the congressional chambers of its strongest ally, the US.
This is why Taipei’s supporters in the US Congress have expressed their support for the country through countless congressional bills and resolutions over the years, with one recent example being the US Senate’s 579 bill, which directs the US Department of State to come up with a strategy for Taiwan gaining observer status in the ICAO.
A more resolute attitude toward international participation on Taiwan’s part would also ensure that the protective umbrella the nation enjoys under the Taiwan Relation Act of 1979 is not taken away.
Without a voice in the international arena, without the support and understanding of its friends and allies, Taiwan will eventually fall from the world stage and be relegated to a Chinese domestic issue to be dealt with as Beijing sees fit.
It is imperative that Taiwanese, united by their common concern and love for their country — as demonstrated through various recent ground-breaking civic movements — endeavor to build a civil society that builds on the transition to democracy that was achieved only 25 years ago and that can join the international family of nations as a full, equal member.