EDITORIAL: Upending the diplomatic game

Sat, Mar 23, 2019 - Page 8

It is easy to be overwhelmed by defeatism when fixating on setbacks and forgetting to appreciate the small victories, especially when it comes to Taiwan’s diplomatic predicament. Given the nation’s unusual international status, it is time to challenge the traditional notion of what constitutes success.

If the diplomatic achievements of President Tsai Ing-wen’s (蔡英文) administration are evaluated by traditional standards, one could conclude that little has been achieved, while much has been lost.

Since Tsai’s inauguration in May 2016, Taiwan has lost five diplomatic allies to China, bringing its already small number of allies to 17. Unless the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) returns to power, the trend is likely to continue.

As for international participation, Taiwan has been excluded from more major organizations, including the WHO, Interpol and the International Civil Aviation Organization.

Sometimes the exclusion is done in a particularly degrading manner, such as a WHO-organized vaccines conference in Beijing on Feb. 21 sending Taiwan an invitation just a few hours before the event began.

If the nation had jumped at the opportunity and rushed a delegation to China, it would have sent a dangerous message to the world that Taiwan would accept whatever treatment it receives, regardless of how belittling it is.

Then there is also the issue of forced name changes. If someone wants to book a plane ticket with Emirates airline or shop at Zara’s online store, for example, they would have to tolerate seeing Taiwan listed under China. This is thanks to Beijing’s relentless efforts to reduce the chance of Taiwan being seen as a single, independent entity.

It is true that these incidents do not paint a successful image for the Tsai administration, but, unfortunately for Taiwan, events such as these would become the norm unless Taiwan becomes unified with China or the Chinese Communist Party collapses.

So what else can be done?

Rather than focusing on whether Taiwan is able to sit in the World Health Assembly (WHA) conference hall, exhausting its resources to stop China from stealing allies or forcing companies to change how they refer to the nation, Taiwan should pay more attention to efforts that have a substantial effect.

This is not to say that Taiwan should give up and stop fighting for its place at the table, but there is more than one way to be a member of the global community.

An essential and important way would be to continue its substantive contributions to global health and humanitarian assistance, as well as advocacy of universal values, showing other nations that Taiwan is willing and able to contribute.

The government has been doing this for a long time, and quite successfully, but such efforts have been under-appreciated by the public. These efforts might not get Taiwan the formal recognition it wants, but they would help it make real friends that share similar values.

Once Taiwan stops letting its number of diplomatic allies and years barred from the WHA define its success, it would give China less leverage. This will enable the nation and its people to come together to find a viable way out of the destructive diplomatic game it has been forced to play for so long.