The diplomatic setback in which the WTO Secretariat removed the diplomatic titles of some of Taiwan's officials in last year's directory of representatives was a result of former WTO representative Yen Ching-chang's (顏慶章) negligence in safeguarding the nation's sovereignty, according to Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) Legislator Lin Cho-shui (林濁水).
The directory, which was released in June last year, acts as an internal address book for WTO officials.
Only the top two officials in Taiwan's permanent mission to the WTO are identified by their titles. For other lower ranking officials, only their names and areas of expertise are listed, while their diplomatic titles are not included.
On Friday, Lin criticized Yen's "concession" to a statement that denigrated Taiwan's status to that of Hong Kong and Macau during a 1992 meeting of the WTO's predecesor, the GATT.
According to the minutes of the GATT General Council meeting addressing Taiwan's accession to the GATT, the chairman "stated that as a part of the understanding, the representation of Chinese Taipei in GATT would be along the same lines as that of Hong Kong and Macau during the course of its status as an observer?and that the titles carried by its representatives would not have any implication on the issue of sovereignty."
In response, the General Council stated it "took note of the statement," but refrained from using the word "agreed."
The same meeting approved another proposal by the chairman to consider China's bid to enter the trade body before Taiwan's.
Lin said the wording "took note of" is not as strong a diplomatic term as terms like "agree" or "recognize."
The legislator said that China used the 1992 GATT document to pressure the secretariat of the trade body when it became the WTO.
This, Lin said, led to former WTO secretary-general Supachai Panitchpakdi requesting that Taiwan abandon the formal titles its WTO mission staff members in Geneva had enjoyed, in accordance with the Vienna Conventions on Diplomatic Relations.
Meanwhile, Taiwan Solidarity Union (TSU) Legislator Lai Shin-yuan (賴幸媛) said that Yen wrote in a confidential telegram he dispatched to Taipei on Feb. 14, 2003 that Taiwan had agreed to the 1992 chairman's understanding, therefore validating WTO secretary-general Supachai's request.
Lai, a former member of the National Security Council, was involved in the government's negotiations with the WTO.
Lai said Yen's telegram stated that Taiwan's acquiescence to the 1992 GATT document would enhance interaction between China and Taiwan at the WTO.
Lai, however, dismissed the validity of the 1992 chairman's statement, saying that the meeting was merely at a working-party level.
It, therefore, had no legal bearing for the WTO.
The GATT General Council did not approve of the statement, but only "took note of" it, Lai said.
"If it was legally binding, how could Taiwan be granted permanent mission status and the diplomatic titles such as commissioner and counselor in 2002 when Taiwan entered the WTO? And since we had these titles, why did we agree to give them away?" Lai said.
The GATT's use of different wordings to deal with China and Taiwan is similar to diplomatic communiques other nations signed with China when they established diplomatic ties with that country during the 1970s, Lin said.