Taiwan-Mongolia ties move on

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs announced that Taiwan and Mongolia will set up representative offices to promote bilateral relations. There have also been calls to dissolve the Cabinet's Mongolian and Tibetan Affairs Commission. 'Taipei Times' staff reporter Ko Shu-ling talked recently with Hsu Chih-hsiung, director of the commission, about his thoughts on the proposal and the govenment's recent move


Tue, Sep 10, 2002 - Page 3

Taipei Times: What's the true meaning behind the establishment of a trade representative office in Ulan Bator, Mongolia and in Taipei, Taiwan?

Hsu Chih-hsiung (許志雄): We see the DPP-led government is adopting a more pragmatic approach in dealing with Mongolia. The exchange of representative offices marks a giant step forward in normalizing bilateral relations with Mongolia.

Mongolia declared its independence in 1911 and gained independence through a public referendum in 1945.

Although the Republic of China had actually recognized Mongolia's independence in 1946, the KMT government, which embraced the "Greater China" mentality, claimed legitimacy and sovereignty over China, including "Outer Mongolia" as part of the nation's mainland territory.

The relationship between Taiwan and Mongolia experienced a tremendous breakthrough in January this year when the Mainland Affairs Council amended its administrative orders, which are based on the Statute Governing the Relations between the People of the Taiwan Area and the Mainland Area (兩岸人民關係條例), to exclude "Outer Mongolia" from the statute's scope.

That means that because the Taiwan government recognizes Mongolia as an independent sovereign state, Mongolians, who are now considered foreigners, are required to have visas if they want to visit Taiwan.

TT: Despite the Mainland Affairs Council's changes to the statute, critics have argued that the Legislative Yuan should consider convening the National Assembly to discuss the constitutionality of territorial change and reach a legal solution to the Mongolia issue. What are your thoughts on this?

Hsu: I don't think such a move is necessary because the Constitution, which was enacted in 1946 and promulgated in 1947, recognized the independence of Mongolia after Mongolia gained independence through a plebiscite in 1945.

Although the Constitution does not clearly define the "existing national boundaries" and an interpretation by the Council of Grand Justices in 1993 failed to define the politically highly sensitive issue, the theory that the Constitution includes Mongolia in the ROC territory is flawed.

As both Taiwan and China recognize the independence of Mongolia, which has a seat in the UN, it's an undeniable fact that Mongolia is an independent sovereign state.

TT: Responding to recent calls to exclude Mongolia from China's territory in Taiwan's world map, the Ministry of the Interior has been mulling an amendment to an act requiring both civil and private sectors in charge of the production of world maps to obtain permission before publishing maps. What's the significance of having the bill pass into a law?

Hsu: As far as I know the interior ministry is thinking of abolishing such a requirement, which I think is the right thing to do.

Under the premise of publication freedom, I don't think the government should censor the production of any world maps, particularly after the 70-year-old Publishing Law was abrogated in 1999.

As the ministry's draft bill passes into law, official world maps will reflect reality in the future since the interior ministry has publicly announced that Ulan Bator is the capital of Mongolia instead of the Mongolian Province of China. The private sector, on the other hand, will enjoy more publication freedom.

TT: As the Cabinet is planning to downsize its 36 administrative entities to 23, plus four independent institutions, the Mongolian and Tibetan Affairs Commission is one of the administrative entities proposed to be dissolved. As the director of the commission, what do you think of the government's plan?

Hsu: Government restructuring, which is a universal phenomenon, is intended to make the government more efficient and internationally competitive. Japan ... has only 12 government administrative entities; it's obviously too much to have 36.

Although the commission is comparatively small in terms of people and annual budget, I think it's right way to go to have the commission dissolved, because it's not necessary to have one particular entity to take care of Mongolian affairs since we've recognized the independence of Mongolia.

TT: How do you plan to take care of the commission's personnel and businesses then?

Hsu: As the commission's annual budget is about NT$160 million, there're only 61 people on staff. A large part of the commission's people and businesses would be transferred to the Mainland Affairs Commission, and the remaining portion would go to the foreign affairs ministry.

TT: Let's talk about the importation of Mongolian labor. Although the Council of Labor Affairs has pledged to import Mongolian labors no later than the end of next year, some critics have argued that such a policy is not a good one because Mongolian labors are bound to encounter language problems and cultural differences. What do you think of the argument?

Hsu: I don't think language or cultural differences should pose any problem. Or if they do, there must be something we can do to resolve them.

Although Mongolians are not highly educated, most of them have at least completed their junior high school education and the illiteracy rate there is low. They're also very hard workers. South Korea, which also imports Mongolian laborers, has given high marks to them.

TT: Regarding the issue of bilateral tourism, some have said the establishment of trade representative offices will do little to help boost the two countries' tourism industries because airplane tickets are expensive and local transportation in Mongolia is inconvenient. What are your thoughts on this?

Hsu: The plane tickets are, indeed, not cheap and Mongolia-bound flights are sparse and time-consuming, which consequently results in the small number of Taiwanese tourists that visits Mongolia.

To turn things around, I think -- fundamentally -- Taiwanese people must start to realize that a meaningful sightseeing trip is not only about staying at a five-star hotel and dining at an upscale restaurant, but also about seeing exotic scenery, experiencing different lifestyles and appreciating the exotic history and culture.