The struggle for an international voice

APEC MEMBERSHIP: The 13 years since Taiwan gained admission to the economic group have been marked by highs and lows -- related to relations with China

By Ko Shu-ling  /  STAFF REPORTER

Sun, Nov 14, 2004 - Page 3

Looking back at the past 13 years since Taiwan gained accession to the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC), it is easy to find flagrant suppression by China, who is also a member of the 21-economy group.

Beijing's back-room bullying over Taiwan's participation in APEC reached a climax in 2001, when Taiwan was forced to remove itself from the informal leaders' summit, better known as the economic leaders' meeting.

With President Chen Shui-bian's (陳水扁) successful re-election to a second term, it will not be surprising to see China engage in petty maneuvers this year to belittle the nation's international status during the leaders' meeting.

With the theme of "one community, our future," the two-day Economic Leaders Meeting is scheduled to begin on Saturday in Santiago, Chile.

Although President Chen's special envoy Lee Yuan-tseh (李遠哲), President of Academia Sinica, said that the annual event is about economic cooperation and not politics or foreign policy, a high-ranking official at the National Security Council who spoke on condition of anonymity told the Taipei Times that he expects cross-strait issues to be one of the main issues during the leaders' summit following the election of US President George W. Bush to a second term. "We expect [China's suppression] and we're braced for that," he said.

APEC's 21 member economies account for more than a third of the world's population, 47 percent of world trade and about 60 percent of the world's GDP. In its first decade, APEC member economies generated nearly 70 percent of global economic growth.

The 21 member economies are: Australia, Brunei Darussalam, Canada, Chile, Indonesia, Japan, Korea, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, Peru, the Philippines, Russia, Singapore, Thailand, the US, Vietnam, China, Hong Kong and Taiwan.

Taiwan signed a memorandum of understanding with China and Hong Kong before joining the economic bloc in December 1991 under the name Chinese Taipei. The three economies jointly entered the organization as one Chinese economic entity.

Benjamin J.N. Liu (劉嘉甯) of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs' Department of International Organizations said the country did not have much choice back then but to sign the memorandum in order to join the international organization.

"We knew the conditions were bad and unfair but we were desperate to join an international organization to have our voices heard in the international arena," he said. "It may take a long time for things to change."

Liu, however, pointed out the bright side of the situation.

Take the APEC Digital Opportunity Center (ADOC) for example. Liu said Taiwan raised a proposal to establish the center in Taipei during last year's leaders' summit in Bangkok and this was welcomed by APEC leaders.

The center has been up and running for a year and Taiwan is scheduled to brief fellow economies on it at this year's ministerial meetings.

KMT administration (1991 to 1999)

The 3rd APEC meeting in 1991 took place in Seoul, Korea. Twelve member economies, nine of which have diplomatic relations with China, agreed to let Taiwan and Hong Kong join the organization, but not as sovereign states. Taiwan's leader and foreign minister were banned from attending any APEC-related activities.

In 1992 Taiwan attended the 4th APEC meeting in Bangkok, Thailand, against the backdrop of a recent severing of diplomatic ties with South Korea. Then-president Lee Teng-hui (李登輝) sent Minister of Economic Affairs Vincent Siew (蕭萬長) to the ministerial meeting.

In a bid to maintain the US' political and economic influence in the region and to counter the economic power of the EU, US President Bill Clinton, who was desperate to boost his political stature for the 1996 presidential election, proposed to establish an informal leaders' summit, later called the economic leaders' meeting, starting the following year.

In 1993, APEC leaders met for the first time at the fifth APEC forum, held at Blake Island in Seattle, Washington.

President Clinton sent Lee an invitation letter via the American Institute in Taipei (AIT) to attend the inaugural leaders' summit.

Bowing to the "tacit understanding" between China, Hong Kong and Taiwan, Lee dispatched Siew, who then served as the chairman of the Cabinet's Council for Economic Planning and Development, to attend the first-ever leaders' meeting.

Taiwan's presence at the meeting marked the nation's first participation in an international multilateral summit since the Cairo Conference of 1943.

The Presidential Office was braced to boycott the meeting if the worst-case scenario took place, namely, Taipei would have absented itself from the leaders' meeting if Clinton had caved in to China's pressure and failed to invite Lee to the meeting or failed to properly address Lee in the invitation letter.

In 1994, Lee had intended to appoint then-premier Lien Chan (連戰) or vice premier Hsu Li-teh (徐立德) as his proxy to attend the APEC meeting in Bogor, Indonesia. China, however, threatened to send only ministers to the leaders' summit if the host country granted Taiwan's wish.

Succumbing to China's coercion, the Indonesian government insisted on continuing the so-called "Seattle model" of 1993.

In a bid to lobby Lee to go to the leaders' summit, Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) lawmaker Chen Che-nan (陳哲男) proposed a cross-party task force to push for the cause, while some hawkish DPP lawmakers wanted to simply boycott the meeting. Lee eventually sent Siew as his representative to the leaders' meeting.

Despite the political skirmish, the 1994 leaders' meeting set the "Bogor Goals" of free and open trade and investment in the Asia-Pacific region by 2010 for developed economies, and 2020 for developing economies.

In 1995, following Lee's successful visit to the US -- despite opposition from China -- to attend a reunion at his alma mater Cornell University, Beijing made it clear that it was "impossible" for leaders of both sides to meet in such international occasions as APEC. The host country of the meeting that year, Japan, echoed Beijing's stance and said it would not welcome Lee's proposed candidate, vice premier Hsu Li-the (徐立德).

Instead, Lee sent Koo Chen-fu (辜振甫), chairman of Taiwan Cement Corp (台泥), to represent him. Koo, who attended in his capacity as a member of the Council for Economic Planning and Development, was appointed to the position at the last minute and filled a vacancy left deliberately for him by the environmental protection agency administrator.

The following year, amid military drills staged by China in the Taiwan Strait, Koo again represented Lee at the 1996 APEC in Subic Bay, the Philippines, after the Philippine government responded to China's rhetoric that Taiwan's representation at the leaders' summit was China's domestic affairs.

In 1997, Koo represented Lee for the third time at the leaders' meeting, this time in Vancouver, Canada. Koo called on Beijing to stop suppressing Taiwan because APEC was the one and only international organization the nation could participate in as a full member.

Realizing the significance of the cross-strait issue at the leaders' summit, the Mainland Affairs Council was ordered to participate in the annual event for the very first time in 1997, when Hong Kong was handed over to China. Chief Executive of Hong Kong Tung Chee-hwa (董建華) also briefed member economies about the "one country, two systems" policy during the leaders' meeting.

The 1998 APEC meeting held in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia kicked off amid Asia's financial crisis. Citing the 1991 memorandum of understanding, Chinese Foreign Minister Tang Jiaxuan (唐家璇) reiterated that Taiwan was not qualified to host any high-level APEC meetings after Taiwan voiced a desire to hold the 2000 APEC ministerial meeting and the leaders' meeting in 2002 or 2003.

In 1999, president Lee's remarks regarding a "special state-to-state" policy (兩國論) and Taiwan's establishment of diplomatic ties with Macedonia made for a chilly atmosphere at that year's APEC meeting, held in Auckland, New Zealand.

To protest Taiwan's decision to send a higher-ranking minister without portfolio to the small and medium enterprise sectoral ministerial meeting, Chinese officials refused to attend the meeting.

The DPP administration (2000 to present)

With the nation still recovering from the devastating Sept. 21, 1999 earthquake, the Presidential Office was thrilled when the 2000 APEC host country welcomed President Chen's (陳水扁) proposed candidate for the leaders' meeting, Vice Premier Lai In-jaw (賴英照).

Lai would have been the highest-ranking official ever representing the president to attend the meeting. China vetoed the proposal, however, citing the 1991 memorandum of understanding.

Chen then switched his attention to the a man who'd represented the nation several times before: Siew of the KMT. Siew, however, was prevented from going by his party following the Cabinet's abrupt announcement that it would suspend construction of the controversial Fourth Nuclear Power Plant, shortly after a meeting between Chen and KMT Chairman Lien Chan.

Governor of the Central Bank Perng Fai-nan (彭淮南) was picked at the last minute to serve as Chen's representative.

China's obstruction reached new heights at the 2001 APEC meeting, held in Shanghai, when Taiwan was forced to absent itself from the leaders' meeting for the very first time.

Chen, speaking on the first anniversary of his presidency, expressed his wish to personally attend the leaders' meeting. He also called on China to talk with Taiwan under the principles of democracy, equality and peace.

Beijing, however, flatly rejected Chen's proposal, saying that cross-strait talks would not happen if Taiwan did not accept the "one China" policy and recognize the "1992 consensus." To belittle Taiwan, China refused to address Lin Hsin-yi (林信義) and Yen Ching-chang (顏慶章) as ministers in its invitation letter to the economic and finance ministers meeting, instead addressing them as "mister." To express their opposition to this, Lin and Yen distributed protest letters to economic leaders and the APEC secretariat.

At an APEC expo held in Shantong, China requested the Taiwan booth change its name to Chinese Taipei and remove any pictures showing Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall. Taiwan-related reports and pictures about the expo were banned in Chinese media.

Premier Chang Chun-hsiung (張俊雄) and Foreign Minister Tien Hung-mao (田弘茂) expressed the nation's resolve to attend the leaders' meeting despite earlier remarks made by Lin and government spokesman Su Cheng-ping (蘇正平) that the nation did not rule out the possibility of missing the event.

Taiwan was in the end blocked from attending the leaders' meeting after China vetoed Chen's proposed candidate, former vice president Li Yuan-zu (李元簇).

In 2001, following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in the US soil, the APEC leaders' meeting released its first Counter-Terrorism Statement.

The next year, president Chen's decision to appoint Academia Sinica President Lee Yuan-tseh (李遠哲) as his special envoy to the 2002 APEC in Los Cabos, Mexico received domestic and international acclaim, including from Beijing and the US.

Commenting on expected obstructive gimmicks by China before his departure for the meeting, Lee told the public that he "would not quail like a little lamb in the face of a big lion." Lee, who was seated next to US President George W. Bush during the leaders' meeting, made a historic official contact with the leader of the nation's most pivotal international ally.

The Nobel laureate in chemistry was also invited to deliver a speech at a CEO summit that formed part of the APEC meetings. The address marked the first time that a Taiwanese envoy had been invited to deliver a keynote speech at any APEC leaders' summit.

Amid Chen's freshly declared "one country on each side of the Taiwan Strait" theory, Chinese President Jiang Zemin (江澤民), who was to hand over his Communist party posts later the year, flatly declined Lee's invitation to visit Taiwan, citing political related to the "one China" principle.

Following the Bali bombings, APEC delivered its second Counter-Terrorism Statement and adopted the Secure Trade in the APEC Region (STAR) Initiative.

The 2003 APEC meeting opened in Bangkok, Thailand amid the shadow of SARS outbreaks and terrorist attacks. Lee again represented Chen at the leaders' meeting. For the first time, the president's APEC special envoy met the new Chinese leader, Hu Jintao (胡錦濤).

With the nation's presidential election looming, Beijing refused to interact with Lee and the Chen administration for fear of boosting its legitimacy.

Because of Beijing's concerns, Lee was banned from delivering a speech at the CEO conference and the host nation strayed from past practice and altered the seating arrangement, deliberately separating Lee from Bush.

The Thai daily the Nation, also was the target of robust protests by Beijing because it ran Taiwan's national flag next to that of China on its front page.

Counter-terrorism was acknowledged as a complementary mission to APEC's Bogor Goals during the leaders' meeting. Economic leaders also agreed to further protect human security and the organization adopted an action plan on SARS and the Health Security Initiative.