Last week’s vote at the UN General Assembly to make Palestine a “non-member observer state” was a rare bit of good news from a region that often provides more than its share of misery. Besides breathing new life into the possibility of a two-state solution, the decision could also create a precedent for another seemingly intractable conflict of equal duration, that of Taiwan’s status vis-a-vis China.
Palestine’s journey from “non-member observer entity” to “non-member observer state” was not easy, nor was it uncontroversial. Furthermore, this new status, which is now equal to that of the Vatican, does not resolve a number of substantive issues, such as Israeli settlements or Hamas’ refusal to recognize Israel’s right to exist.
Nevertheless, the development shows that even with staunch opposition within the UN system — including from the US, a permanent Security Council member, and Israel — weaker polities can make progress toward having their voices heard at the international level.
The question, then, is if Palestine can score such a victory, why can’t Taiwan? Tempting though it might be to draw parallels, one should approach the question with the knowledge that there is no such thing as a perfect analogy. The conflict pitting Palestine against Israel does have an indisputable David-versus-Goliath element reminiscent of that between Taiwan and China. In addition to the asymmetry of power between the opponents, the stronger entity also tends to rely on historical (and in Israel’s case, religious) “right” to claim parts or the entirety of another people’s territory.
That said, there are also substantial differences, including the decision by Taiwanese not to resort to force or terrorism against the stronger opponent, as well as the tremendous influence that China has over UN members — something that cannot be said of Israel, with its much smaller economy. More significantly, while some Israeli politicians like former prime minister Ehud Olmert, who is angling for a comeback in next year’s election, have stated their support for Palestine’s new status at the UN and a two-state solution, the latter outcome is exactly what Beijing does not want to see.
Part of the reason why 138 UN members voted in favor of granting Palestine status as a non-member observer state is the realization that anything short of a two-state solution will only yield one thing: more violence, which threatens not only the belligerents themselves, but stability within the entire region, while having the side effect of providing a “rationale” for global terrorism.
In that respect, Taiwan’s situation is more similar to that of Palestine than it might appear. Despite the rapprochement that has occurred between Taipei and Beijing since the election of President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) in 2008, the chasm that exists between the peoples on both sides of the Taiwan Strait remains as wide as ever, if not more so as China becomes more nationalistic and its leadership more paranoid. Growing trade and investment figures across the Taiwan Strait notwithstanding, the fact remains that the political conflict is far from resolved.
Absence of war does not mean absence of conflict, and the closer Taiwan gets to when Beijing starts applying pressure to enter negotiations on Taiwan’s status, the more evident the tectonic pressures of identity will become. Unless we experience a sudden and unlikely shift in decades-old trends in Taiwanese self-identification, those tensions will remain and will become more serious. As such, barring an invasion by China, peaceful unification will remain a very distant possibility.
Finding alternative ways to avoid armed conflict and to address the resulting tensions will not only be the responsibility of Taiwanese and Chinese themselves, but that of the international community as well. What better forum than the UN to seek out such solutions?
The People’s Republic of China (PRC) has over the past few months continued to escalate its hegemonic rhetoric and increase its incursions into Taiwan’s air defense identification zone. The US, in turn, has finally realized how its “strategic ambiguity” is increasingly wearing thin. Similarly, any hopes the US had that the PRC would be a responsible stakeholder and economic player have diminished, if not been abandoned. Taiwan, of course, remains as the same de facto independent, democratic nation that the PRC covets. As a result, the US needs to reconsider not only the amount, but also the type of arms
Taking advantage of my Taipei Times editors’ forbearance, I thought I would go with a change of pace by offering a few observations on an interesting nature topic, the many varieties of snakes in Taiwan. I will be drawing on my experiences living in Taiwan five times, from my teenage years in Kaohsiung back in the early sixties, to my last assignment as American Institute in Taiwan Director in 2006-9. Taiwan, with its semitropical climate, is a perfect setting for serpents. Indeed, one might say serpents are an integral part of the island’s ecosystem. Taiwan is warm, humid, with lots of
China constantly seeks out ways to complain about perceived slights and provocations as pretexts for its own aggressive behavior. It is both victimization paranoia and a form of information warfare that keeps the West on the defensive. True to form, China objected even to the innocuous reference to Taiwan at April 16’s summit meeting between US President Joe Biden and Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga. Neither leader’s prepared remarks even mentioned Taiwan, out of deference to the Japanese side. Biden’s opening statement was modest: “Prime Minister Suga and I affirmed our ironclad support for US-Japanese alliance and for our shared security.
There is no ambiguity when it comes to war. Ambiguity begs for certainty and a lack thereof has historically led to war. History is full of examples: Europe’s and the US’ ambiguity as to how they would respond to Hitler’s growing territorial expansion in Europe was certainly a contributing factor to World War II. In the same vein, US ambiguity toward Japan’s expansionist militarism in the 1930s clearly led to the Pearl Harbor attacks that started the war in Asia in 1941. Ambiguity in a world with leaders like Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平) will inevitably