Beyond the "Taiwan Paradox": Expanding Taiwan’s International Participation

by on Tuesday, 12 March 2013 Comments

Taiwan is one of the world's most dynamic economies and a consolidated democracy. Even though Taipei has economic and cultural offices in 60 countries, memberships in 32 IGOs (including the WTO, APEC and ADB) and another 22 quasi-memberships, the Republic of China (ROC) has diplomatic relations with only twenty-three states and is often prevented from accessing international bodies. This situation of diplomatic marginalization of a success story can be described as "Taiwan paradox", and is due to the People's Republic of China's (PRC) curtailing of Taiwan's possibilities of becoming a normal member of the international community. International participation is vital for Taiwan's security and economic competitiveness. Ranging from realism to constructivism, there are diverse ways in which Taipei can overcome the "Taiwan paradox".

1) Leveraging on Taiwan's strategic relevance: Taiwan's continued geopolitical separation from the Chinese mainland represents a vital strategic value for U.S. interests in the western Pacific. In addition, all states that rely upon either Asian sea-lanes or continued U.S. presence in support of strategic order (thus avoiding Chinese regional hegemony) have important interests at stake in the future of Taiwan, even if some do not admit it. If Taiwan were to become part of the PRC, Beijing's navy would no longer be hemmed in. As a matter of fact, it would be able to extend its reach to the "second island chain" - Guam, the Marianas and some other small islands in the central Pacific - not exactly a "Great Wall". Thus, Taiwan's economic integration with / dependence from the Mainland is a necessary but not sufficient condition for the absorption of the island by the PRC. The Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement (ECFA) with the Mainland is not a geopolitical event horizon, provided that Taiwan shows commitment to national defense and willingness to reaffirm its statehood. The ROC government should constantly remind its interlocutors of the critical strategic importance of Taiwan in order to garner diplomatic support and sympathy.

2) Improving Taiwan's political status through economic engagement: There is a synergic relationship between Taiwan's global economic significance and international stand. Taiwan is ideally positioned to become a regional center and a global node for trade, commerce and finance. Especially after the inking of ECFA. Thus, it would make a positive difference if the Taiwanese government could attract more international businesses to the island. Notably, that requires further economic liberalization and reform. According to Paul Wolfowitz, convincing one major international corporation to make Taiwan the base for its regional operations would perhaps be worth more than attaining new membership and participation in international organizations. Also, economic contacts with other countries strengthen Taipei's international visibility and political status. Therefore, Taipei should pursue closer economic relations / integration with the United States, Japan, the European Union, Singapore and other ASEAN countries, and Pacific countries. Economy put Taiwan on the map. Being wired to the global economy is the best way to keep Taiwan there.

3) Avoiding "deal with the devil" shortcuts: With the consolidation of the cross-Strait "diplomatic truce" the PRC is showing some willingness to accord Taiwan specks of international space. Therefore, as in Taipei's quest for observer status in the WHO's World Health Assembly (WHA), Taiwan can talk directly to the Mainland in bilateral consultations behind closed doors and work a solution out. However, this modus operandi sets dangerous precedents for Taiwan's participation in international organizations, especially for organizations anchored in the UN framework. Given that China's goodwill is contingent on the quality of cross-Strait relations, the issue of Taiwan's accession to international organizations should not be confined into an internal cross-Strait framework. On the contrary, Taiwan should always try to internationalize its bids for participation and solicit the involvement (and support) of the international community, particularly of major powers. This option, of course, does not exclude negotiations with Beijing. In essence, for Taipei is more beneficial to present Taiwan's inclusion in international organizations as a highly sensitive international issue rather than relegating it to the cross-Strait dimension.

4) "As-if participation": There is a further strategy available to Taiwan to seek greater engagement with international organizations, including especially those of the impervious U.N. system. Taipei should not necessarily pursue membership or participation, but what Jacques deLisle labels "as-if participation." Taiwan should commit "unilaterally but publicly and solemnly to acting as if it is (or as if it were) a member of an international organization or regime, pledging to live up to all relevant standards." A high level of compliance with the obligations entailed in membership can strengthen Taiwan's case for inclusion in institutions and regimes from which it has been kept out. Borrowing the words of Jacques deLisle again: "The more Taiwan can walk and talk and act like a member of a regime that is open primarily or exclusively to states, the more hope it has of securing the benefits of state (or nearly state-like) status in the international system."

5) "Letting Taiwan go to the world, letting the world see Taiwan": Continuing and diversifying Taiwan's assistance projects in developing countries shows Taipei's commitment to the global community. Through its development aid, Taiwan reaches out to the world, enhances its international visibility and prestige, and legitimizes its aspirations to be a full-fledged international actor. However, Taipei should also intelligently play the cultural card in order to "let Taiwan go to the world, and let the world see Taiwan." Taiwan needs to pool its resources to create a joint strike capability in soft power. To such aim, the government should institute a Ministry of Soft Power that would combine and multiply the national initiatives in cultural relations, public diplomacy, and other forms of attractive power. Furthering Taiwan's image as an "island of creativity and pluralism" is a very effective way to heed Benoit Vermander's exhortation that while Taiwan strives to become a "normal (ordinary) member", it can transform itself into an "outstanding (extraordinary) member" of the international community.

Paolo Sarpi, the greatest Venetian political thinker, argued that sovereignty (and statehood) should not be claimed, but professed as a creed. Taiwan can successfully participate in the international community only if it believes in itself. To believe in itself, Taiwan should first of all see itself as a pluralistic society rather than a politically divided community. Finally, Taiwan should realize that time is not working against its international participation. In the Asia-Pacific Century, the possibilities are not "to the strong alone;" they are "to the vigilant, the active, the brave."

This speech was first presented at the "Taiwan 3.0 Symposium" (TAIWAN 3.0:我心目中總統候選人的條件) on March 8th, 2013 in Taipei
Image source: WebProNews

 

Fabrizio Bozzato (杜允士)

Fabrizio Bozzato, born in 1973 in the Veneto Region (Italy), is a political analyst with a double expertise in Pacific Studies and China-Holy See relations. He holds an M.A. in International Relations (University of Tasmania, Australia) and a Master in Political Science (Milan State University, Italy). He also attained a Grad. Dip. in International Politics with high distinction (University of Tasmania, Australia). He has worked with the Centre for International and Regional Affairs at the University of Fiji (Fiji Islands) and is currently living in Taiwan, where he is an Associate Researcher at the Institute. Fabrizio is presently pursuing a PhD in International Affairs and Strategic Studies at Tamkang University. He believes that "the currents of the global ocean are shifting from the Atlantic to the Pacific Rim, and especially Asia." [Langi Kavaliku].

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