Taiwan in New Attempts to Break Out of Isolation
Trying to ease its international isolation, Taiwan has launched a new organization drawing together its handful of diplomatic allies and representatives from several other Pacific Rim nations.
The inauguration of the Democratic Pacific Union (DPU) comes as the island democracy initiates its 13th attempt to win a seat at the United Nations. All previous efforts were shot down by China and its allies, and Beijing has warned that the latest attempt was similarly "doomed to fail."
China's communist rulers regard Taiwan as a rebel province and energetically block its efforts to broaden diplomatic recognition. Only 26 nations, primarily developing countries in Africa, Latin America and the Pacific, have ties with Taipei.
Three years in the making, the DPU's launch brought together politicians -- the presidents of Taiwan, Costa Rica and Guatemala among them -- lawmakers, academics and non-governmental organization representatives from some of Taiwan's diplomatic allies as well as other countries including the United States, Japan, South Korea, Russia and Australia.
Addressing the gathering, Taiwanese President Chen Shui-bian called on the new body to help bring democracy to the 15 countries in Asia still governed by authoritarian regimes, including China itself.
China's "rise," he said, was not only economic but also had a military component that posed a threat to the entire region.
Despite the threat, Chen said he would prefer to see China transformed into a democracy than collapse, "because the international community could not afford the cost."
Vice-President Annette Lu, who was elected honorary DPU chairwoman, said in a speech the launch of the union, whose core principles are "democracy, peace and prosperity," was a "giant leap" for Taiwan's 23 million people.
The inauguration was timed to coincide with the 60th anniversary of Japan's surrender at the end of World War II.
Lu said that while Imperial Japan had invaded China and colonized Taiwan for five decades, today it was China which "threatens not just Taiwan but every corner of the Pacific Ocean with its aggressive expansion of military power."
"Taiwan has suffered its share of tragic historical absurdity."
The DPU aims to promote ties among the participating countries and will establish various fellowships and scholarships in Taiwan.
Lu said it would also set up a research center for oceanic exploration and sponsor an international conference on disaster prevention. Participants committed themselves to uphold "human rights, democracy, the rule of law, the freedom of the press and the independence of the judiciary."
The Taipei Times said in an editorial that while observers may wonder about the prospects for the DPU, it would provide Taiwan with greater international visibility, especially at a time when Asian nations were moving rapidly towards economic integration, a process that left Taiwan marginalized.
"In the face of obstruction from China, Taiwan should not be intimidated and thus confined," it said. "Rather, it should continue to seek a breakthrough by cooperating with non-governmental organizations that allow for transnational cooperation."
UN battle resumes
Taiwan is meanwhile gearing up for its 13th attempt to convince the member states of the U.N. that it deserves a seat at the world body.
Eleven of the island's diplomatic allies presented a proposal to Secretary-General Kofi Annan asking the General Assembly to take steps to allow Taiwan's people to be represented in the U.N. system.
China's Nationalist government fled to Taiwan in 1949 after losing a civil war against the communists. It continued to represent "China" at the U.N. until 1971, when the General Assembly voted to expel Taiwan and give the seat to mainland China.
Taiwan, which as a result is excluded from all U.N. agencies, would like a seat of its own. Foreign Minister Mark Chen said it had no intention of challenging China's seat.
"Taiwan's efforts to participate in the UN are not intended to challenge the rights of or seat of any U.N. member states," his ministry said in a statement, adding that it hoped Beijing would face the fact that China and Taiwan "have been ruled separately by different governments for more than half a century."
China remains adamant, however. Beijing foreign ministry spokesman Kong Quan said in a statement that "the bid violates the principle of the U.N. Charter, is unlikely to find any support, and is doomed to fail."
Although China has managed to block previous attempts since 1993 with ease, the Taiwanese ministry voiced hope that this time may be different, noting that "there have been some noteworthy developments this year."
These included the fact China had last March adopted a controversial law allowing for the use of force if necessary to prevent Taiwan from formally declaring independence.
Also, the U.N. celebrates its 60th anniversary this year, and Annan is promoting a package of far-reaching reforms aimed at enhancing "development, security and human rights for all."
"Excluding Taiwan from the U.N. is a form of discrimination against the people of Taiwan which deprives them of their fundamental rights to benefit from and contribute to the U.N.," the ministry charged.