ASIA: by Ian H. McDougallNews Weekly
Taiwan's modified UN bid prospects rated as 'good'
, November 14, 2009
Since 1993, Taiwan's United Nations entry bid has rolled around as regularly as Chinese New Year; but this year, it's different.
Taiwan will not apply for full UN membership but instead will aim for membership of two UN specialised agencies. And official sources rate Taiwan's chances this year as "good", following on from the island-nation's success in gaining observer status at the World Health Organisation (WHO), a similar UN specialised agency.
Taiwan lost the China seat at the UN in 1971, when the General Assembly expelled the Republic of China - Taiwan's official name - and instead seated the communist People's Republic of China as the representative of all China...
The self-governing island defied predictions that it would soon be overrun by communist China following its expulsion from the UN. Taipei is the capital of the Republic of China, established in 1949 following the defeat of Chiang Kai-shek's forces in the battle for mainland China.
Taiwan survived the even bigger shock of losing diplomatic recognition by the United States when President Jimmy Carter shifted recognition to Beijing.
Chiang's Kuomintang (KMT) or Nationalist Party government held power uninterrupted until 2000, when the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), led by Chen Shui-bian, achieved the first peaceful transfer of power in China's history.
Democracy is always messy but rarely more so than in Taiwan. Policies and personnel change at a bewildering rate. Three months ago, southern Taiwan was struck by a major typhoon and President Ma Ying-jeou's popularity was in the cellar after he took official advice not to accept offers of foreign aid to clear up after the resulting floods.
Entire villages were buried in mudslides and casualties ran into the hundreds. Ma backtracked, accepting assistance from the US and mainland China. Typhoons are an annual event in Taiwan but only occasionally cause major loss of life.
President Ma has been making the best of a poor hand, following the worst downturn the island has seen in a generation. Unemployment is at 6 per cent, a record for Taiwan. While the unemployment rate sounds moderate, the downturn is putting social stress on the island, where most support in hard times comes from family members.
Ma is using his reputation as Mr Clean to draw a line between him and Chen's DPP. Ma's career was written off years ago when he resigned as justice minister over corruption in a previous KMT government, but he won election as mayor of Taipei when the KMT was desperate to find a candidate untainted by the KMT's "black gold" reputation. The rest, as they say, is history.
Ma has now also taken over as KMT chairman. Many KMT politicians have complained that Ma is "uncooperative", meaning he won't sponsor projects that allow them to pay off the debts they incurred during recent elections. These debts are mostly owed to loan sharks and other gangsters, who don't care how the money is paid off, as long as they get their investment back.
Ma's reputation as Mr Clean and his intention to clean up the KMT have made him unpopular within the party. Elections cost a lot of money in Taiwan, and politicians' salaries, while generous, don't cover the never-ending demands for "red envelopes" for everything from supporters' weddings to the Chinese New Year hand-outs that their constituents expect.
In contrast to the DPP's policy of independence for Taiwan, Ma has adopted a more conciliatory approach. The DPP's committment to independence for Taiwan led to tensions with Beijing, which responded with threats of military action in the event that Chen overstepped the mark.
Chen did enough to keep his supporters happy without pushing Beijing too far. Now Chen is in detention following his conviction on corruption charges.
Meanwhile, Taiwan's UN bid this year will be restricted to gaining membership of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and the International Civil Aviation Organisation.
Taiwan is mobilising its 23 diplomatic allies for this scaled-down and more pragmatic campaign, and official sources rate its chances of success as good. In addition, Taiwan may soon be allowed by Beijing to upgrade its WHO status to full membership.Effective veto
Beijing exercises an effective veto over Taiwan's UN membership aspirations. Membership of these specialised UN agencies does not involve recognition of Taiwan as a sovereign state.
Taipei and Beijing are also in the process of hammering out a free trade agreement, which would allow Taiwan access to the emerging ASEAN plus a China free trade zone. Otherwise, Taiwan may be shut out of its major markets.
Toss in controversy with Washington over allowing imports of US beef, suspected by many Taiwanese of harbouring mad cow disease, and you have a recipe for a lively couple of months in Taipei.