April 6th 2002

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COVER STORY: Stem cell research: the way forward

The facts behind the 'people overboard' affair

Opinion: The banks' power over small business

STRAWS: Selective amnesia / Slow boat to China / Tower of Babel

TRADE: Sugar price collapse threatens future of canegrowers

MEDIA: Debating points

New Zealand faces winter of discontent

Manufacturing: an endangered species (letter)

Afghan specialities (letter)

The great water debate: facts and myths

COMMENT: Healthy disinterest no bad thing

UNITED STATES: Behind Washington's self-serving free trade rhetoric

Switzerland, Taiwan seek UN membership

HISTORY: Demons and Democrats: the story of the Labor Split

Books: JOHN GORTON: He Did It His Way, by Ian Hancock

MEDIA: Stem cells: what debate?

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Switzerland, Taiwan seek UN membership

by Jeffry Babb

News Weekly, April 6, 2002

The two latest applicants for membership of the United Nations are Switzerland and Taiwan. Switzerland is likely to get in. Taiwan is not.

In the usual Swiss way, whether Switzerland actually applies for UN membership depends on the result of a national referendum. To pass, the proposition must be passed by a majority of voters in a majority of cantons, the Swiss version of our states.

If this sounds familiar, it is no accident, as Australia's referendum system was modeled by Australia's founding fathers on Switzerland's referendum system. The vote will be very close and hangs on about 350 voters in one canton.

The ruling People's Party makes Maggie Thatcher look like a model of generosity. The government in Bern has said Swiss Foreign Ministry will get no more money, so they have to decide which overseas missions they will close down to offset the cost of the mission to the UN.

Beijing veto

Taiwan is going to apply for readmission to the UN for the umpteenth time. The Republic of China - Taiwan's official name - left in a huff after the UN admitted the People's Republic of China several decades ago. The only way Taiwan can get in is if the PRC votes for their admission, as the PRC is on the Security Council and has a veto. In other words, the ROC will rejoin the UN only if the PRC lets them. At least for the moment, this is unlikely.

The two bids illustrate much about their respective nations. The Swiss have said they will campaign to abolish the Security Council's veto powers. The Security Council must approve Switzerland's application. One of the main reasons the Swiss want to join the UN is so Geneva can retain its role as a HQ for various UN agencies, under threat from Bonn.

Bonn is no longer capital of West Germany and has a lot of empty office space the German government would like to fill with international agencies, now that the united Germany has its capital in Berlin.

Switzerland's traditional neutral stance is increasingly hard to maintain surrounded by the European Union, as its military doctrine of self reliance and ability to mobilize almost the entire male population in times of threat, giving it an army that is bigger than Germany - over 300,000 men - when fully mobilised. Swiss men keep their rifles at home. What would happen if every Australian male citizen had a rifle at home, from Cabramatta to Canberra?

Switzerland is the original multicultural nation. Three main languages - German, French and Italian - are spoken in different parts of Switzerland, along with a Romance dialect, and yet civil war in Switzerland is unimaginable.

Taiwan is demonstrating yet again its almost infinite capacity for self-delusion under the guidance of President Chen Shui-bian's Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), with former President Lee Teng-hui as the eminence grise. Taiwan has recently joined the World Trade Organisation, with Beijing's approval.

Taiwan will get something out of WTO membership, while the PRC is destined for economic chaos that could cause the collapse of the Communist dynasty.

Taiwan will only join the UN if Beijing gives permission. Joining the WTO does not make UN admission inevitable, whatever Chen and his henchmen say. Taiwan so far has been unable even to get observer status at the World Health Organisation. No reason exists to keep Taiwan out of the WHO, as it would benefit both the WHO and Taiwan.

If Taiwan gains WHO or UN membership, it will be a major breakthrough for world peace. China will not allow Taiwan UN or WHO membership, because it means the acceptance of two Chinas, or one China and one Taiwan, by Beijing.

This would at least be an end to the Chinese civil war, which raged for most of the last century, and peace across the Taiwan Strait would break out almost immediately. However, with riots in China by disgruntled workers growing by the day and very sensitive leadership changeover taking place in Beijing, this is most unlikely in the short term.

Taiwan and Switzerland have a lot in common. The Swiss built fortifications on Taiwan's "front line" islands - which are within rowing distance of China - because they have centuries of experience building fortifications in mountainous regions.

The Swiss are active in Taipei, with the usual "unofficial embassy" model used by Australia. Taiwan's sole diplomatic tie of any significance is with the Vatican, but for the Vatican, the main game is in China, which the Church has described as "the biggest missionary opportunity since the conversion of South America."

All Taiwan's other "official links" are with small, poor nations in the Caribbean, the Pacific Ocean and in Africa. Taipei and Beijing play a diplomatic game trying to steal these insignificant and impoverished microstates from each other, by offering bigger amounts of "development aid".

So it is probable that it will be "I love NY" for the Swiss and Taiwan will remain in its diplomatic ghetto for a long time yet.

  • Jeff Babb

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