Our moral nakedness
For 14 years now, Taiwan has been trying to fight international alienation and has supplicated at the gates of the United Nations, which rejects it every time with routine nonchalance.
This is a story about a country that (nearly) everyone recognizes de facto and whose existence (again, nearly) everyone denies de jure; a country that is battling a cynical world controlled by a regime of international hypocrisy, where Realpolitik defeats the values of justice and morality.
This country - most people know it as Taiwan, while the Republic of China (ROC) is its official name - has a small request: to join the family of nations. For 14 years now, it has been trying to fight international alienation and has been supplicating at the gates of the United Nations, which rejects it every time with routine nonchalance. The president of Taiwan, Chen Shui-bian, is fed up. With a flaming torch in hand, he just finished an 11-day relay race around the island. The idea: to promote a referendum to bring the country into the UN, under the name Taiwan. The background: the civil war of 1949, when Chiang Kai-shek's Nationalists were defeated by Mao Tse-tung's Reds, in the wake of which two Chinese republics were born - Mao's People's Republic and the Nationalist ROC in Taiwan, where the defeated Chiang Kai-shek had retreated. After the war, most countries recognized Taiwan as the legal government of all of China. However, in October 1971, the UN passed a resolution ejecting Chiang's representatives from the organization. The Chinese seat was transferred from Taipei to Beijing, which for most other countries became "the real China." Taiwan, which since then has undergone an impressive process of democratization and is now considered "the freest country in Asia," remains outside.
President Chen's initiative divests itself of Chiang Kai-shek's legacy and the pretensions of representing China, and rests on the dramatic development of national identity in Taiwan. If a decade ago more than 70 percent of the island's inhabitants defined themselves as "Chinese" and only 20 percent as "Taiwanese," current opinion polls show that now about 70 percent define themselves as "Taiwanese," and only 13 percent as "Chinese."
For Beijing, Chen's initiative is a step toward a declaration of independence by what it considers a "rebel province." In other words, a casus belli that has everyone trembling. The UN secretary general, who received Chen's official request to join, has not even bothered to send it for discussion in the Security Council, as is required. He preferred to return it to the sender. Europe, for its part, has informed Chen that his initiative is "not helpful" and is "liable to undermine stability." The administration of United States President George W. Bush, which whole-heartedly praises liberty and democracy, has declared the initiative a "mistake" and has contributed a typical "diplomatic pearl" to the discussion: "Taiwan cannot join the United Nations, as at the moment it is not a state in the international community."
And Israel? It has no choice but to go with the flow, as they say in Jerusalem. At least this is what Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni did during her visit to Beijing last week, when she praised the "shared values" of China and Israel. Some in Taipei wondered exactly what the minister was referring to - values like democracy, human rights and freedom of speech? The insult to the Taiwanese is particularly harsh in light of their identification with Israel: two small and effervescent "real democracies" engaged in their own security-existential troubles, exposed to threats from a huge external enemy and dependent on American protection and aid. Some call Taiwan "the Israel of the Pacific" and "the David of the Far East."
Chen is not naive. He knows his initiative will fail. He knows the "regional Goliath" is also a "global Goliath" and that "might makes right" turns the wheels of international diplomacy. His role boils down to showing the world its moral nakedness.