China's Wife, Israel's Concubine

During the decades in which Israel waged an exhausting campaign for international recognition, it learned to suffice with the role of the concubine, hidden away in the closet. This is the way most of the world's countries behave today toward Taiwan.

TAIPEI - A man and a woman, a husband and wife, a separated couple - this is how Alexander Huang, Taiwan's former Mainland Affairs Council vice-chairman, analogizes the status quo that defines relations between China and Taiwan.

China is the husband who refuses to grant his wife - Taiwan - a divorce. The husband threatens to beat her with murderous blows if she dares to file for divorce. The divorce is de-jure independence; the separation is de-facto. The question is, how long will the husband agree to allow his wife to roam far and wide, lobbying to be released from his yoke? When will his patience run out, and when will he lead her - forcibly, of course - back to the conjugal bed?

It would seem that Taiwan's foreign minister, Mark Chen, is not satisfied with this description. He draws his world of analogies from a completely different place: The "husband" in his eyes is no less than Hitler. Thus, even the Holocaust can occur again, here (in East Asia) and now.

Does this attitude, which Chen expressed in an interview with Haaretz at his office in Taipei last week, stem from a general ignorance in Asia about the history of the Holocaust? From Chen's perspective, ignorance is what the international community - Israel included - has displayed in adopting a "One China" policy by recognizing Beijing as the legal government of China.

A bit of background: In the wake of the 1949 civil war and the defeat of the Chiang Kai-shek's Nationalists at the hands of Mao Zedong Communists, two Chinese republics were born: Mao's People's Republic of China, and the Nationalist's Republic of China established on Taiwan, where the defeated Chiang took refuge.

After the war, most of the world's countries recognized Taiwan as the legal government of all of China. But in October 1971, the United Nations approved Resolution 2758, which led to the expulsion of Chiang's representative from the organization. The Chinese seat on the Security Council was transferred from Taipei to Beijing.

Today, only 25 countries from Africa and Latin America recognize Taiwan as "the real China," and maintain official diplomatic relations. The rest transferred their loyalty from Taipei to Beijing. Statesmen call this "realpolitik." In other, less "laundered" words, one can speak about "an international regime of hypocrisy" in which the China-Taiwan conflict has become a clear example of the triumph of the motto: "Might is right."

Cosi Fan Tutte - everybody does it, and so does Israel, which according to Chen is making a grave error. In Israel's case, the affront is especially painful for Chen because of the shared fate he sees. Some even call Taiwan the "Israel of the Pacific Ocean" - both of the small countries are vibrant democracies that share common values, are preoccupied with existential-security problems, are exposed to the threat of a giant external enemy, and are dependent on American assistance and protection.

In regard to the Phalcon deal that was nixed by the U.S., Chen cannot but wonder how Israel - which itself experienced international isolation - could have endangered "the David of the Far East," and how it could have even considered contributing to the build-up of "the Chinese Goliath."

Like Moses who viewed the Promised Land from afar, Chen tells how he saw Israel from "the mountaintops of one of its neighbors," not able to enter and realize his dream because Israel would not allow him to come in.

Not that Chen is unable to meet with top Israel officials - he disclosed that he twice had breakfast meetings in the United States with Deputy Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. But such meetings cannot take place in Taiwan or in Israel. Taiwan's attempts to raise the level of relations have all been rejected in the name of the sanctity of "the agreed parameters" - no official visits, no formal diplomatic contacts, and no waving of the flags or display of the symbols of the two countries. "Pretend" relations.

An attempt to gauge the nature of relations between Israel and Taiwan encounters almost complete reticence in Israel. "The sensitivity requires this." And so does the power of China, to the point that sometimes even the very mention of the word "Taiwan" silences the relevant officials. They are only prepared to talk about "the impressive development of bilateral relations," the scope of trade ($1.1 billion and growing), new agreements in the fields of agriculture and science, and improvement in the area of tourism. Defense? Not a word.

In the past, foreign publications have reported that Israel sold military equipment to Taiwan, including patrol boats and missile boats. According to these foreign reports, Israel also helped Taiwan develop a nuclear capacity. Reliable sources in Taipei say that behind the heavy veil of secrecy, a utilitarian system of security relations also exists today.

During the decades in which Israel waged an exhausting campaign for international recognition, it learned to suffice with the role of the concubine. Her lovers hid her away, deep in the closet. This is the way most of the world's countries behave today toward Taiwan. For all its historic irony, Israel is also participating in this game. It has become a secret lover itself.