P. S. Suryanarayana
The emphatic veto of the propositions that Taiwan seek re-entry into the
United Nations is a future-setting pointer towards rapprochement
and reunification with China.
The internationally recognised One-China principle, under which non-sovereign Taiwan belongs to the People’s Republic of China (PRC), does negate the legality of the March 22 referendum on the territory’s political future. Significantly, however, the outcome of the referendum — an emphatic veto of two overlapping propositions that Taiwan seek re-entry into the United Nations — is a future-setting pointer.
In reality, the message of the veto is that the residents of Taiwan want to retreat from confrontational politics with Beijing and begin moving towards rapprochement and reunification with China.
No less important is the fact that Taiwan’s efforts to re-enter the U.N. have been invariably rebuffed by the world body, since 1971 in general and in more recent years in particular. So Taiwan’s president-elect Ma Ying-jeou must recognise these crucial aspects and act in accordance with them, instead of harping on his agenda of seeking a wrongly-conceived “peace treaty” with Beijing, according to some diplomats and analysts in the Asia-Pacific region.
Mr. Ma’s notion of a “peace treaty” flies against the widely recognised One-China principle. The idea of such a treaty is, after all, designed to conceal the simple but profound fact that Taiwan is at best only a non-state actor with no attributes of sovereignty on the international stage.
Both the PRC and the larger international community have allowed Taiwan the farthest political latitude of being a functional economy as a member of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum, in the name and style of “Taipei, China.” Two factors are relevant to this particular situation. First, the leverage exercised by Taiwan among the APEC economies is strictly determined by its restricted position as a non-state actor under international law. Secondly, mainland China and Taiwan have, over some years, woven a network of booming economic links between themselves.
It is within such dos and don’ts for Taiwan that Mr. Ma of the Kuomintang (KMT), who triumphed over Frank Hsieh of the pro-‘independence’ Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) in the March 22 presidential poll that was held along with the referendum, should now act. Mr. Ma is set to succeed on May 20 the incumbent president, Chen Shui-bian of the DPP. Mr. Chen has often resorted to political brinkmanship in Taiwan’s engagement with the PRC, or more accurately in the absence of engagement with Beijing, during his eight years in power.
Since the founding of the PRC in 1949 and more so since 1971 when Taiwan was expelled from all U.N. forums, the leaders of the territory have not come to terms with its actual status as only a non-state actor. Until its expulsion from the world body in October 1971, Taiwan incongruously functioned as a veto-empowered permanent member of the U.N. Security Council, albeit under the protective wings of the United States.
The rapprochement between Washington and Beijing in the early 1970s, and the rapid rise of China as a global player, have ensured a permanent negation of what the larger international community, including the PRC, always saw as a travesty. John Garver, studying the Taiwan-U.S. nexus of the early period of the Cold War in Asia, has brought out how Taipei clung to its political “dogma” even as it faced imminent expulsion from the U.N.
New window of opportunity
But now, the Taiwanese leaders, cutting across party lines, have a new window of opportunity to come to terms with the reality that their territory rightfully belongs to the PRC under the One-China principle. A crucial new factor is that the Taiwanese electorate has vetoed any move to seek re-entry into the U.N., either under the ‘independence’-suggestive name of Taiwan, or under the name of so-called “Republic of China” that was in vogue in the world body until 1971.
The veto, based on the fact that the mandatory minimum number of voters did not participate in the referendum to validate it, is still a decisive veto as certified by the electoral authorities in Taipei. It is relevant that the voter participation in the parallel presidential poll was more than twice that in the referendum. So the vote-abstinence in the referendum was a matter of free choice designed to ensure the rejection of the propositions at stake.
For Mr. Ma, therefore, the political agenda should centre on this new reality of an emerging Taiwanese desire for rapprochement and reunification with the People’s Republic of China. In any case, he is familiar with the dynamics of Hong Kong, where the central government in Beijing is implementing the principle of “one country, two systems” under specific terms and a timeline. This principle has been envisioned in the Taiwan context as well.
Beijing, according to regional diplomats and analysts, can now be pleased that the worst-case scenario of a confrontationist Taiwan, as under Mr. Chen, may not define Mr. Ma’s term at the helm in Taipei. Mr. Ma’s stated policy of seeking a “peace treaty” with the PRC is, of course, wrongly conceived, given that Taiwan is a non-state actor under the One-China principle.
However, his priorities of seeking “economic normalisation” with Beijing and also a “common market,” covering Taiwan and the PRC, are in line with the territory’s acknowledged international status as a functional economy as different from a state player.