Words and Meanings in International Politics

December 21, 1995

An article in Wednesday's paper described the US State Department's report concerning Taiwan's application to join the UN. If I understand the description correctly, it says that Beijing could block Taiwan's from even applying for membership in the UN because the PRC is a member of the National Security Council, which must unanimously recommend new applications. The State Department also pointed out that applicants must be states and that Taiwan does not claim to be a separate state. Finally, the State Department said it does not support Taiwan's bid because it believes that US support would jeopardize peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait.

The real story seems to lie beneath the surface. First why would the State Department worry about an escalation of problems in the Taiwan Strait? Maybe because they believe an escalation would harm American business in the PRC and the ROC. But I think the main reason is that it would force the US to make some tough public decisions about the enforcement of the Taiwan Relations Act, which on its face guarantees Taiwan's survival in the event of an unprovoked, hostile attack. The US has been able to avoid such decisions for 17 years and there is no reason to think that it would want to deal with the issue now. Second, why would Taiwan want to apply for membership in the UN without first dealing with Beijing? Unless Taiwan first obtains permission from the PRC and, second, declares itself a state, UN membership will be impossible. Nobody I know expects either of these to happen in the near future. So membership seems to be out of the question. I think that the real reason for Taiwan's trying (or claiming to try) to join the UN is to raise its profile. In a world that is sympathetic to democracy and economic development, this can benefit Taiwan in its international relations (although we cannot be certain that the benefit is worth the cost).

Both Taiwan's UN bid and the alleged State Department opposition to it seem to be smokescreens to conceal moves in the more subtle chess game of geo-political diplomacy.

Copyright © 1996 by James Patrick Gunning

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