September 23, 2011

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Taiwan: Seeking a Place at the Table of the World Community

While the General Assembly on Friday 23rd September 2011 was presented with the Palestinian request to admit Palestine as a full member at the United Nations, a few blocks away at the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office, NY, a group of scholars, State leaders and Permanent Representatives, and interested civil society members gathered to listen to Mr. Johnson Toribiong, President of Palau, set out his ideas about why Taiwan should have a more formal voice at the United Nations and a more active role within various components of the United Nations System. Mr. Toribiong argued that Taiwan has a right for self-determination given its economic power, its strategic geographical position which facilitates international civil aviation to 1.50 million flights every year, and other significant characteristics. He endorsed the current position and the flexible, pragmatic and constructive approach of the President of the Republic of China (Taiwan), Mr. MaYing-jeou, of developing a viable diplomacy, and engaging in meaningful participation in the United Nations System. Mr. Andrew Kao, the Ambassador of Taiwan to the United States introduced the seminar by highlighting Taiwan’s interest in becoming an observer at the UNFCCC and ICAO, and discussing its current appreciation of its participation in the World Health Assembly of the WHO, as well as its commitment towards – and its involvement in – supporting achievement of the Millennium Development Goals.

Panelists Ambassador Kao and Ambassador Collin Beck (Permanent Representative of the Solomon Islands) elaborated further on some of the key points of the desire of the Republic of China (Taiwan) to engage more widely with these specialized agencies of the UN. Dr. Alistair Edgar, Executive Director of ACUNS, noted that the general topic was a very political one and reiterated that ACUNS is a non-political and non-advocacy association. He provided a scholarly and non-partisan presentation, highlighting what he described as the “three UNs” (political, professional/permanent staff, and ideas); the co-existence of idealism and realism within the UN, with the veto power of the five UN members both illustrating the latter and giving bounded space for constructive and more idealistic activities; and presented historical examples suggesting the feasibility of large-scale and unexpected change occurring in international affairs. He noted that while Taiwan does not have a place at the political functioning of the United Nations, it has been seeking to participate in the professional organization (bureaucracy) of the United Nations, which quietly does admirable work for the development of the people all around the world in many difficult places and equally difficult circumstances. He emphasized that the approach that Palestinian President Abbas is taking, could not offer any useful example or lesson for Taiwan as their circumstances are entirely different and incomparable.

Ambassador Beck observed how over several years, the deliberative procedures and processed of United Nations committees had changed, losing what had been a prior space for open debate. He saw this as a “loss of ground,” with some detrimental consequences in the decision making process. He also raised some questions about the interpretation of the Resolution which removed Taiwan from its previous status at the United Nations in 1971.

Dr. Basilio Monteiro, Assistant Professor, St. John’s University, Queen’s, New York

ACUNS & TECONY have established a new quarterly co-sponsored seminar series on contemporary global governance issues, to be held at TECONY-NY office.