OP-ED: ‘One China’ or Air Safety?

Why you need to know

Taiwan’s allies, formal and tacit, must come forward as they did with the WHA and support Taiwan’s effort to participate at ICAO, no matter how Beijing reacts.

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Once again this week Beijing has demonstrated it would rather play politics than be a responsible stakeholder, this time by threatening to derail Taiwan’s efforts to participate at the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) triennial assembly later this year because Taipei has refused to acknowledge the “one China” principle.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs applied earlier this year for Taiwan to be allowed to participate in the assembly, which will be held at ICAO’s headquarters in Montreal from Sept. 27-Oct. 7. Due to its status, Taiwan is not a recognized member of ICAO. Several countries have lobbied on Taiwan’s behalf for it to be given at least observer status.

Every year, the Taipei Flight Information Region (FIR) handles 1.5 million flights that carry 58 million passengers.

But Beijing doesn’t seem to care about the safety of those 58 million passengers, many of whom are not Taiwanese or Chinese citizens. Taiwan Affairs Office (TAO) spokesman Ma Xiaoguang (馬曉光) told reporters this week that arrangements for Taiwan’s participation should be made under the ambit of cross-Strait talks and with respect to the “one China” principle and the “political basis” of the so-called 1992 consensus.

Ma blamed the Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) administration for refusing to acknowledge the “1992 consensus,” which compelled Beijing to suspend some, but not all, of the cross-Strait dialogue mechanisms. Since Tsai’s election on Jan. 16, many analysts have worried that China could attempt to shoot down Taiwan’s attempt to participate at various international organizations, including ICAO and Interpol. Despite signs of interference by Beijing, Taiwan made a successful bid to participate at the World Health Assembly in Geneva earlier this year, thanks in part to intervention by Western allies, including the U.S., Canada, France and the U.K.

On Aug. 1, 2015, Fang Liu (柳芳) of China began a three-year term as ICAO Secretary General. Prior to joining ICAO, where she served in a number of positions before becoming head of the organization, Liu, an air safety expert, was at the General Administration of Civil Aviation of China (CAAC). A number of Taiwanese analysts have expressed fears that Fang’s appointment could increase China’s ability to influence ICAO’s decisions regarding Taiwan’s participation, including the CO2 Emission Reduction Action Plan under which Taiwan could be treated as a province of China, with a potentially disastrous effect on Taiwan’s airline industry.

The notion that regional and international air safety should be held hostage by China’s political shenanigans and insistence on symbols that have no traction among Taiwan’s 23 million people is something that the international community needs to seriously think about. This isn’t just about air safety but also disease control, global warming, human trafficking, nuclear proliferation and many other issues that threaten not just Taiwan, not just China, but the entire planet.

It’s about time the international community started treating Taiwan as a full, sovereign member of the community of nations to ensure it can both benefit from, and contribute to, the many mechanisms that contribute to our safety and well-being. The idea that Taiwan should seek “permission” from China, a country that has shown every inclination to ignore international law when doing so serves its objectives, is preposterous. Taiwan’s allies, formal and tacit, must come forward as they did with the WHA and support Taiwan’s effort to participate at ICAO.

Beijing can continue to insist on the stillborn “one China” all it wants, but such politics should never come at the expense of global safety. As long as Taiwan meets certain standards and shows itself willing to be a responsible participant in international forums, it should be allowed to join, regardless of Beijing’s childish fits.

First Editor: Olivia Yang
Second Editor: Edward White

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