Someone spoke out of turn this week and once again the Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) administration found itself on the defensive, this time having to deny it intends to apply to re-enter the U.N. under the name “Taiwan.”
No sooner had the denials been voiced on Wednesday than members from the deep-green camp began accusing Tsai’s Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) of being “no better” than, or simply a new iteration of, the Kuomintang (KMT). Both the KMT and Tsai’s administration have chosen to seek constructive and meaningful participation at U.N. agencies, usually under a less-than-ideal designation, rather than aim for full membership under the name Taiwan. President Tsai’s reason for doing so is to avoid rocking the boat of the always tenuous cross-Strait relations and causing surprise, if not consternation, in Washington, D.C., and other capitals.
It’s a tough pill to swallow, and Taiwan’s inability to join global organizations as a full member under a name that does it justice is a constant reminder of the injustice that has long characterized Taiwan’s peculiar situation, but that’s a pill that its people still have to swallow — not because Taiwan doesn’t deserve full membership (it does), but because the circumstances still do not favor a change in tactics and strategies.
For the time being, Taiwan’s civil society must continue to agitate overseas in favor of Taiwan joining the U.N. as a full and equal member. Such efforts are laudable, and they should continue. In fact, a more sustained and coordinated campaign involving activists and NGOs worldwide should be envisioned.
However, now isn’t the time for the government, or officials back at DPP headquarters, to add to an already hugely complex set of challenges by reinvigorating efforts that, while certainly symbolic, will also certainly fail. What, we should ask, would Taiwan gain, besides publicity, from the humiliation of being told by U.N. members that it is not welcome to join the party? How would an act that is certain to anger Beijing and give it the ammunition it needs to depict, once again, Taiwan as a “trouble maker,” help Taiwan improve its chances of survival as a free, liberal-democratic nation? In other words, besides the satisfaction of having made a point, how would defeat help Taiwan get closer to what it wants?
Given recent developments in China and Hong Kong, and the good publicity that key events such as the Sunflower Movement and the Jan. 16 general elections have generated for Taiwan, the international arena is undoubtedly more favorable to Taiwan than it has been in several years. Opportunities have opened for Taiwan to engage the international community and strengthen its participation at many levels globally. But this requires a careful balancing act and, above all, patience. Taiwan cannot — should not — let impatience guide its policies, for to do so will likely scare off many of the partners who are now willing to work with it, and drain out the international goodwill that has been building up.
Difficult as this might be to swallow, Taiwan must continue along the road of small gains and consolidation. It must focus on the end goal without giving in to the temptation of trying to leapfrog the many fences that have been erected in its path. It must keep its eyes on the horizon and have a clear strategy in mind, while ensuring that every tactical decision that it makes contributes to, rather than undermines, Taiwan getting closer to its strategic objectives.
Both those who would want Taiwan to apply to re-join the U.N. now under the name “Taiwan” and the Tsai administration’s more careful approach have the same ultimate goal in mind. Except one is thinking tactically and the other one strategically.
Yes, pragmatism often sucks, especially when the requirement to act in such a matter is foisted upon a nation that does occupy the moral high ground. Taiwan’s inability to join the U.N. under a proper name and as a full member is preposterous. But those are that cards that history has dealt it, and it must use them wisely.
Edited by: Edward White