Friday, May 20, 2022

Taiwan’s international echo grows…

In recent months, the Republic of China (Taiwan) has experienced a notable improvement in its international visibility. Moreover, it has achieved this in geopolitical areas such as Europe, where its possibilities of projection had ostensibly diminished in recent years (only the Vatican recognizes it diplomatically). Today Taiwan has only 15 allies around the world.

The report adopted by the European Parliament on October 20 is a clear-cut catalyst for this new situation. Indeed, an overwhelming majority of MEPs came out in favor of strengthening ties with Taipei and, at the same time, disavowing Xi Jinping’s Taiwanese policy. The declaration comes in a context marked by Beijing’s increasing disagreements with some capitals (Vilnius, Prague, Stockholm…) and with active pronouncements from relevant groups such as the European People’s Party, the largest.

These days, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Joseph Wu, is making an unusual public trip to Europe at the same time that a powerful trade mission is trying to boost ties at this level. Something is changing.

What are the reasons for this shift? The first reason is Beijing’s own attitude towards the bilateral dispute. Until now, we had found that the use of military force by mainland China was counterproductive on the island because it contributed to reinforcing the perception of civic alienation from the Great Land and to solidifying support for political and social groups opposed to reunification. It happened in 1996 and it is happening now. However, this reaction has been joined by criticism and mobilization from third countries, amplifying the circle of rejection.

The second has to do with the U.S. turn towards Beijing. Shows of support for Taiwan from the White House have multiplied since 2016. The passage of the Taiwan Allies International Protection and Enhancement Initiative Act (known as the TAIPEI Act) in 2020 meant the interposition of a dam on the bleeding of allies that threatened to spill over.

The bipartisan consensus on Taiwan is one of the few things that unites Democrats and Republicans in Washington. This has been accompanied by the definition of new instruments to overcome isolation, such as the so-called Global Framework for Cooperation and Training, launched to promote Taiwan’s international engagement.

Thirdly, the island’s own image and the reaffirmation of its strategic value. This is perceptible both in its management of the Covid-19 pandemic and in its role in the manufacture and marketing of semiconductors (65 percent of the global total). In the same vein, we should consider the exaltation of the liberal and democratic values of its political system, which it places in open contradiction with those that inspire mainland China and which in the end would curtail the validity of the “one country, two systems” principle in Hong Kong, fueling Taiwanese reluctance. In the context of the intensification of tension between China and the West, the ascription to the community of “like-minded values and ideas” brings with it the multiplication of gestures of solidarity with Taipei and condemnation of Beijing.

Fourth, the idea that the magnitude of global challenges and the urgency of addressing them is so great that the international community cannot afford to do without the contributions of a Taiwan that represents the world’s 21st largest economy and is the world’s 15th largest exporter. This is particularly true of public health, the environment, and climate change, economic cooperation and the international police safety net. These areas are at the heart of Taipei’s demands for participation in the World Health Organization, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, regional platforms such as the CPTPP, the International Civil Action Organization and Interpol.

To Taiwan’s participation in these forums, Beijing objects its peculiar international status under UN resolution 2758 -proclaimed now 50 years ago- and the refusal of the current government in Taipei to accept the “one China” principle (assumed during the period of Kuomintang rule between 2008 and 2016 by facilitating a temporary diplomatic truce and some level of international insertion as an “observer”).

The point is that far from circumscribing the dissent to the usual bilateral terms, what is currently being generated is a dragging effect of certain countries and international actors that even without urging formal diplomatic recognition choose to alternatively reinforce their commitment to the island authorities. In this way, they aspire to cushion the consequences of Beijing’s veto.

In the case of intergovernmental organizations such as Interpol, which has collaborative status with the United Nations but is formally outside its system, the importance of security breaches in areas such as money laundering, cybercrime, international trafficking, etc., would make it advisable to define alternative formulas that would enable access to the global police communication system or criminal databases, for example.

There is still a lot of work to be done and a tough battle with intense global projection is on the horizon. The least that can be said after years of what seemed to be an unstoppable retreat of Taipei is that there is still a game to play.