Let Taiwan join the ICAO

As a key international transport hub, Taiwanese airspace is critically important to the global community. 365,000 Americans traveled to Taiwan for business and leisure during 2009, and in 2008 Taipei International Airport was ranked the world’s 15th largest airport by cargo volume. Aviation safety in Taiwan is in the best interests of both American economic and civil activity. 

The ICAO is the body that regulates and supervises civilian aviation around the world. The ICAO endorsed a global strategy for strengthening aviation security worldwide post 9/11, stating that the success of the initiative lies in a uniform approach to establishing consistent standards. Deficiencies in any part of the system are a threat to the whole, with the ICAO position that these must be addressed through bolstering international cooperation in aviation security and harmonizing implementation of security measures.

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Taiwan's civil aviation authorities have full responsibility for administering the Taipei Flight Information Region (FIR) - one of the busiest air transport hubs in Asia. But Taiwan is forced to obtain this information indirectly through other nations, nongovernmental organizations, neighboring FIRs and private companies, a complicated and needlessly time-consuming process. This situation impacts Taiwan's ability to smoothly implement the latest  Standards and Recommended Practices (SARP). It also means that the country must spend more time, money and effort than ICAO members on improving aviation safety and security.

More than 47 foreign airlines operate flights from Taipei to over 100 international destinations. Each year nearly 1.3 million flights passing through the 180,000 square nautical miles Taipei Flight Information Region, Taiwan is a major air transportation hub linking Asia, Europe and North America. For the sake of passenger safety and international security, the country must be brought into the ICAO fold.

Taiwan is one of the busiest airspaces in the world, with 40 million travelers entering, leaving or passing through each year. On a weekly basis, this is roughly 150 scheduled flights to and from Europe; 400 to and from the U.S.; 660 to and from Japan; and over 1,200 across the Taiwan Strait. To ensure the highest standards of air safety worldwide, ICAO cannot afford to exclude Taiwan from participation in its activities.

Taiwan’s bid for ICAO entry has been supported by the United States Congress, the European Parliament, and the Australian Parliament. President Obama also signed into law and announced the U.S. government's full support for Taiwan's participation in the organization. It is a campaign with an entirely reasonable goal as Taiwan is a major aviation hub in world air travel.

The time has come for allowing the government of Taiwan membership, which will ensure that it has access to the technical information it needs to conform its civil aviation practices to evolving international safety standards. Closing the Taipei FIR hole in the ICAO's global information network will benefit travel industries and economic development, which is in the ICAO's basic interests.

Taiwan has been working consistently to improve cross-strait relations with China and attain broader recognition in international bodies. In 2009 Taiwan was invited to the UN World Health Organization (WHO) as an observer, and inclusion in the ICAO would be a constructive step towards such international recognition of this important democratic trading partner.

As the ICAO and UN statements of purpose both support international inclusion and safety, Taiwan’s participation in the ICAO would confirm an international and US message of multilateral cooperation. The State Department must make appropriate arrangements to facilitate Taiwan’s participation in ICAO’s meetings, mechanism, and activities, for the purposes of international aviation safety and security.

Aviation safety and security transcends national borders. To ensure the highest standards of air safety worldwide, ICAO cannot afford to exclude Taiwan from participation in its activities. Since Taiwan's participation in international organizations hinges on China's amity, I strongly urge that China not to block Taiwan's attempt to participate in a non-political body like the ICAO since statehood is not a requirement.

It is understandable that 23 millions people in Taiwan feel let down by Beijing’s intransigence. Thus I sincerely hope for China's goodwill toward Taiwan's bid to participate in the ICAO. We urged that Taiwan be allowed to attend the meeting in the interest of greater international aviation safety. Taiwan will contribute greatly to the ICAO and its bid to participate in the organization should not be turned down.

Wang is advisory commissioner for the Overseas Chinese Affairs Council of Republic of China (Taiwan) in the United States.