Welcome them to the world

Later this year, the 23 million people of Taiwan will head to the polls to vote on a referendum asking if the island should attempt to join the United Nations under the name “Taiwan.” The referendum is an opportunity for the people of Taiwan to make their collective voice heard around the world — and the world would be wise to listen.

At first blush, one would think that Taiwan’s efforts to engage the international community would be welcomed and applauded by most everyone. After all, Taiwan is a stable, thriving, multi-party democracy, with free and fair elections held at all levels of government. Having made a peaceful transition from dictatorship to democracy over the last 20 years, Taiwan has demonstrated a deep commitment to liberty and human rights — earning the highest possible rating in the categories of political rights and civil rights from Freedom House last year. The island is a global hub for technological innovation, and boasts the 20th largest economy in the world.

Indeed, Americans who heard President Bush proclaim in his second inaugural address, “When you stand for your liberty, we will stand with you,” might assume that United States stands firmly behind the Taiwanese bid to join the U.N., and that the Bush administration’s support for Taiwan’s endeavor is a foregone conclusion.

But they would be wrong.

This is because the United States — like many U.N. member states — maintains a so-called “One China” policy. Pursuant to this irrational and outdated policy, most countries (including the United States) agree to give a wink and a nod to Beijing’s claims that Taiwan is simply a province of the communist nation, and then acquiesce when China demands Taiwan’s exclusion from international bodies like the United Nations and the World Health Organization.

Perhaps President Bush should have added a caveat to his famous proclamation: “Offer not available in Taiwan.”

Beijing argues that Taiwan’s 23 million people are represented by the unelected government of the People’s Republic of China in international bodies — an argument that U.N. and W.H.O. bureaucrats are quick to parrot. But the Beijing government routinely threatens to attack Taiwan and has put upward of 1,000 missiles on its southeastern coast aimed directly at the island. So while it might be politically expedient for China to claim that it represents Taiwan, no fair-minded person (or government) could honestly be expected to believe this.

Of course, most countries realize this. While Taiwan’s government enjoys formal diplomatic ties with only around 30 nations (mostly small and impoverished nations in Latin America, the Caribbean and Africa), they maintain more than 100 quasi-embassies or “trade offices” in nearly every country in the world. And most of these countries (including the United States) maintain a reciprocal mission in Taiwan’s capital, Taipei. Why? The reason is obvious: because they all realize that the totalitarian government of China doesn’t really speak for the people of democratic Taiwan.

The fact of the matter is that Taiwan controls its own territory, dictates its own foreign policy, maintains its own armed forces, and most importantly, elects its own leaders. It has a larger population than Australia, and boasts one of the most dynamic economies in the world. Taiwan is more than qualified for membership, and eager to make a meaningful contribution.

President Bush should live up to the promise he made in his inaugural speech and support Taiwan’s bid to join the U.N. Taiwan is by all measures a sovereign and independent nation — and it is high time that the United States and the other free nations of the world mustered the boldness to stand up and say so.

Tancredo is a member of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs.