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Taiwan seeking peace and human rights in UN bid

By any definition, Taiwan is a sovereign country, yet it continues to be excluded from international organizations such as the United Nations. The democratic island nation's strained relations with its communist neighbor, the People's Republic of China, has turned the Taiwan Strait into a "flash-point" as potentially dangerous as the Middle East or the Korean Peninsula. Looking to protect peace and stability in East Asia, Taiwan now proposes that the UN take a proactive role similar to its actions in Lebanon and Korea to reduce cross-strait tensions.

Ms. Bi-Khim Hsiao: Ms. Hsiao is Co-chair of the Foreign and Overseas Chinese Affairs Committee of Legislative Yuan (Taiwan's parliament). Currently she is also Vice President of Liberal International. In addition, she is a board member for the Taiwan Foundation for Democracy, and the vice chairperson for the Taiwan Tibet Exchange Foundation. Before being elected congresswoman, she served as an advisor to President Chen Shui-bian and was the director of the Department of International Affairs of Taiwan's ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP). She is a graduate of Oberlin College, and holds a Masters' degree from Columbia University.

Dr. Chih-cheng Lo: Dr. Lo is the Chairman of Political Science Department at Soochow University. He is currently the Secretary General of Taiwan-Russia Association, and an executive committee member of Taiwan Thinktank, a private think tank in Taipei. Before his current position, he was the executive director at the Institute for National Policy Research. He was the host of two TV programs on Taiwan's current affairs, and served as Secretary-General of the Taiwanese Political Science Association during 1997-98. In addition, since July 2002 he has been a board member of the International Cooperation and Development Fund, Taiwan’s foreign aid agency. His research interests mainly focus on East Asian security, Cross-Strait relations, and U.S. foreign policy. His most recent publications include New Leadership Team, New Approaches to Taiwan?; The New Leadership: Challenges and Opportunities after the 16th Party Congress (co-edited with Yun-han Chu & Ramon Myers); and Bush Doctrine and the Iraqi War (in Taiwan Defense Affairs, 2003). He received his Ph.D. from the Political Science Department at University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) in 1995.

The transcript follows.

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Moderator: Greetings, everyone. Ms. Bi-Khim Hsiao, co-chair of the Foreign and Overseas Chinese Affairs Committee of Legislative Yuan, and Dr. Chih-cheng Lo, the Chairman of Political Science Department at Soochow University, are here today to discuss Taiwan foreign policy. Thank you for joining us. Let's get started!

Ms. Bi-Khim Hsiao and Dr. Chih-cheng Lo: Hsiao: Hello everyone! Dr. Lo and I are pleased to have this opportunity to share our views.

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Taipei, Taiwan: Everybody claims to be peace-loving, including the warmongers in Beijing. Everybody wants to protect themselves by cultivating allies. But in the end, if you are not willing to do whatever it takes to defend yourself, you cannot defend the peace or win allies. Taiwan seems to lack that will. What is your view on this matter, and why should the Taiwanese look to the international community for protection if they aren't willing to make the necessary sacrifices to maintain a strong military?

Ms. Bi-Khim Hsiao and Dr. Chih-cheng Lo: Hsiao: The people of Taiwan have fought long and hard for the democratic institutions that we enjoy today. As such we are committed to defending the system that we all worked to create, preferably through diplomatic means, but under the existing military threat from China we are also committed to strengthening our national defense. The government has submitted a special budget proposal to enhance our military preparedness. Unfortunate, this particular proposal has been blocked by the opposition parties in parliament thus far, but efforts to enhance our defense and to garner opposition party support on this will be continuously pursued by this government

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Washington, D.C.: What kind of support have you gotten from the United States on past UN bids?

Ms. Bi-Khim Hsiao and Dr. Chih-cheng Lo: Lo: Unfortunately, nothing. The US does not support Taiwan’s membership at international organizations where “statehood” is a requirement. To be frank, I don’t think that is a right policy on the part of US government.

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Trenton, N.J.: Could you explain how China works to keep Taiwan excluded from the UN?

Ms. Bi-Khim Hsiao and Dr. Chih-cheng Lo: Lo: China uses both sticks and carrots to affect other countries’ attitudes on Taiwan’s UN bid. For instance, by giving foreign aid, Beijing has been wooing other countries to support its stance. For another instance, China sometimes uses trade/eco retaliation against others who supported Taiwan.

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Berlin, Germany: In the past few decades, Taiwan has grown up rapidly both in economy and politics, though without a seat in the UN, is it that necessary to campaign to participate in the UN again?

Ms. Bi-Khim Hsiao and Dr. Chih-cheng Lo: It is precisely because Taiwan has grown in economy and politics that we wish to be a normal country recognized by the international community and able to contribue our achievements to the world. For example, Taiwan has been numbering a number of agricultural and medical foreign assistance projects, and we feel that our projects could be much more effective if coordinated with the various UN agencies.

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Rockville, Md.: Under UN's current decision making system, China has veto power, and international realpolitik, it seems there is no hope for Taiwan's UN bid, where does your confidence come from?

Ms. Bi-Khim Hsiao and Dr. Chih-cheng Lo: Lo: We will never know. Taiwan (ROC) had the veto power at the UN security council before 1971. But China (PRC) still entered the UN that year. So, Taiwan has to keep trying. We will never know what will happen in the future. Remember, nobody predicted the collapse of the Soviet Union.

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Hillsborough, NJ: Taiwan has decided to apply for a membership in UN this year. It's been 6 years since DPP became the ruling party of Taiwan since 2000. Why is it so late? Will there be anything that we may regret 6 years later that I should have done and had not?

Ms. Bi-Khim Hsiao and Dr. Chih-cheng Lo: Hsiao: In fact Taiwan has been pursuing participation in teh UN for over a decade. Unfortuantely we have not been successful in the past.

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Singapore: Taiwan seems to be tying this year's campaign to join the U.N. to human rights. Could you explain how Taiwan has come to see representation in the UN as a human rights issue?

Ms. Bi-Khim Hsiao and Dr. Chih-cheng Lo: Lo: There are many functional international organizations under the UN umbrella. For instance, WHO is a special agency under UN. Because of Taiwan’s exclusion from the UN, Taiwan has been excluded from the world health system. So, you see the linkage between Taiwan’s UN membership and human rights issues.

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Toronto, Canada: My husband and I visited your country a few years ago and fell in love with what we saw and were charmed by its friendly people. My question is, why has China been blocking Taiwan bid for so long when it knows its actions will only serve to alienate the Taiwanese?

Ms. Bi-Khim Hsiao and Dr. Chih-cheng Lo: Lo: You are absolutely right. China’s efforts in isolating Taiwan internationally only alienate the Taiwanese people. Beijing may believe that what it has been doing will force Taiwan to come to China’s terms. But, that is counter-productive. Anyway, thanks for your support. And please come visit Taiwan again.

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Bethesda., Md.: Could you explain your government’s stance on “One China”? And wouldn’t Taiwan’s participation in the UN represent a violation of this principle?

Ms. Bi-Khim Hsiao and Dr. Chih-cheng Lo: Hsiao: The People’s Republic of China has insisted on a “one China” principle, claiming Taiwan to be part of China. We in Taiwan do not think this reflects the existing reality. Today Taiwan is a full-fledged democracy with an elected government, separate from China. The “One China” principle promoted by the PRC subjugates Taiwan to the status of a local government and denies the Taiwanese people the right to be represented internationally. Our bid to join the UN challenges China’s claim, yet the wishes of the Taiwanese people to be able to participate in international governmental organizations is in full accordance with the UN principles of universality and reflective of the current reality.

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Christchurch, New Zealand: I have a two-part question. Are there any legal precedents that might help a contested territory like Taiwan join international organizations like the UN? How did Taiwan manage to join the World Trade Organization with its contested status?

Ms. Bi-Khim Hsiao and Dr. Chih-cheng Lo: Lo: Good question. Both East Germany and West Germany were members of the UN before they were reunified in 1990. North Korea and South Korea are now both members of the UN. Unfortunately, China is playing a zero-sum game.

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Glasgow, Scotland: Sometimes I see Taiwan called the Republic of China. Has this name affected Taiwan's past bids to join the UN? If so, why doesn't Taiwan just apply to join as Taiwan?

Ms. Bi-Khim Hsiao and Dr. Chih-cheng Lo: Hsiao: The "Republic of China" is the official constitutional title of our country, but many people here simply prefer to call ourselves "Taiwan," since the title is easily confused with the People's Republic of China in the international arena. This year 16 of Taiwan's diplomatic allies submitted a letter to the UN General Assembly requesting representation and participation of "the 23 million people of Taiwan."

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Johannesburg, South Africa: Exlusion Taiwan from the UN, is it a political apartheid? How it affect Taiwan's people on a day-to-day basis?

Ms. Bi-Khim Hsiao and Dr. Chih-cheng Lo: Lo: This is not just a political apartheid, but also a health, environmental, …one. In Asia and all over the world, many countries are very concerned about the outbreak of the Avian flu in Asia and the WHO is working hard on preventing that from happening. Unfortunately, Taiwan, not a member of the WHO (under the UN system), has been excluded from participating in the world health system.

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San Diego, Calif.: Some say that if Taiwan were to become a member of the UN it would negate the chances of any debate on unification with China. Germany and the Koreas have all pursued unification as a way to bring their nations and people together. Is Taiwan still pursuing unification, and is unification still a desirable choice for the people on both sides of the Taiwan Strait?

Ms. Bi-Khim Hsiao and Dr. Chih-cheng Lo: Hsiao: We believe that the question of the future relationshio with China should be left open, with unification as one but not the only one option. Furthermore, the current government also insists that any change in the status quo must be approved by the people of Taiwan through democratic means such as a referendum. FYI, according to current polls in Taiwan, public support for immediate unification with China is very low.

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Washington DC: Bi-khim and Chih-cheng,

There is quite a debate under what name Taiwan should apply to the UN. Outside Taiwan everybody knows the country as "Taiwan", but inside the island, there is still a significant group pushing for readmission as "ROC".

When will the government in Taiwan really take the step to apply directly as "Taiwan"? - Taiwan Communiqué

Ms. Bi-Khim Hsiao and Dr. Chih-cheng Lo: Hsiao: Thank you, Taiwan Communique, this year the appeal has been made on behalf of "the 23 million people of Taiwan."

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Washington, D.C.: The KMT government in 1972 rejected the possibility of staying on at the UN. That's their bug mistake. What is the current KMT's position on Taiwan's bid to the UN? And, have they ever apologized for what they did?

Ms. Bi-Khim Hsiao and Dr. Chih-cheng Lo: Hsiao: In 1971 the KMT rejected a proposal for both Taiwan and mainland China to be represented in the UN. I am not aware of any acknowledgement on part of the KMT that it was a mistake. However, today, most of the political parties, including the KMT, share the desire for Taiwan to be represented in the UN.

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New York, N.Y.: How does the average Taiwanese person feel about Taiwan's exclusion? Is there a lot of anger or is it basically accepted as a fait accompli?

Ms. Bi-Khim Hsiao and Dr. Chih-cheng Lo: Lo: We don’t accept that as a fait accompli. Our relentless efforts in the past 13 consecutive years show our determination. Frankly speaking, we see our exclusion from the UN as a discrimination against us.

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San Francisco, Calif.: How serious is the Chinese threat? Is it possible that a standing member of the UN Security Council would take such a risk?

Ms. Bi-Khim Hsiao and Dr. Chih-cheng Lo: Hsiao: China has not ruled out the use of force against Taiwan. In fact, in the so-called "Anti-Secession Law" passed by the National People's Congress last year, the Chinese have provided themselves with the legal authority to use force against Taiwan. There are currently close to 800 missiles, growing at a rate of 100 to 150 each year, deployed against Taiwan. We take the threat seriously and seek to strengthen our national defense. This threat is also the reason why a number of Taiwan's allies submitted a letter to the UN General Assembly requesting a proactive role for the UN in maintaining peace and security in East Asia, in the same standard that the UN passed a resolution on North Korean missile tests.

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West Chester, Pa.: The People's Republic has taken a very hard stance on the recognition of Taiwan as a sovereign state. Is there any reason to believe that they can be dissuaded from this stance by any discussion with the UN acting as an intermediary?

Ms. Bi-Khim Hsiao and Dr. Chih-cheng Lo: Lo: That is what Taiwan is hoping for. The UN should play some role in bringing the two sides of the Taiwan Strait to come to terms with each other and to reconcile their differences thru peaceful means. However, so far, UN has refused to say or do anything about this.

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Chicago, Ill.: Could the European Union model of integration apply to cross-strait relations in the future?

Ms. Bi-Khim Hsiao and Dr. Chih-cheng Lo: Hsiao: Good question. Personally I have been very interested in the EU model and a possibility worth exploring. But we must be reminded that EU integration began with economic integration, that it was done peacefully and with the voluntary participation of all parties involved.

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Priceton, N.J.: Even without a seat in the UN, it doesn't really affect both Taiwan's economic and democratic development. Can you explain why Taiwan needs to become a member of the UN?

Ms. Bi-Khim Hsiao and Dr. Chih-cheng Lo: Lo: Taiwan would have done much better if it were a member of the UN. Remember, we don’t know the exact health costs paid by Taiwan until the SARS happened in 2003. We now realize that Taiwan’s exclusion from the WHO could be extremely costly.

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Philly, Pa.: I personally think Taiwan deserves a seat in the U.N. But it seems to me that the U.N. membership campaign has become an annual routine that leads nowhere. Every year around this time, Taiwan trumpets its petition and it gets killed before most people hear about it. As China becomes a major global player, I find it very hard for people around the world to sympathize with Taiwan. Will it be possible for Taiwan to come up with different strategies that really will benefit your democracy and the rest of the world?

Ms. Bi-Khim Hsiao and Dr. Chih-cheng Lo: Hsiao: In addition to our annual campaign to join the UN, we also invest in efforts to take part in other international agencies such as the World Health Organization. Though under China's global influence it has been very difficult for Taiwan to be accepted, Taiwan continues to find venues to contribue to the international community. In addition to bilateral cooperation projects with our allies, we have established the "Taiwan Foundation for Democracy," aimed at promoting democracy within Taiwan and around the world, including China.

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Santa Cruz, Calif.: We hear a lot in the American media about how your president wishes to unilaterally declare independence from China. Is this truly the case, and if so how would Taiwan's constitution figure into such a declaration?

Ms. Bi-Khim Hsiao and Dr. Chih-cheng Lo: Lo: That is not correct. Our president has said that Taiwan has been a soverign country and there is no need to declare the so-called "indepedence."

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West Chester, Pa.: What role, if any, has the US government taken in encouraging the UN to get more actively involved in this issue?

Ms. Bi-Khim Hsiao and Dr. Chih-cheng Lo: Hsiao: Unfortunately, the US government has not played much of a role in involving the UN on this issue. The US has, however, been very supportive of Taiwan's meaningful participation in other international organizations like the WHO.

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Hong Kong: Taiwan has made much about the fact that China has hundreds of missiles pointed at it. What is Taiwan doing to counter this threat?

Ms. Bi-Khim Hsiao and Dr. Chih-cheng Lo: Lo: Taiwan has its own missile defense system. We want to continue to beef up our defense against China's military threat. We have no intention to engage in any sort of arms races with China. What we have been doing is to maintain credible deterrence posture against any possible military attach from China.

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Dublin, Ireland: Some people think that Taiwan's lack of international participation is closely linked to Beijing's actions, and if Taiwan continues to actively pursue a more international role it will provoke China, raise tensions in the Taiwan Strait, and increase the chances of a military conflict. How would you answer these criticisms?

Ms. Bi-Khim Hsiao and Dr. Chih-cheng Lo: Hsiao: China's threats will not cease the desire of the Taiwanese people to be more internationally active. In fact China has issued threats every step of the way toward full democratization, in our first ever direct presidential elections in 1996, and in the first democratic change of government of 2000. China had labeled these elections as provocative, yet that did not deter the progress that we made. We believe that international participation is a right of our people, just as selecting our own leader and government was a right we actively pursued for many years.

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Boston, Mass: I would like to focus on Taiwan's peace proposal to the UN this year. Could you explain exactly how the UN could facilitate peace between Taiwan and China?

Ms. Bi-Khim Hsiao and Dr. Chih-cheng Lo: Lo: Taiwan Strait has been called one of the “flash-points” in Asia. In this inter-dependent world, any tension or even military conflict in the Taiwan Strait could affect the whole region and the whole world. That is why we are calling UN’s attention to the peace and security in the Taiwan Strait. I think the UN can bring the issue to the table for discussion or even invite both Beijing and Taipei to talk to each other at the UN.

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Toronto, Canada: I cannot believe that China has the nerve to suppress Taiwan's freedoms! For instance, continually blocking Taiwan's earnest bid to become a member of UN. I view myself as a Taiwanese-Candadian not a Chinese-Canadian. I support the right of Taiwan to gain entry. Taiwan should be a recongizable soveign partipant in the international community. My question: in what ways can Canadian help to further Taiwan to achieve its goal?

Ms. Bi-Khim Hsiao and Dr. Chih-cheng Lo: Lo: Thank you. We need your both moral and actual support. Please write to your government to show your support of our UN bid. Ask your government not to endorse, intentionally or unintentionally, Beijing’s efforts in isolating Taiwan in the world community. Thanks again.

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Atlanta, Ga.: What is the current state of relations between Taiwan and China? Are there currently any high-level exchanges between the two?

Ms. Bi-Khim Hsiao and Dr. Chih-cheng Lo: Lo: China has refused to have any government-to-government contacts between the two sides. As a result, there is no high-level exchange across the Taiwan Strait. Our government has been urging the Beijing side to talk to us, to no avail, however.

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West Chester, Pa.: If given a semi-autonomous status, would the people of Taiwan favor rejoining with mainland China?

Ms. Bi-Khim Hsiao and Dr. Chih-cheng Lo: Hsiao: Any formula for the future relationship between Taiwan and China must be agreed by the people of Taiwan through democratic means. Currently, there is very little public support for joining the mainland and thus such a proposal would run contrary to the democratic sentiments on the island.

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London, UK: Taiwan has also been campaigning for meaningful participation in the World Health Organisation. What does Taiwan's bid for a meaningful participation in the WHO exactly entail?

Ms. Bi-Khim Hsiao and Dr. Chih-cheng Lo: Hsiao: Besides becoming a full-fledged member of the WHO, meaningful participation entails the ability of Taiwanese medical and health experts to take part in international efforts to combat diseases such as SARS and the sharing of relevant information through the agency.

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Diamond Bar, Calif.: China was recently infuriated with North Korea for de-stablizing the Korean Peninsula. North Korea's missle tests caused regional panic and drew anger from China. Clearly an unstable Asian region adversely affects China's economic goals. How does a growingly internationally dependent China affect the prospects of independence for Taiwan?

Ms. Bi-Khim Hsiao and Dr. Chih-cheng Lo: Lo: The question has more to do with whether China can be more democratic than whether China is becoming interdependent with the world community. If China can become a democratic country, maybe China can be more willing to give a free choice to the people in Taiwan.

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Moderator: Unfortunately, our hour is up. This has been a very interesting global discussion -- we've had participation from around the world. Thank you all for participating in this important international issue.

Ms. Bi-Khim Hsiao and Dr. Chih-cheng Lo: Thank you all.

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