Wednesday, January 2, 2008

European Perspective on Taiwan's Join UN Referendum

Upon observing current world developments, there is a general agreement that the European region not only has better living conditions but it is also comprised of the most advanced democracies in the world. European countries have strong economies and they are worldwide competitive, but they are still considered small to medium countries due to their population and size. For instance, Luxemburg’s population is only 480,000, while Norway is 4.6 million and Denmark 5.4 million. There are forty-eight European countries that are sovereign and independent. Hence, most European countries are different from countries that have populations of billions and that are considered regional hegemonies such as the United States, China and India.

Additionally, foreign policies of most European countries, especially the European Commonwealth, respect the sovereignty of individual countries, at the same time endorsing a non-intervention principle in domestic political affairs. Even though European countries are allied with the United States, their attitudes are reserved concerning the U.S. armed involvement in Iraq. Furthermore, most European countries object to the U.S. possible arm intervention in North Korea and to the U.S. nuclear policy against Iran. For these reasons, when Taiwan started to promote the referendum to join the UN under the name of Taiwan in 2007, despite Chinese pressure, most European countries with the exception of France were unwilling to support or have different opinions regarding a policy referendum in the middle of Taiwan’s democratic political maturity.

In reality, referenda have been recurrently used to make policy decisions. For example, the choice to adopt the European Constitution was laid out for public decision through referenda in the Netherlands and in France in 2005. The first country in the world to conduct referenda was France in 1793, which was held to exercise the people’s rights after the French Revolution and to create a new constitution. In a multiracial country like Switzerland, whose central government recognizes four official languages, the referendum is a regular form of political activity used to achieve consensus and to establish national policy. Basically, the majority of European countries share the same collective principles with Taiwan from speaking the same political language to employing equivalent political methods to formulate important public policy and to understand the complexity of politics.

Nevertheless, European countries believe that their national future depends on their own efforts and that they cannot rely on treaties or guarantees from other countries. The European countries that were betrayed or subjugated by such treaties like Poland and the Czech Republic can testify to the deeper feelings that are created by these occurrences. Therefore, regarding Taiwan deciding to hold a referendum to handle the KMT’s party assets as well as using the name of Taiwan to join the UN, most of the European countries have chosen not to express any opinion because when it comes to Taiwan’s internal issues, they believe that Taiwan must endeavor by itself to achieve international recognition.

China is dissatisfied with this type of position, because they consider that since the U.S. is willing to give in to China and has repeatedly criticized Taiwan’s referendum, why haven’t European countries met their international demands. The truth is, since July 2007, China has insisted to the European Union to publicly condemn Taiwan’s referendum policy. However, this request did not achieve the consent of the EU’s executive committee. On August 2007, German Chancellor Angela Merkel criticized China for not improving its human rights record or problems with international property rights. She abstained from mentioning any issues regarding Taiwan. On October of the same year, she also received the Dalai Lama in her office, which was interpreted as Germany not willing to play along with China.

Facing with rejections and adherence to European values, China decided to spend money for dollar diplomacy in order to fulfill its diplomatic goals. Not much after Chancellor Merkel’s meeting with the Dalai Lama, China decided to pay 20 billion euros (nearly 2,000 billion NTD) to purchase approximately 160 French Airbus planes, two sets of nuclear power plants and one nuclear waste disposal center. This deal was exchanged in order to get French President Nicholas Sarkozy to act as the first leader from an important democratic country to condemn Taiwan’s democratic politics. Sarkozy did in fact make a public condemnation, declaring Taiwan as an inalienable part of China, once again supporting the lifting of the EU arms embargo, and declining to meet with the Dalai Lama. However, the French public opinion towards Sarkozy after his China visit was not one of great admiration. Even though the majority of the French do not understand Taiwan’s issues, they feel strongly about the issue of Tibet. One French media outlet criticized Sarkozy’s visit to China as lowering French status as a great country and that Sarkozy did not stick to the French values that he emphasized before the election. In December, Sakozy welcomed Kadafi to France with red carpet treating for five days with the desire to sell Airbus planes, nuclear power plants and weapons to Libya. Even though France obtained a 3 billion euros agreement with Libya, most French people were not satisfied, severely criticizing Sarkozy’s foreign policy.

For these reasons, we believe that China, by using their own national resources and threatening other countries to criticize Taiwan’s democratic politics, although it has achieved some diplomatic benefits, it will absolutely not conform to the world trend. This is the case even more special in the European region, where democratic values are respected. When Europe comments on American foreign policy, they do so with a type of reaction to differentiate European values from American ones. Nevertheless, when they speak on Taiwan, it is oftentimes done so lightly, appearing to push the responsibility to other countries and making clear that their own country’s power is insufficient and incapable of single-handedly standing against China’s intimidation and bribery. From these instances, even more so we understand that choosing the democratic road is the right direction for Taiwan. Even though the environment is difficult, a new era of support can be expected from European countries and the international society.


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