NELSON INSTITUTE DIRECTOR’S COLUMN LOOKS AT TAIWAN’S APPLICATION TO THE “UN-REAL ASSEMBLY”

September 24, 2007

HARRISONBURG—In his biweekly feature for National Interest online, the web edition of the foreign policy journal The National Interest, Dr. J. Peter Pham, Director of the Nelson Institute for International and Public Affairs at James Madison University, looks at the rejected bid to include on the agenda of the just-opened 62 nd session of the United Nations General Assembly a discussion of the membership application by the Republic of China on Taiwan. The failed attempt for membership was the fifteenth in as many years, although it was the first time the application was made under the name of “ Taiwan” rather than the formal historical designation of “Republic of China.”

The article observes:

[Taiwanese] President Chen Shui-bian’s diplomatic maneuvers around Turtle Bay, as well as a planned referendum on Taiwan’s application for UN membership timed to coincide with the island’s presidential elections in March 2008, may well lead to a period of heightened tensions. While these initiatives should be approached with considerable caution, the issue that has escaped notice is the current architecture of the international system, one that is far less attuned to historical and political realities than Taiwan’s quest for greater international recognition.

Dr. Pham notes:

The classical international legal position is contained in the “Montevideo Criteria” articulated in the first article the 1933 Convention on the Rights and Duties of States: “The state as a person of international law should possess the following characteristics: (a) a permanent population; (b) a defined territory; (c) government; and (d) capacity to enter into relations with the other states.” The third article of the convention also specified that “the political existence of the state is independent of the recognition of the other states.”… Judging by these criteria, Taiwan’s claim to statehood and international personality is unassailable. It has a permanent population of 22.8 million, which would make it the 48 th most populous state in the world (the UN acknowledges the existence of 193 states, 192 member states and one non-member state, the Holy See). It has a defined territory of 35,980 square kilometers, including Matsu and Quemoy islands and the Pescadores archipelago. It has a government which not only stands in historical continuity with that of the Republic of China, one the of founding members of the United Nations and an original permanent member of the Security Council, but is also considered one of the freest in the world. And, while the recognition of others is a not legal precondition of statehood, Taiwan has full diplomatic relations with 23 UN member states as well as the Holy See.

More important than these basic qualifications, however, is Taiwan’s economic, social, and geopolitical significance in the world. With a GDP of $346.7 billion, it has the 16 th largest economy in the world, and the GDP per capita at purchasing power parity (PPP) of $29,500 puts its inhabitants on par with the citizens of the European Union. With foreign exchange reserves of $261.3 billion, it is the world’s fourth largest creditor nation, behind the People’s Republic of China, Japan and Russia. Despite the island’s imposed diplomatic isolation, Taiwanese agencies have carried out humanitarian and development work around the globe.

 The essay contrasts this with other countries represented at the United Nations, including those who denied the Taiwanese application:

Can anyone seriously claim that the plenipotentiary of the ironically named Democratic Republic of Congo, one of the vice presidents on the General Committee, hails from a territorial nation-state in any meaningful sense of the term? Does the Iraqi envoy, another vice president, actually represent a functional government?... In fact, while the UN Charter contains a never-used provision for expelling members who “persistently” violate the seven principles outlined in Article 2, there is no mechanism for revisiting the credentials of members whose claim to sovereign statehood no longer has any basis in objective reality.

Dr. Pham concludes: “A world body that continues to operate exclusively on surreal fictions of statehood and utopian notions of sovereign equality, while simultaneously failing to broaden its base to account for real-world power, condemns itself to increasing irrelevance.”

The full text of Dr. Pham’s essay, “UN-real Assembly,” can be accessed by clicking here.