Taiwan’s Presence in the International Arena: Challenges and Opportunities

    Posted on: 2012-12-15

Taiwan’s Presence in the International Arena: Challenges and Opportunities

Taiwan democracy has fallen in the international rankings during the past 4 years as reported by for  instance by the US based Freedom House. As a friend of freedom and democracy in Taiwan, the EU should therefore challenge Taiwan on the recent democratic development, and ensure that for instance former president Chen and others receive fair and humane treatment under Taiwan’s legal system, in accordance with international norms.

Talk at the conference for EU Strategies, Interventions, and Prospects for Future Support to Indigenous Peoples in Taiwan

European Parliament on November 28 2012

By Michael Danielsen

I feel deeply honored to be here and present a talk at this great conference for indigenous people in Taiwan. I am profoundly impressed with Taiwan’s indigenous cultures as I for instance experienced in Hualian in Taiwan some years ago.

I am also delighted that Taiwan’s democracy provides Taiwan’s indigenous people with a strong voice. My expertise is however not indigenous people and thus I think it is far better for all of us that I start focusing on Taiwan’s presence in the international arena.

Taiwan never stops surprising me. I guess it is related to Taiwan’s unique presence in the international arena and its convoluted history.

When we think about Taiwan, we have tendency to think about China. But Taiwan and China have been separated for more than 115 years and have grown apart, and Taiwan has only been a province of China for 10 years from 1885 to 1895. The Spanish, the Dutch, Chinese, Japanese and Americans have to varying degrees shaped Taiwan’s history.

Taiwan is also a story about a people’s struggle for freedom and recognition. After 40 years of authoritarian rule, all people in Taiwan won a big victory when democracy was introduced in 1992.

The victory has not yet been translated into international recognition. Today, Taiwan has only diplomatic relations with 23 typically small nations. Taiwan could have been a member of UN today if a reality check has been made when Taiwan lost its permanent seat of UN security council in 1971.

If we shall try to describe Taiwan’s international presence today, I think Gerald Chan  in 1997 put it very well when he stated that Taiwan is “financially rich, but diplomatically poor” This statements points to both Taiwan’s challenges but also to its opportunities.
Being financially rich gives Taiwan opportunities. Taiwan has the financial power to meet and talk with the world, and Taiwan is able to finance a smart public diplomacy program.

Taiwan is in the top 20 of industrial nations and trades with the entire world and it is well known for its expertise in high technology, machine tools and in many other areas.

It is diplomatic poor but it has around 92 representative offices in around 57 countries and many EU countries are present in Taiwan including my own country, Denmark.

Due to its diplomatic weakness,  EU’s relationship with Taiwan is crucial. The reason being that Taiwan’s international status is defined by its relationship with other nations. This is true for other nations as well but it is of more importance  for Taiwan. One example that influences  Taiwan’s international status is EU’s recent visa waiver to Taiwan.

In the relationship between EU and Taiwan, trade and democracy are essential ingredients. I am encouraged that the recent annual consultation meeting on non-trade issues of the European Union Center in Taiwan turned out successfully.
This relationship matters even more today because Taiwan is more sensitive to the current changes in the world trade system than other nations.

Today, nation states can no longer provide the same assurances to their citizens as before, because numerous economic decisions are taken elsewhere by companies, world unions or other international actors. They operate above governments and for this reason, governments need to create or enter trade unions, such as the EU, in which countries can obtain greater control.

This development challenges Taiwan because it is typically not invited into trade unions due to China’s obstructions. The opportunity that Taiwan can grab is to even further utilize its uniqueness, its democratic brand and its industrial background to break this trend.

Taiwan has to break the exclusion from trade zones in Asia such as ASEAN with 10 Asian countries that now talks about a ASEAN+6 regional free trade agreement framework.

In order to break this development, Taiwan’s government has decided to move towards China, and Taiwan has signed several trade agreements with China. The most well known is the Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement, also known as ECFA. How this political agenda has been handled by the Taiwan’s government will in my opinion diminish Taiwan’s international presence.

Taiwan’s largest opposition party, the DPP, also supports talks and trade agreements with China. It is however illustrative that DPP focus more on diversity of trade and the current international status of Taiwan than the governing KMT.

Taiwan needs to diversify its trade and build a stronger knowledge economy in order to stay financially rich. Cooperation between EU and Taiwan can secure suc a diversity and both can benefit economically. As Copenhagen Economics has pointed about, EU’s has a stronger expertise in the various service industries and EU is weaker than Taiwan in technology. As I understand from  various sources, Taiwan has to present a much stronger commitment for lowering various tariffs and non-tariffs barriers in order make an even closer cooperation possible.

Taiwan’s biggest international opportunity is its democratic brand. This can function as an effective defense shield against Taiwan’s challenges. Democracy is also the key to solve Taiwan’s internal divisions.

How can EU and Taiwan cooperate on democracy?

At the recent EU-Taiwan meeting in Taiwan, I found it encouraging that the meeting had exchanges on enhancing privacy information protection and promoting multilateral contacts between the judiciary and executive agencies of Taiwan and the EU.

Taiwan democracy has fallen in the international rankings during the past 4 years as reported by for  instance by the US based Freedom House.

As a friend of freedom and democracy in Taiwan, the EU should therefore challenge Taiwan on the recent democratic development, and ensure that for instance former president Chen and others receive fair and humane treatment under Taiwan’s legal system, in accordance with international norms.

On civil society issues, EU and Taiwan can create opportunities for NGOs in Taiwan and EU to meet and cooperate. Many different NGOs work for democracy  as for instance Taiwan association for human rights and many others. Indigenous people is another important area to pursue.

I will end this talk by showing what the Taiwanese want Taiwan’s  international presence to be.
74% of the Taiwanese will vote for independence if given a free choice that China will respect
More than 80% of the Taiwanese rejects China’s offer “One Country, two systems”

In order to create a sustainable development in Taiwan, Taiwan’s presence in the international community shall be determined by the 23 million people who are living in Taiwan and no one else.

Thank you.