BRUSSELS – As protests over China’s crackdown in Tibet and the debate about Kosovo’s unilateral declaration of independence continue to fester, the injustice of Taiwan’s ongoing international isolation has barely stirred a flicker of interest, despite Taiwan’s recent presidential election and referendum on United Nations membership. This neglect is not only shortsighted, but may also prove dangerous.
This seeming double standard can be explained partly by a sense of guilt: the West has, for the most part, embraced Kosovo’s independence in an effort to assuage its own culpability for not preventing Slobodan Milosevic’s campaign of ethnic cleansing there. Similarly, much of the world is protesting on behalf of Tibet because countless millions have witnessed China’s brutal suppression of Tibetan culture.
Taiwan, on the other hand, does not grab our attention, because it is stable and flourishing economically. It has not been under Chinese central government rule for more than 100 years – indeed, since it was conquered by Japan at the end of the nineteenth century – and it has never been part of the People’s Republic of China. Taiwan is, de facto, an unrecognized independent state with a vigorous democracy and high standards of human rights. Because Taiwan has not allowed itself to become a victim, the world simply does not feel guilty about it, and so ignores it.
But perhaps we should feel some guilt. Taiwan deserves great credit for standing on its own two feet, despite the international isolation imposed. China blocks it from participating fully in the international arena, whether through the World Trade Organization, the Olympics, or the UN’s specialized agencies, including the World Health Organization. To its shame, China allows its political goal of excluding Taiwan from membership in all international organizations to trump even urgent public health concerns.