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Thursday, Aug. 16, 2007

Taiwan sets itself up for yet another fall


LOS ANGELES — Of all the countries of Asia, Taiwan deserves to be near the top of the list in terms of having earned the world's respect. Therein we find the tale.

Yes, its economy is continually muscular, its people are hardworking, its youngsters are on the whole fiercely ambitious to improve themselves (many wonderful Taiwanese students take my UCLA classes), its democracy is the real deal and its news media is actually often rated as freer than that of the United States.

In short, it is a tremendous society and a fabulous success story — with a very special populace.

But as a nation-state, it has at least one significant flaw: From the perspective of international diplomacy, it tends to lead with its chin, as boxers would say, even as it is handicapped with a vulnerable glass jaw. And it puts that glass jaw out there for a big bully like China to hit with abandon — which of course it always does.

Once again, the government of Taiwan has been petitioning the United Nations and in particular its secretary general — now Ban Ki Moon, the former South Korean foreign minister — for full membership in the U.N.

Sure, its accomplishments merit admission — in fact, it used to be a member — but in 1971 it was kicked out as the mainland was installed as China's sole legitimate representative.

A dramatic reversal of fortune is not going to happen now. No matter how many times Taiwan applies, it is going to be hit on its glass jaw by China as its application will be rebuffed.

The latter regards the former as a runaway teenager that must be captured, corralled and brought back into the family, as Hong Kong was in 1997 after more than 150 years in the wilderness of British imperialism. But that's another story.

The bottom line for this story is that Taiwan has about as little chance of being admitted to the U.N. as your humble columnist has of getting a serious date with the talented actress Salma Hayek — not to mention with Zhang Ziyi, another drop-dead great. No matter how many times I ask either Salma or Ziyi, the answer is always going to be the same: NO!

So how many times am I going to knock my head against the proverbial brick wall? And if I continue to do it, at what point do I start going for therapy sessions at Masochists Anonymous?

The fact of the matter is that I know I am bound to be rejected, just as the Taiwan government of President Chen Shui-bian knows that it's not ever going to get to first base with China on the U.N. membership issue. For that matter, it can't even get to first base on a much more obvious injustice: China's brutal blocking of Taiwan's membership into the World Health Organization.

The truth is, of course, that the mainland knows Taiwan is quite worthy of its respect, but as long as a proindependence government is at the helm in Taipei, it's not going to give it the time of day. So whenever Taiwan jogs into the U.N. or into any other diplomatic venue looking for love, respect and certification, Beijing is going to bop it on the chin.

And China now has the power to be the big bopper. As a permanent member of the Security Council — and one of only five with veto power — it is the new heavyweight of the world organization. No one wants to mess with it, not even the secretary general of the U.N. itself.

Sure, arguably, China has become a little sadistic. It obviously likes popping Taiwan on the chin; it gets a whole lot of pleasure out of it; and its nationalistic populace cheers from the grandstands every time Taiwan goes down.

There's a jealousy factor, of course. After all, Taiwan's per capita income is many multiples greater than that of China's and its collective national IQ per capita is right up there with Asia's other tigers, like Singapore. Not to mention that Taiwan is the little darling of the human rights groups and nongovernmental organizations that like to beat up on the mainland as much as possible.

And so the People's Republic of China gets its retaliatory kicks from knocking Taiwan around whenever it leads with its chin, which has to make you wonder: If you know you are going to get hit, how much pain are you going to take before you switch to a game where you have a chance of winning?

The truth is, I might actually have a better shot with Salma or Ziyi than Taiwan does with the U.N. And that is the very definition of an impossible dream. Yup, it is sad.

UCLA professor Tom Plate is a veteran journalist. Copyright Tom Plate 2007


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