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Against Isolation and Under-representation

Parliamentary diplomacy has provided a crucial, promising outlet in Taiwan’s challenging pursuit of its own interests in the international arena.

This book assesses both the potentials and the constraints of parliamentary diplomacy for Taiwan. Through a comparative perspective, and using evidence from the relations of the Legislative Yuan in Taiwan with the US Congress and the European Parliament, the authors investigate the implementation of parliamentary diplomacy in Taiwan and its impact in Taiwan’s foreign policy. In their analysis, the authors draw vital lessons that will have important implications for other entities which have similar challenges and aspirations.

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In 1997, the WHO rejected Taiwan’s application for observer status. The issue was hotly debated among WHO member states. Arguments against accepting Taiwan were all of a dubious political nature based on a biased interpretation of Taiwan’s international status in relation to that of the People’s Republic of China. As a result, the 22 million people of Taiwan remain unrepresented at WHO, and unjustifiable political pressure has undermined the health objectives for which WHO was established. From a health professional’s perspective, Taiwan’s admission to WHO is not a political question, rather, it is a technical issue that encompasses all elements of public-health practice worldwide. If international borders are not a barrier to the transmission of diseases … then they should not be made into barriers to the free movement of cures and international health cooperation.

Exclusion from international bodies only enhances the risk of importation of newly emerging and deadly infectious diseases into the island. The HIV-1 pandemic taught us that there are many more threatening infectious agents in the world. What would happen if a mutant and deadly influenza virus reaches Taiwan or starts out from it? Taiwan’s medical profession is handicapped to deal with such events since it has no official mechanism by which to approach WHO for assistance in an expedient manner.

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Traditionally, diplomacy has been seen as an ‘application of intelligence and tact to conduct official relations between governments of independent states; or, more briefly still, the conduct of business between states by peaceful means’ (Satow et al, 1995: 3). ‘Together with the balance of power, which it both reflects and reinforces, diplomacy is the most important institution of our society of states’ (Berridge, 2015: 1).

The roots of diplomacy can be traced as far back as the 15th century BC (Potemkin, 1947), but like any other human activity, the content of diplomacy changes over time. It is determined by the given situation at a certain point of history (Benko, 1997: 256). So, for example, in a 1945 article published in Foreign Affairs, André Géraud found the system of alliances as obsolete – as a kind of ‘old’ diplomacy. For him, the collective security introduced by the League of Nations represented an entirely new context, in which multilateralism played a bigger role than in the past, hence the dawn of the ‘new’ diplomacy as he has called it (Géraud, 1945: 256). In the new global order, emerging after the end of the World War Two, the term diplomacy has been given new meanings and interpretations to reflect changes in the conduct of international politics. This is how we can explain the modern interpretation of the term conference diplomacy.

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The contemporary international community is unique in many ways. One of its characteristics is the abundance of sovereign states; currently, 193 of them are members of the UN. These states enjoy worldwide recognition, but nothing guarantees them such a status indefinitely. As Chinese international lawyer Chen Tiqiang wrote, ‘Whenever there is an outbreak of civil war, a change of government or a transfer of territory or other important changes, the question of recognition is immediately involved’ (Chen, 1951: 13). Of course, a newly independent state wants to be fully integrated into the international community. It wants to be able to communicate with other states and actors without interruptions. It wants to be considered not just as a subject of International Relations, but also as a legal person, with rights and obligations according to international law.

However, the process of recognition of a new state, and its admittance to the international community, is not an easy one. In international law, two main theories address the nature of the recognition of states: constitutive and declaratory. The first one argues that only fully recognized states can engage in international communication, whereas the second one asserts that the act of recognition is of a declaratory nature; a state becomes a state when it fulfils conditions for statehood, not because of formal recognition (Türk, 2007: 90).

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The number of states that recognize Taiwan is the first indicator of the extent to which this country is isolated from the rest of the world. At the time of writing, Taiwan was recognized by 14 UN member states plus the Holy See.1 This is not much higher than the number of UN members that recognize Abkhazia and South Ossetia, and significantly less than Western Sahara, Kosovo and especially Palestine. Like other unrepresented and unrecognized states, Taiwan is not a member of the UN. It is not a member of any specialized agency within the UN system. It is, however, a member of the World Trade Organization (WTO), which recognizes it under the name Chinese Taipei, rather than its official name.

But there is another side of Taiwan, which allows little room for comparison with other unrepresented and unrecognized states. Let us make a very practical case in point: Abkhazia and South Ossetia issue their own passports, but these are not ‘recognized in most of the world, and their citizens mostly have dual-citizenship that grants them a valid passport from another country’ (Li, 2019).

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Changes in the international community are barely visible tremors, but from time to time, they take the form of major earthquakes. In the last 50 years, Taiwan has experienced at least three of them. The first one occurred in the 1970s. The second one happened with the fall of the Berlin Wall. The 1970s led to the forced exit of Taiwan from the international arena. The Cold War ended with the collapse of a superpower. In the dawning of a new era, it was hoped that the great power rivalry would be replaced by global governance (Rosenau, 1992). That would benefit Taiwan because it favoured cooperation over confrontation. But the liberal international order and the spread of democracy are under threat. Multilateralism seems to be giving way to a new rebalancing of power as the PRC has replaced the Soviet Union in the race with the US for global domination. The third earthquake is coming; it represents the biggest challenge for Taiwan since 1949 because the PRC aims to be a superpower, determined to implement the One China principle.

Taiwan has never accepted the role of a passive observer; it wanted to influence the course of those changes and survive earthquakes unbruised. During the Cold War, Taiwan was employing various types of diplomacies to limit the damage the PRC was inflicting on it by isolating it from the international community. In the 1990s Taiwan started to transform itself by introducing the democratic political system. The process could not have had better timing for Taiwan.

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This chapter discusses factors that have an impact on the capacity of members of the Legislative Yuan to act internationally and in this way contribute to parliamentary diplomacy of Taiwan. A great deal of the analysis in this section is based on 73 interviews conducted with 62 interviewees. For various reasons, mostly associated with the political sensitivity of the topic and related research, the position they occupied and/or the (political) status they had at the time of conducting interviews, the interviewees agreed to talk to us if our discussion was off the record. We honour their trust in the following way. When we refer directly to an interviewee, we do so by providing general information about his or her position at the time of the interview. We also provide information about the place and date of the interview. All interviews have been done in the period 2016–2020. The majority of them have been conducted in Taipei, others have taken place by using telecommunication applications or by email. We have opted for semi-structured interviews to allow our respondents to reflect on the topic, and also broadly about challenges and opportunities for Taiwan’s parliamentary diplomacy. The interviewees have been informed about the background and the aim of the research. We have told them that the focus of our research is the period since the early 1990s when parliamentary diplomacy was introduced to Taiwan’s foreign policy.

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The modern international community is made up of two categories of states: those that are universally recognized, and those that are not. Some of the non-recognized states try (in vain) to convince more states to recognize them, others are unlikely ever to be recognized. We are reminded every now and then – such as during the current COVID-19 pandemic – that isolation and limited representation in international relations may have serious negative consequences for these countries. This unfortunate division is reflected in the academic literature on parliamentary diplomacy. We learn from it that parliamentarians and parliamentary diplomacy can play an important role in international relations, but that these findings are limited to the world of recognized states. We know very little about how parliamentary diplomacy works when it includes parliaments and parliamentarians from unrecognized and unrepresented states.

The book has sought to fill in this research gap. Some of the findings will not surprise anyone. The short overview of parliamentary diplomacy of unrepresented and unrecognized states has shown that in most of them its development is, at best, at a rudimentary level. The lack of universal recognition is undoubtedly the main obstacle, but other factors also restrict possibilities for parliaments and parliamentarians of unrepresented and unrecognized states to be active internationally.

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