World Policymakers Owe Taiwan a Place at the Table

AS Vice President Al Gore and other leaders gathered for the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum in Osaka, Japan, last weekend, there was no official presence of one pivotal country - mine.

The Republic of China on Taiwan (ROC), with a population of only 21 million, is a major trading and investment partner to industrial nations. It has the world's 16th-largest gross national product and the second-largest accumulation of foreign currency reserves. Taiwan is America's sixth-largest trading partner; the United States, Hong Kong, and Japan are the three major export destinations of Taiwan-made products, absorbing 60 percent of our exports. Taiwan is also the second-largest source of cumulative foreign investment in the People's Republic of China (PRC).

Economic progress

The Republic of China firmly embraces free trade and free markets as the best way to peacefully develop our region of Asia. Unfortunately, ongoing political tensions between Taiwan and Beijing have led diplomats at organizations such as the World Trade Organization and the United Nations to continue outdated cold-war policies toward the ROC. For this reason, Japan refused to let ROC President Lee Teng-hui attend the Osaka summit, just as the US refused to let him attend the 1993 APEC summit in Seattle.

Taiwan has no official seat in the most important international trade organizations. Nor can it take part officially in the deliberations of the World Bank, the UN, and other major policymaking groups. It's time for the people of Taiwan to be accorded the respect and recognition we have earned. In the past two decades, Taiwan has remade itself into a dynamic, democratic state. I am proud to be living through the most progressive political and economic transformation to take place in modern times without conflict and revolution. We should be meeting formally with APEC members and other world leaders to help create economic policies.

In a world in which developing nations are struggling to find economic solutions to pressing domestic issues, we have much to offer. Our land-reform program, based on a system of free universal public education, and our success in developing manufacturing capacity and lowering trade barriers, can serve as a model for emerging nations.

We in Taiwan are realistic, however, regarding our status. We have abandoned any notion that our government rules the PRC. The government in Beijing is a reality and we are actively looking for ways to ease tensions and resolve deep differences. We are a modern and forward-looking people. In the meantime, however, we ask other nations to grant Taiwan its rightful place as a legitimate force in the world economy.

This is not without precedent. For example, in 1991 governments from both North and South Korea and East and West Germany gained UN recognition. Taiwan is making serious efforts to create an understanding with Beijing regarding our political status. In the meantime, there is no reason why Taiwan can't be a full participant in major world and regional organizations.

Already we are taking part in a number of intergovernmental organizations such as the Asian Development Bank, the Afro-Asian Rural Reconstruction Organization, and the Central American Bank for Economic Integration. The ROC also holds membership in 811 international nongovernmental organizations. In short, it is a good neighbor and good trading partner, supporting free trade and a global economy. But due to bullying from Communist bureaucrats in Beijing, it still is excluded from major economic groups.

Benefits for Asia trade

Our full participation is important not only for Taiwan, but for the stability of Asian markets. In recent months the stock markets in Singapore and the PRC have been volatile as the political fate of the region remains uncertain.

Our Kaohsiung Harbor is the third-largest container port in the world. With the port at Hong Kong already operating above capacity, we hope to see Kaohsiung grow as a major shipping area in southern Asia, enabling Taiwan to be an additional transshipping port through which foreign companies send goods across Asia. With international recognition, our trade - and the economy of the region - will flourish.

This promise of a prosperous future is good for Taiwan, Beijing, Asia, and the world. It will bring stability and growth rather than political threats and economic disruptions. With this bright future in mind, we ask the world's political and trade organizations to officially welcome Taiwan.

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