By Jerome Cohen
Last week Taiwan lost diplomatic relations with El Salvador, a long-time diplomatic ally of the Republic of China. Here is an interesting report on the statement of the President’s spokesperson in Taiwan openly recognizing that the end of the ROC’s formal diplomatic relations may be approaching.
This will be an enormous challenge not only to the ROC but also to all those countries that wish to continue to have de facto relations with it, starting, of course, with the United States. Will more of their current policies and practices—for example, continuing resort to the embassy-like American Institute in Taiwan—suffice? How many countries will be willing to maintain this substitute for normal diplomatic relations once Beijing starts to apply the kinds of pressures on them that it has been applying on Taiwan, its remaining diplomatic allies and even the airlines and hotels that acknowledged Taiwan’s independent existence?
What imaginative strategies and tactics can the ROC employ to improve its situation and maintain and even strengthen its ties to the world in multilateral and bilateral contexts? Will it be possible to further develop the role of “unofficial” de facto diplomatic missions?
Are we on the brink of witnessing some attempted modification of the existing international system? Will some dangerous new formula emerge that may precipitate the cross-strait crisis that has long been postponed but that is gradually developing? An open establishment of a “Republic of Taiwan” might lead to war and might fizzle if not recognized by important states. What if Taiwan seeks to become a UN trusteeship or a U.S. territory, courses that have always been regarded as beyond the pale? Beijing may be stimulating radical thoughts on the part of those concerned to preserve what is usually referred to as “Taiwan’s vibrant democracy”.