Taiwan is no Kosovo

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 27 February, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 27 February, 2008, 12:00am

Kosovo's unilateral declaration of independence from Serbia has, naturally enough, been viewed as a rare opportunity in Taiwan. That's because the Chen Shui-bian administration sees an opportunity to win the diplomatic support of another European government and, even more importantly, because Taiwan hopes that it, too, may one day be able to make a similar proclamation.

That is why, within days of Kosovo's announcement, Taipei hurriedly sent a congratulatory message and Foreign Minister James Huang Chih-fang held a press conference at which he announced Taiwan's official recognition of Kosovo, as well as Taipei's interest in forging diplomatic ties. Currently, the Vatican is the only country in Europe that recognises Taiwan.

Beijing reacted vehemently, asserting that Taiwan, not being an independent country, was not qualified to recognise any country's independence.

Early signs suggested that Kosovo was receptive to Taiwan's overtures. A Kosovo website, http://www.kosovothanksyou.com, which carries the new nation's flag and constitution, as well as a list of countries that have accorded diplomatic recognition to the Republic of Kosovo, included 'the Government of the Republic of China (Taiwan)' as one of those countries.

At that time, the Kosovo website contained, besides Taiwan, the names of 17 countries that had recognised the new republic. It even carried a 'recognition message' from Taiwan and, next to it, said xie xie, or 'thank you' in Pinyin - the system of mandarin romanisation used on the mainland, not in Taiwan.

Sounding very much as though it was talking about itself, Taiwan's message declared: 'Despite a multitude of barriers, the people of Kosovo have insisted on an ideal that they believe in, which is to peacefully pursue independence, without being threatened or scared away. Their determination in achieving this lofty ideal is truly admirable.'

However, the website is not official, and a few hours later, Taiwan's name was removed - a possible indication of the new nation's desire not to do anything that might provoke Beijing.

After all, Kosovo hopes to be accepted by the international community and to be accepted as a member of the United Nations. Since China is a permanent member of the Security Council, with the authority to blackball any Kosovan application for membership, offending Beijing may not seem like a wise course of action.

And so Taiwan's hope of diplomatic recognition from Kosovo is likely to be dashed. Similarly, Kosovo is not a precedent for Taiwan to follow. The difference between Taiwan and Kosovo is that the latter is being sponsored by several international heavyweights, such as the United States, Britain, France and Germany. Taiwan lacks any credible international sponsors.

In fact, Kosovo has been a ward of the international community since 1999, when the Security Council placed it under the authority of the UN Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo, with about 17,000 Nato troops safeguarding its security.

Taiwan, on the other hand, is not under UN supervision, and nearly all countries recognise Beijing and acknowledge its claim to Taiwan. There is also a slight difference between Serbia, a tiny country of about 10 million people (including Kosovo), and China, with 1.3 billion people, the world's fourth-largest economy, which is also a nuclear power.

The current situation is similar to when Macedonia, another former Yugoslav state, dallied with Taiwan in the 1990s in the hope of massive economic aid. But the US$1 billion in investment never arrived. Beijing vetoed an extension of a UN peacekeeping mandate in Macedonia and the government soon realised the importance of Beijing's support, and so ended its flirtation with Taiwan.

Kosovo will not recognise Taiwan and, in time, will win Beijing's recognition, be able to join the UN and, with Serbia, become a member of the European Community.

Frank Ching is a Hong Kong-based writer and commentator