Taiwan is reportedly trying to persuade China to drop a demand that all Taiwanese goods exported to China had to be marked “Made in Taiwan Province of China”, writes dpa. The Liberty Times quoted vice economics minister Lin Sheng-chung as saying that “we will not accept China’s demand, and will hold talks with China to find a solution”. In recent months, several regions in China have reportedly begun to screen the source of origin of Taiwanese goods, and rejected those marked “Made in Taiwan”. Labels to China’s liking would be “Taiwan, China” or “Taipei, China”.
One would probably need to be a lawyer, and one with a good grasp of international law at that, to understand the possible legal ramifications of such labels – just as of the flags under which Taiwan is taking part in international conferences, or international sports events. And I’d really be able to assess if minister Lin rejects the Chinese demand because of possible legal effects, or rather because he fears a public outcry if Taipei gives in to such a demand. Or if Taiwan’s government is worried about the political effect that giving in to the Chinese demand would have on China’s aggressiveness itself. One concession begets another concession – especially when blackmail is the name of the game.
The mere fact that China is a member of the United Nations, or that most governments of the world firmly adhere to a One-China policy doesn’t offer much orientation about what it takes to be a country. When the Economist tried to define the makings of a country in April, it found that the answer to that question was surprisingly difficult:
Any attempt to find a clear definition of a country soon runs into a thicket of exceptions and anomalies. Diplomatic recognition is clearly not much guide to real life. In the early years of the cold war most countries recognised the Chinese regime in Taiwan (“Free China”) while the mainland communists (“Red China”) were isolated. Now the absurdity is the other way round. The number of countries with formal diplomatic ties to Taiwan has shrivelled to just 23—mostly small, cash-strapped islands. Yet Taiwan is not just a country, but a rather important one. Under mainland-pleasing names such as “Chinese Taipei” it is a member of the Asian Development Bank and the World Trade Organisation, and an observer at some OECD panels. It has nearly 100 “trade offices” around the world.
So there they are, the Beijing-pleasing names. God knows if “Taiwan, China” or “Taipei, China” would mean just as little (or much), and if they’d do so by legal, or rather by political standards. Even if the implications should be political rather than legal, every time Taipei gives in to Chinese pressure – directly applied as in the current country-of-origin issue controversy, or indirectly applied through international political, economic or cultural organizations and associations -, it sends a signal of helplessness, and fuels what may, in reality, be little more than Chinese illusions.
After all, some day in the rather near future, with or without the ECFA signed, Taiwan will wake up to the reality that the number of Chinese missiles aimed at their island has continued to grow. The Chinese will wake up to the reality that saying that Taiwan is their province still hasn’t made it so. That will be a surprising and very uncomfortable moment for everyone involved – and that’s really everyone on this globe. The Cold war may be over – the nuclear age definitely isn’t. If there is a genuine determination to defend Taiwan, Beijing’s criminal energy shouldn’t be encouraged by yet more signals that would suggest the contrary.
The Stupid Little Mermaid, March 12, 2009