Taiwan as the Switzerland of Asia!

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Sunday September 17, by Jerome F. Keating Ph.D.

Events in recent weeks have proven to be very positive for Taiwan. The Taipei Summer Universiade has concluded and is judged by all to be a major success.

Some 7,376 athletes from over 130 nations came to Taiwan and participated in 271 events and 21 sports. Taiwan, after winning 90 medals, was ranked third out of the competing nations surpassing both Russia and the US.

In addition, Formosat-5, the nation's first domestically developed satellite, was successfully launched on Aug. 24 from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. This satellite is already sending back images as it orbits.

However, despite all the joy and sense of accomplishment that has come with these events, a certain irony has lingered since the Universiade. The host nation, Taiwan had to participate under the ridiculous and insulting name of "Chinese Taipei."

Like unwanted residue, this name persists from when Taiwan was a one-party state days under the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT).

After the Republic of China (ROC) lost its UN seat in 1971, the KMT accepted the name "Chinese Taipei" in lieu of other names like "Taiwan" or "Formosa" for use at the Olympics and other international sports events because it wanted to preserve the dying dream that the ROC would once again be China's representative at the UN and to the world.

Nonetheless, there is a silver lining to be found here.

It lies in resurrecting an idea put forth by former vice president Annette Lu: Taiwan must take hold of its own destiny, but to do so, it should borrow a page from Switzerland's playbook. In short, it should aspire to be the "Switzerland of Asia."

Such an idea might initially seem far-fetched as metaphors only go so far, but the thought does have merit.

Examine the reality of the Universiade and the silly duplicity exposed by Taiwan having to participate under the name of "Chinese Taipei."

Thousands upon thousands of athletes and visitors came to Taiwan from around the world nations for the Games. All these guests had to get their visas and entry permits from somewhere.

They did not get them from China; they did not get them from the US; they did not get them from the UN where only 19 members officially recognize Taiwan. They certainly did not get them from the fictitious Chinese Taipei. They got them from the ROC - from Taiwan.

What does this have to do with Switzerland? The Swiss have always earned respect because of their fierce sense of independence and neutrality.

Actually, the word "neutrality" has an added modifier: "armed neutrality." This is what Taiwan can learn from Switzerland about maintaining its position in the world.

A past Taipei Times article highlighted Taiwan's de facto independence and showed how other nations mask their not-too-covert recognition of Taiwan. ("Taiwan already enjoys independence," Aug. 17, page 8).

Also discussed were the many areas, economic and otherwise in which Taiwan proudly outshines and outperforms a majority of the UN members. For example, Taiwan's GDP is higher than that of 85 percent of the UN members. A nation does not achieve such a high GDP if it is simply the others' charity case - Taiwan has earned its position in the market place.

How does this relate to Taiwan emulating Switzerland's armed neutrality?

The Swiss have a history linking independence and neutrality; this history goes back to the 1648 Treaty of Westphalia.

From that time forward, Switzerland has interacted with its neighbors in a way that has purposely avoided any alliances that might endanger its neutrality.

Switzerland avoided taking sides in the Franco-Prussian War (1870-71). More importantly it maintained its neutrality during World Wars I and II even though both were waged all sides around the nation. In each situation, the Swiss military was mobilized to defend Swiss borders while refraining from participating.

Many might not realize that Switzerland purposely avoided joining the UN until 2002, more than a half a century after the UN was formed because it feared that membership during the Cold War might threaten its neutrality.

This is an irony that Taiwan must see: It does not have to join the UN.

Not that the nation should stop seeking UN membership but Taiwanese should realize that UN membership is not the end-all or be-all of a nation. Taiwan can and will stand alone if that is what it is required to preserve its neutrality and independence.

The nation is not surrounded by hostile powers; only China covets and threatens Taiwan. Like Switzerland's neutrality in Europe, Taiwan's armed neutrality can benefit Asia.

A hegemonic China masks its discourse on Taiwan with convoluted hints of a constantly changing motherland; however, its real reason for wanting to possess Taiwan is immediate free access to the Pacific Ocean. It considers this vital to its expanding national interests in much the same way that it asserts its right to dominate and make the South China Sea its Mare Nostrum.

There are natural supporters for Taiwan's neutrality - such as Japan and South Korea who would face greater isolation if China were to control Taiwan. The US, which remains "undecided" on Taiwan, also knows the danger posed by China's hegemony.

Switzerland maintained its neutrality because its mountains served as natural defenses. As an island, Taiwan has similar advantages. Without a direct land route, any attack on Taiwan would have to come by sea or air.

Taiwan could be taken as Switzerland was once taken by Napoleon, and as Germany considered taking it in WWII. However not only would such an attack be costly, but also the needed efforts to control a densely populated and unwilling hostage nation would be even more costly.

In World War II, Switzerland was surrounded by Axis powers and yet maintained its neutrality. This ironically proved beneficial for both sides as they spied on, negotiated with and met each other there.

A rebellious and captive Taiwan on the other hand would destabilize Asia, if only because of the many economic links Taiwan controls in high-tech and other industries that the nation controls.

These are home advantages Taiwanese must realize they possess as their self-reliance and national pride grow.

Taiwan is already armed; what it needs is simply to state a position of armed neutrality and to show how this will contributes to regional peace in Asia.

This would go a long way to acknowledge the reality that already exists. It might even help the fictitious "status quo" that others in the region do not keep.