Taiwan’s Marginalized Role in International Security

By Bonnie Glaser & Jacqueline Vitello

 International Headquarters S.A.R., Taiwan.

Taiwanese rescue teams deployed to the Philippines receive a briefing during the response to Typhoon Haiyan in late 2013. Source: International Headquarters S.A.R., Taiwan.

The complicated question of Taiwan’s sovereignty has led to its exclusion from countless international security organizations. This has left a critical hole not only in the security of Taiwan’s 23 million citizens, but also the world at large. Taiwan’s marginalization from international security organizations has also created new blind spots for terrorists and criminals to exploit. Despite possessing both the means and intent to play a role as a responsible stakeholder, Taiwan can neither benefit from most international security bodies nor share its considerable reservoir of knowledge and expertise for the common good. The Freeman Chair’s latest report considers eight areas of international security that stand to benefit from Taiwan’s inclusion: counterterrorism, law enforcement, maritime security, nuclear security and nuclear nonproliferation, transportation security, humanitarian assistance and disaster relief (HADR), human security, and cybersecurity.

China’s objections are the primary obstacle to Taiwan’s participation in international security organizations. Both the Mainland and Taiwan’s ruling party (the Nationalist or Kuomintang party) adhere to a “One China” policy, in which they agree that the Mainland and Taiwan are both a part of a single sovereign country called China. However, Beijing fears that Taiwanese participation in international security organizations undermines the One China policy, and is a move toward an independent, sovereign Taiwan. This fear persists even though China’s substantial economic clout makes it unlikely that many nations would recognize Taiwan as a separate, independent country.

China’s opposition to expanding Taiwan’s participation in international organizations undermines Chinese interests in three key ways. First, China faces new and growing threats to its own security, such as the threat of terrorism that requires stronger global cooperation. Leaving Taiwan out of organizations that seek to counter these threats creates a gaping hole in the larger counter-terrorism network. Second, thwarting Taiwan’s participation in international security organizations undercuts China’s attempt to win the hearts and minds of the Taiwanese people and therefore undermines Beijing’s its goal of peaceful unification. Third, expanded interactions between Taiwan and China have created new opportunities for terrorists or criminals to enter China via Taiwan or threaten Chinese citizens on Taiwanese soil.

While working within the bounds of its own “one China” policy, the United States plays a critical role in supporting Taiwan’s active participation in international organizations. Steps the United States can take to further increase Taiwan’s involvement in international security cooperation include: 1) appealing to other nations to back Taiwan’s membership where possible and its enhanced participation where membership is unattainable; 2) raising with senior Chinese leaders U.S. concerns about the security risks of marginalizing Taiwan from international security collaboration; and 3) bringing concerns about Taiwan’s exclusion directly to international organizations that have a security focus.

At the same time, Taiwan must make its own full faith efforts to demonstrate to the international community that it is qualified for and deserves more participation in international organizations. Taiwan should actively publicize its advanced expertise and willingness to contribute to global security endeavors, intensify its diplomatic efforts to obtain support from other countries to increase its role in international security cooperation, and convince Mainland China that obstructing Taiwan’s international role is contrary to Chinese interests, including its goal of reunification.

To learn more join us for the Freeman Chair’s report rollout event on February 27 beginning at 8:30 a.m. EST at CSIS.

Ms. Bonnie S. Glaser is Senior Adviser for Asia within the Freeman Chair in China Studies at CSIS. Follow her on twitter @BonnieGlaser. Ms. Jacqueline Vitello is a Research Associate and Program Coordinator with the Freeman Chair in China Studies.

Bonnie S. Glaser

Bonnie S. Glaser

Bonnie S. Glaser is a senior adviser for Asia and director of the China Power Project at CSIS.

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