Taiwan, The Lost Country 2


For several hours in late April, as many as two billion people became temporary citizens of Great Britain as they watched the wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton – now the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge – on television. On this one day, for these few hours, we were all “Brits.”

I’ve had a strong affection for Great Britain and its people and traditions since the 1970s when I went to London to attend university – first as an undergraduate and later as a master’s and doctoral candidate in physics at Imperial College. I return to Great Britain frequently and have become a major supporter of medical and scientific research at my alma mater.

I admire British fortitude and respect British tradition – afternoon tea at the Ritz, for example. But this doesn’t change my passport; it doesn’t make me British.

Several weeks ago I was in London again, attending a function at my alma mater, Imperial College, London. As I occasionally do, I stayed at the Ritz.

Like other top London hotels that cater to an international clientele – Claridges, Grosvenor House, the Mandarin Oriental, the Savoy – the Ritz provides its guests with a variety of amenities. On this trip what it provided me was something else: a harsh reminder that, in the eyes of much of the world, I’m a man without a country.

I was in my room looking to make an overseas phone call.  As a convenience to its guests the Ritz has a directory listing the country codes for overseas locations.

But my country wasn’t listed. In the eyes of the world, my country – the Republic of China on Taiwan – doesn’t exist.

The global fiction is that Taiwan belongs to China. But the fact is: the People’s Republic of China at no time in its history, or in the history of Taiwan, has exercised sovereignty over my country.

I would love to see the eventual merger of Taiwan and China on the right terms – a voluntary union, like a marriage, with a “pre-nup” giving both parties the right to walk away if it doesn’t work.

Until then, the world does a disservice to the people of Taiwan, and to the cause of freedom and self-determination, to pretend we don’t exist.

And make no mistake: Much of the world pretends Taiwan doesn’t exist.

In the eyes of the United Nations, for example, we’re a non-entity. This same United Nations recognizes dozens of political regimes whose strong-arm leaders arrogantly and routinely violate the United Nations Charter. The United Nations also recognizes political entities that are not countries, such as the Occupied Palestinian Territory, and countries with populations in the mere thousands (such as Anguilla: pop. 11,430, and Nauru: pop. 10,065). But the U.N. Department of Economic and Social Affairs’ “Population and Vital Statistics Report,” last updated May 4, 2011, doesn’t mention Taiwan, with a population exceeding 23 million and the world’s 19th largest economy (as measured by Purchasing Power Parity).

The United Nations, of course, is notoriously wrongheaded on many issues, so this is no surprise. But the United Nations isn’t alone; other organizations fall in lockstep.

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) provides no “country information” for Taiwan. Timor-Leste, Togo, Tonga and Tuvala, yes; Taiwan no. The World Health Organization (WHO) and Asian Development Bank similarly ignore our existence.

Even the World Atlas (www.worldatlas.com), a supposedly impartial authority on such matters, lists 192 “Countries of the World.” Taiwan, the lost country – which would rank 51st on the World Atlas list by population – is conspicuously absent.

This deliberate snubbing of my country extends into the diplomatic arena. Though most countries are happy to trade with Taiwan (our Acer tablets are among the best in the world), just 23 countries have formal diplomatic relations with Taiwan. The United States is not among them – though the United States does help Taiwan in many other ways, as mandated by the Taiwan Relations Act.

I am not insisting that everyone like Taiwan. I am insisting that they recognize our existence and accord us the same courtesies and respect they confer upon others.

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Winston Wong, a British-educated physicist, is a prominent Taiwanese entrepreneur and philanthropist.