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5th September 1999

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inside the glass house

Forgotten Taiwan makes another bid for UN

By thalif deen at the united nations

NEW YORK— The late Mervyn de Silva, whose prodigious knowledge of foreign affairs and whose devastating sense of humour will forever remain unmatched in Sri Lankan journalism, rightly realized China's potential as a major political, economic and military power.

A some-time critic of the mainstream American news media, the sharp-witted and cynical Mr. de Silva always remained amused by the red-baiting that went on in the US during the height of the Cold War when the virulently anti-Communist Senator Joseph R. McCarthy was "looking for reds under every bed."

When he was editor of the Daily News in the early 1970s, Mr. de Silva discovered that the mostly American and British wire service stories in his own newspaper kept referring to a country mis-labelled "Red China."

In the American political lexicon, "red" denoted radicalism, anarchy and Communism — at times, all rolled into one.

Reprimanding his copy editors, Mr. de Silva sent a note to the foreign desk of the Daily News advising his staff that there was only one China—and that "Red China" was a figment in the minds of Western journalists.

"China is China," he said, "And I don't want 850 million people reduced to a piece of crimson coloured crockery."

At around the same time in 1971, China made its first major breakthrough internationally when the General Assembly decided to expel Taiwan from the UN, and replace the renegade province called the "Republic of China" with the legitimate People's Republic of China, currently the world's most populous nation with 1.3 billion people.

The bogey of a "Red China" died when the world body rectified its mistake by booting out Taiwan and giving China its rightful place at the united place in the community of nations.

But since its ouster, Taiwan has made six unsuccessful attempts to get back into the world body through several means, including an indirect offer of a hefty $1 billion to the cash-strapped UN.

But the overwhelming majority of UN member states, including Sri Lanka, subscribe to the Chinese view that Taiwan is not a sovereign nation state and is only a province of China.

In mid-September, the Taiwanese government will make its seventh bid to re-gain its seat - this time supported by perhaps the only 12 countries maintaining political and diplomatic relations with Taipei: Burkina Faso, El Salvador, Gambia, Grenada, Honduras, Liberia, Marshall Islands, Nicaragua, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Senegal, Solomon Islands and Swaziland.

But it is a foregone conclusion that the proposed resolution "to ensure the fundamental rights" of the 22 million people in Taiwan "to participate in the work and activities of the United Nations" will be rejected by the UN's Credentials Committee even before it could reach the floor of the General Assembly or the Security Council.

Even in the unlikely event that it passes muster in the General Assembly, China will use its veto in the Security Council to block Taiwan's re-admission to the world body.

The United States, which also has veto powers in the Council, has made it unequivocally clear that it does not support UN membership for Taiwan.

During his tour of China in July last year, US President Bill Clinton said: "We don't support independence for Taiwan; or two Chinas; or one Taiwan/one China. And we don't believe that Taiwan should be a member in any organisation for which statehood is a requirement."

In contrast to the 12 countries backing Taiwan, China has diplomatic relations with more than 160 of the current 185 member states in the Organisation.

"They all acknowledge there is only one China in the world, that the government of the People's Republic of China is the sole legal government representing the whole of China and that Taiwan is a part of China," says Ambassador Qin Huasun of China.

He also points out that "the issue of Taiwan is purely an internal matter of China and an issue for the Chinese themselves to resolve."

China's fundamental state policy was expounded by the late Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping who called for a "peaceful reunification" of China and Taiwan under the concept of "one country, two systems."

The Chinese envoy says the United Nations is an inter-governmental international organisation composed of sovereign states — and Taiwan will have no place in it, now or in the future.

"The proposal by Nicaragua and a handful of other countries would only fan the flames of Taiwan's separatist activities and hinder China's peaceful reunification," he argues.

In the eyes of the United Nations and the World Bank, however, Taiwan has ceased to exist - except as "a province of China."

In both World Bank and UN publications, Taiwan continues to be listed as an appendage of China, along with Hong Kong and Macau.

Winds of change from across Palk Straits

Adrian D'Melo, Our South Asia Correspondent

Even as the Sri Lankan cabinet approved the establishment of a Foreign Ministry Research Unit (FOMRU) late this week to study, among other things, developments in neighbouring Tamil Nadu, inquiries in the south Indian state of 50 million ethnic Tamils, revealed there was little or no support for the Eelamist cause, let alone support for the LTTE, there.

Clearly alarmed by the election manifestos of two Tamil Nadu political parties, now in alliance with the BJP, namely the Pattali Makkal Katchi (PMK) and the Marumalarchi Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (MDMK), the Sri Lankan cabinet had wanted FOMRU to "closely" study the "changing political dynamics in Tamil Nadu and its possible impact on the on-going conflict in Sri Lanka." On the face of it, undeniably, there is a threat on the northern horizon. The MDMK's manifesto said a separate Tamil Eelam was the only "lasting and dignified" solution to the Sri Lankan Tamil problem.

The PMK's manifesto went a step further and said the Sri Lanka Tamils were being treated as second class citizens in the past 50 years and, because, a separate Tamil Eelam was the only way to end their problems, the PMK would press the Indian government to recognise the struggle for Tamil Eelam as a "national liberation movement".

Both the PMK and MDMK stressed the problems of the Indian fishermen who fall prey to the Sri Lankan Navy's bullets in the sea between India and Sri Lanka and said they would bring an end to the suffering. But by characterising the Sri Lankan Navy as a "Sinhala padai" or a Sinhala force, the PMK had portrayed the mid sea conflict as an ethnic one, entirely in line with the blatantly ethnic politics of the LTTE. The PMK and the MDMK are also interested in retrieving Katchathivu, which India had ceded to Sri Lanka in the mid seventies.

The PMK's manifesto claimed Katchathivu "belonged to Tamil Nadu" and that it had been gifted away. The party, it said, would strive to re-establish the rights of the 'Tamils' over the island. The PMK wanted India to give the Sri Lankan Tamil refugees in Tamil Nadu all the facilities, including citizenship, extended to refugees from Iran, Iraq and Tibet. If granted, this could lead to a mass influx of Lankan Tamils into Tamil Nadu, and the creation of a strong pro-Eelam constituency in that state. The PMK as well as the MDMK pledged to see that the Sethusamudram project to dredge the Palk Strait and the Gulf of Mannar to make the waters navigable for big ships, was implemented expeditiously. But Sri Lankans, whether Sinhala or Tamil, see the project as a threat. For the Tamils it is a threat to the Jaffna peninsula as a part of it could go under water. For the Sinhalese it is an economic threat to Colombo port.

Both the Tamil nation alist parties had de manded that the Indian constitution be revised to give the constituent states greater rights. While the MDMK wanted a constitution that would be more responsive to the peoples' needs, the PMK said only foreign affairs, currency and transport should be in the hands of the Central government. Some could see in these demands the seeds of an "Eelamist" movement, though the demand for state autonomy in Tamil Nadu is as old as the Indian constitution. Karunanidhi

Asked about his views on the stand of these two allies on Tamil Eelam, the DMK President and Tamil Nadu Chief Minister, M.Karunanidhi, said he would not allow those fighting for a separate Eelam to disturb the law and order situation in Tamil Nadu. Mr. Karunanidhi's stand has always been that he would be happy if the Sri Lankan Tamils got Tamil Eelam, but he would not allow them to turn Tamil Nadu into a killing field, in the process.

Rajiv GandhiThe murderous activities of the Sri Lankan Tamil militant groups in the eighties had brought the movement a bad name in Tamil Nadu and the killing of EPRLF chief K.Padmanabha and Rajiv Gandhi by the LTTE had cost Mr. Karunanidhi his job as Chief Minister. North Indian leaders rarely even mention the Sri Lankan Tamil issue. But this time, Mr.Vajpayee did contrast the Indian army's operations in Kargil with the IPKF's operation in Sri Lanka, praised the former and criticised the latter. The Sri Lankan Tamils had reportedly interpreted this to mean that he was pro-Tamil. But perceptive political observers in Tamil Nadu do not take the statements of these political leaders seriously. About the manifestos of the PMK and MDMK, an editor of a popular weekly said:" These are statements which they periodically make to please their masters ( the Tigers ) for otherwise they might be killed." Vajpayee

Dr.Ramadoss has said even more radical things in the past but had done precious little, added a senior Chennai journalist. The MDMK has been a major supporter of the Vajpayee government and the PMK had a minister in the Vajpayee cabinet, and yet New Delhi had renewed the ban on the LTTE. New Delhi's relations with Colombo have been friendly, even though the latter would like the Indian Navy to be pro-active in curbing the Tiger movement. "The Eelam and LTTE issues are not central to the election campaigns in Tamil Nadu," the journalist quoted earlier said. " On election platforms, speakers mention Vajpayee, Sonia, Karunanidhi and Jayalalitha and not Sri Lankan Tamils, Eelam or LTTE. The Sri Lankan issue died a natural death after the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi," he further said. Even when the 26 accused in the Rajiv Gandhi assassination case were all, unjustly, sentenced to death by the trial court, there was no mass protest against it. "Only journalists with an inclination towards human rights issues wrote pieces condemning it. Likewise, when all but four of them were released by the Supreme Court, only the hardcore supporters of the LTTE went to town on it," he said.

The feeling in Tamil Nadu is that the state should keep off the Sri Lankan Tamil issue. While the population is not interested in the issue, the government in Chennai would neither play host to the Tigers and other militants, nor incur their wrath, as politicians in Tamil Nadu know the Tigers can be ruthless and other Lankan militant groups are trigger happy. If arms and ammunition are being stored on Tamil Nadu soil or its coast is being used to smuggle explosives and munitions, the government will not look the other way, because New Delhi would view it as a security threat and the state government could be sacked for jeopardising national security.

What the state government might allow, and are probably allowing, is the smuggling of fuel, consumer goods and medicines. This is looked at as routine smuggling activity for which the Rameswaram-Thanjavur coastline is notorious anyway. As far as New Delhi is concerned, under the BJP government, the general impression is that it has not been pursuing Tiger shipping in the seas north of Sri Lanka, partly because of the embarrassing court cases the government had got caught in for intercepting ships on the high seas, and partly because of political pressure from the PMK,MDMK and Defense Minister, George Fernandes. hile the PMK and MDMK would like the Navy to turn a blind eye to LTTE shipping if the ships were not heading for India, Mr.Fernandes would not like any interception in the high seas without express permission from the Defense Secretary. The fate of LTTE ships, 'Mariamma' and 'Showa Maru', is therefore still a question mark as a result of the Indian attitude.

Indian interest in the seas in question is not Sri Lanka centric but India centric. This is a fundamental point. As one Indian official said: " India acts in its own interest and not in that of another country." Indeed, the Indian establishment is very much aware of the dangers the Tigers pose to India's security and it will zealously guard its own national interests, but it will not want to overreach itself only to aid another country, in view of a perceived (somewhat exaggerated ), ' ethnic Tamil constituency' in Tamil Nadu.

The Sri Lankans, of course, do not believe that the Indians will go hell for leather against Tiger shipping, but as one top rung Sri Lankan leader put it, " they could shoo them away." This, India could very well do, and may well be doing.

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