Diplomats battle trends in international arena | China Post
Taiwan has a very good diplomatic service. The competition among intelligent, well-educated and articulate young people to enter the foreign service is intense. Indeed, many of Taiwan's diplomats are brilliant people. They have a depth of international vision matched rarely by foreign diplomats.
However, they have a hard row to hoe -- that is, their life is not easy. People expect miracles. Of course, miracles are in short supply. The fact is that our diplomats battle international trends that are much like the earth's tectonic plates -- that is, forces so massive no one person can control or counter them.
For many years, the Republic of China was "island China," a representative of the Chinese nation. The island received defense aid from the United States -- indeed, many U.S. servicemen were stationed here. That all changed when President Carter recognized Beijing. This shift of recognition was a disaster in more ways than one. Not only did the Republic of China lose U.S. support, it almost certainly slowed the pace of democratization in Taiwan.
But the truth is, Taiwan is one of the world's most vibrant democracies and the island receives too little credit for its achievements in governance. Taiwan remains a beacon of freedom for those oppressed around the world -- not only in mainland China, but elsewhere in the world. Taiwan has shown that the struggle for freedom can bring benefits for all.
What about other places in the world? Belarus, for example, has an oppressive regime that rules by a mixture of the carrot and the stick -- rewards for those who cooperate and harassment for those who don't. Although Belarus has elections, international observes say they are neither free nor fair.
One of Taiwan's allies -- indeed, the only one in Europe with formal ties -- is the Vatican. The Vatican is special case -- it is the seat of the Roman Catholic Church. The Vatican is a very valuable ally for Taiwan, but its interests are fundamentally different from other nations -- its role is to protect the faithful and propagate the faith. There has been a suggestion that the Vatican's head of state Pope Benedict XVI, would like to visit both mainland China and Taiwan. This might not be a very practical undertaking.
Mainland China has an estimated 12 million Catholic believers and Taiwan has about 300,000. Mainland China is seen as one of the greatest evangelistic challenges left for the world's Christians.
Talk of the Vatican withdrawing its recognition from Taipei has been going on for at least 30 years. So far, nothing has happened. The on again, off again talks with Beijing founder on several principal questions -- who will appoint the mainland's bishops and who will lead the faithful. So far, the mainland regime has shown no signs of budging on these key questions. They insist the state-sponsored church is the only true church for China's Catholics, while those loyal to the Vatican worship in private, with the constant threat of persecution. Some bishops in mainland China have recently been appointed by a process of joint consultation between the Vatican and Chinese authorities. The appointment of bishops is fundamental to the governance of the Chinese church -- and indeed, any part of the Roman Catholic communion. The bishops are the successors to the original apostles who first carried the word of Christianity to the world. They are successors to the apostles in a direct and literal sense. The Church also teaches that primacy belongs to the Bishop of Rome -- in other words, the Pope -- just as St. Peter, the rock on which the Christian Church was built -- had primacy among the apostles.
The Vatican has reached an accommodation with communist Vietnam and the Church is growing in leaps and bounds.
The Vatican held out an olive branch to the Chinese authorities by inviting four Chinese bishops -- two from the "official patriotic " church and two from the underground church loyal to Rome -- to the recent meeting of bishops from all over the world in Rome.
Beijing requires two things of the Vatican: one, to sever ties the Republic of China on Taiwan which Vatican officials have said they are willing to do "immediately;" and second, not use religion as an excuse to meddle in China's internal affairs.
The question of the Vatican recognizing Beijing is one of these tectonic plates mentioned before. Whatever the skill and adroitness of our diplomats, the fact is that the Vatican has been around for 2,000 years and has survived by putting the interests of the faithful first. We must, of course, do our best to prevent the loss of such an important ally, but if the communist mainland regime and the Vatican can reach agreement, there is little we will be able to do.
However, doing "little" and doing "nothing" are very different. Taiwan has a well-deserved reputation for religious tolerance and the Catholic faithful will remain faithful. We must present our case -- that we are a long-standing friend of the Vatican and a beacon of freedom in Asia for the world's believers -- as forcefully as we can.
We are fortunate to have a diplomatic service that can present our case well. They are accustomed to working against the odds and performing miracles. Taiwan may have lost its formal links with many of the world's powers, but we have substantive links with the world's most significant nations. The Vatican, in area, is very small, but its influence is profound. Losing the Vatican as an ally would be more than just a diplomatic loss because Taiwan shares the same values of religious freedom and open society that the Vatican represents.