The Jerusalem Post September 10, 2006
MKs to visit Taiwan ahead of UN bid
By Steve Linde
A day after a huge protest against President Chen Shui-bian for alleged corruption began in Taipei, a delegation of five Knesset members is scheduled to arrive in Taiwan on Sunday, The Jerusalem Post has learned.
The parliamentary visit, which is to include high-level meetings with Taiwanese officials, also comes two days before Taiwan makes its 14th bid to be represented at the United Nations.
Taipei is likely to fail in the General Assembly this time too, because of objections from China, which claims sovereignty over the 23 million people who live across the Taiwan Strait.
Although Israel is not one of the 24 states that recognize Taiwan, the visit by the five MKs, led by David Tal (Kadima), is the latest sign of what has become a flourishing relationship between the two countries.
Israel abstained in Taiwan's most recent attempt in May to become a member of the World Health Organization, but the two countries signed a joint health agreement just two months ago.
In addition, there have been bilateral deals in agriculture, science and technology, and a delegation of Taiwanese agricultural experts was not even put off by the recent war against Hizbullah, visiting Israel in the midst of the conflict.
According to press reports in Taiwan, Taipei has also purchased arms from Israel. Among other things, Israel is said to have aided Taiwan in developing a 100-kilometer-range missile that would counter a missile threat from China. A report on GlobalSecurity.org claimed that if it were deployed, the Sky Horse missile would put the eastern part of mainland China within striking distance.
So as not to upset China, Israel follows the so-called "One China" policy of maintaining trade ties with Taiwan, but not diplomatic relations.
"The official position of Israel is what we call the policy of 'One China,' and this is the policy that most countries follow," Israel's new envoy in Taiwan, Raphael Gamzou, told the Post on Friday.
Gamzou took up the post of "representative" at the "Israel Economic and Cultural Office in Taipei" just last month.
Asked if Israel would consider voting in favor of Taiwan in the General Assembly on Tuesday, he replied, "There would not be a change of our position in that regard because of the 'One China' policy."
Gamzou, however, was quick to point to similarities and strong economic ties between Israel and Taiwan.
"We encourage cooperation between the two parties that could benefit both populations," he said, adding, "And we have a lot to learn from out Taiwanese friends."
Hovav Ref, who has been director of economic affairs at the Israel office in Taipei for two years, said the two countries "have very good synergy," because Israel is a leader in high-tech while Taiwan has become a manufacturing giant.
Since exchanging trade offices in 1993, bilateral trade has soared, to more $1.2 billion dollars last year, with exports and imports "about even," Ref said.
Demand by businessmen and tourists is so high that El Al is due to announce a fourth weekly flight to Hong Kong (there are no direct flights to Taipei) this week.
Taiwanese officials wholeheartedly agreed with the Israeli assessment of burgeoning relations, but urged the Jewish state to upgrade ties and recognize Taiwan's sovereignty, despite China's objections.
One official accused Beijing of "bullying" other countries through threats of a boycott to oppose international recognition of its industrious neighbor across the Strait, which has become the 16th largest trading country in the world.
"We see ourselves as a sovereign state already," he said. "Such bullying pushes Taiwan to the brink of independence. But the time is not yet ripe to formally declare independence."
Michel Ching-long Lu, the spokesman and secretary-general of Taiwan's Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said that although the US and Japan had proved to be strong allies of Taiwan, the island still found itself unable to participate in international activities because of China.
"Taiwan is trying to be a good member of the international community," he said, "but its aspirations for international participation is always seen by China as a move toward Taiwanese independence. That's a ridiculous interpretation of our intentions."
Several officials and academics said that China had hundreds of ballistic missiles aimed at Taiwan, and expressed the hope that the two sides would open a peaceful diplomatic dialogue rather than continue their arms buildups.
"We really hope that the two sides of the Taiwan Strait can sit down and talk soon," said Chih-Peng Huang, director-general of the Ministry of Economic Affairs, remarking that Taiwan derived inspiration from Israel.
"People in Taiwan do not have the right to be pessimistic," he said. "because a country like Israel, surrounded by Arab countries, has such a difficult situation to survive, and still has managed to unite together and develop economically so well, and to have good hope and a bright future."
Huang revealed, incidentally, that a meeting at the vice-ministerial level is to be held between Israel and Taiwan in Tel Aviv in December.
Taiwan is strongly democratic but divided, and the huge protest outside the president's office, dubbed the "One million people against corruption" campaign, highlights this division.
Prosecutors confirmed last week that President Chen had been questioned for alleged irregularities involving state funds, and members of the opposition Nationalist Party (KMT) as well as his own Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) launched a massive "anti-corruption" campaign against Ah-Bian (Chen's nickname), demanding that he step down. Chen won democratic elections in 2000 after five decades of mostly military rule by the KMT, which favors closer ties with China.
Not far away from the protest site is Taipei 101, the world's tallest building, which Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu called "a symbol of Taiwan's success."
"This country used to be so poor that even a typhoon would not come and visit," Lu quipped. "But today we are known not only by Taiwan's economic prosperity, but also by the success of its democratization."
© Copyright 2006, The Jerusalem Post