Conservative China and Taiwan specialist Arthur Waldron writes in Commentary on Taiwan’s UN rejection:

Taiwan’s rejection—for the fifteenth time in a row—by the agenda-setting committee of the General Assembly of the United Nations last Wednesday may well be seen, before too long, to have been a turning point. After all, who can believe that Taiwan will be turned down another fifteen times?

Chinese diplomats are nervous. They don’t want Taiwan even on the agenda, because they fear, correctly, that an open discussion might not go their way. They know that no one believes on principle that Taiwan should be excluded. Other countries are simply afraid of China.

How long can China continue to intimidate otherwise free-thinking nations? The answer is, not indefinitely.

Waldron also notes that the claim that this is only an election ploy fails to capture the complexities of Taiwan’s political desires:

The Bush administration portrays Taiwan’s increasingly audible demands as no more than local political posturing and manipulation, for which their elected president is to blame, and resolutely declines comment on the merits of Taiwan’s case.

Some former officials, however, are talking sense: Michael Green, for instance, Bush’s former top Asian aide, now at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. He was recently quoted as saying:

For the U.S. side, we need to recognize the issue of identity in Taiwan is not a political game, it’s not a tactical move in Taipei, it’s a very fundamental issue, not at all unique to its 23 million people…. Look at Korea, Japan, the national identity is at the top of the agenda in every country in Asia and there is no reason why Taiwan should be any different.

Thakur and Green are absolutely right. The issues and processes they describe will not disappear or cease simply because we and China wish they would. We are dealing with nationalism. Difficult as it may be, we need to think ahead.

Waldron is a longtime Taiwan supporter. It is curious to juxtapose the Zogby poll results that show liberals strongly support Taiwan’s entry into the UN, with the fact that liberal/left commentary on Taiwan is practically non-existent.

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As if in counterpoint to Waldron, a top Chinese advisor lashed out at Chen Shui-bian for the UN referendum:

China’s top advisor has lashed out at Taiwan leader Chen Shui-bian’s push for a “referendum” on UN entry, saying the secessionist move would “endanger peace and stability across the Strait and the Asia-Pacific region.”

Jia Qinglin, chairman of the National Committee of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC), made the remark when meeting a delegation of the China Council for the Promotion of Peaceful Reunification here on Monday.

“The ‘Taiwan independence’ secessionist activities are still rampant,” said Jia.

Disregarding Taiwan people’s call for peace and strong opposition from international community, Chen had been obstinately promoting a “referendum” on the island’s entry into the United Nations.

Chen’s insistence in maintaining a “Taiwan independence” policy” will jeopardize the essential interests of people cross the Strait, and will endanger peace and stability across the Strait, and even the Asia-Pacific region”, Jia said.

Beijing’s obsessive focus with Chen Shui-bian as the driver of independence activities is an important propaganda theme that both fellow-travelers and the international media have picked up. For example, Yuan Jing-dong’s utterly unimaginative and conventional piece on US-Taiwan-China relations in the Asia Times the other day echoes this propaganda line:

But Beijing is facing a serious challenge. It is quite clear that Chen Shui-bian’s referendum plan is largely driven by Taiwan’s election politics as much as by Chen’s own craving for personal legacy. It is also obvious that despite serious warnings from both Washington and Beijing, the referendum is most likely going to take place. How Beijing should react is a test for the mainland leadership’s acumen as well as resolve.

By keeping the focus on Chen, Beijing blunts the fact that Chen is speaking for the majority of Taiwanese (at least on this issue), and that at bottom it is Taiwanese nationalism and the growing Taiwan identity that is driving this referendum move, and creating conditions for its success in Taiwan. Focusing on Chen means that Beijing can pretend there is no such thing as Taiwan nationalism.