By CLIFFORD D. MAY
SCRIPPS HOWARD NEWS SERVICE
TAIPEI, Taiwan -- Remember that U.N. official who complained about Washington's contribution to the tsunami victims? He neglected to mention that even as he was deriding Americans as "stingy," the United Nations was refusing more than $50 million in aid.
Why? Because the offer came from Taiwan, and the Chinese rulers in Beijing do not want this island nation playing an independent role on the world stage -- not even a charitable one.
"I really wonder," said Zakaria Fellah, an Algerian-born former U.N. official, "whether the victims of the stricken areas in Indonesia, Thailand or Sri Lanka would have cared about the origin of the assistance."
Fellah was speaking at an international conference in Taipei on "civil society and democratization," with an emphasis on the United Nations -- and its failure to work seriously toward those goals.
It is a source of particular irritation to the Taiwanese that, at Beijing's insistence, they have been barred from U.N. membership -- and even from the kind of "observer" status enjoyed by the Red Cross and the Palestine Liberation Organization. Nor can Taiwan join such affiliated groups as the World Health Organization. If that means missing out on cooperation that could save lives, the WHO doesn't appear to mind.
Of course, one might wonder why Taiwan would want to be in the United Nations. The 34-year period since its exclusion from that body coincides with the greatest achievements in the history of this island, a land as large as the Netherlands with a population that is now about the size of Australia's and New Zealand's combined.
With no U.N. officials offering development "expertise" or a penny of financial assistance, Taiwan has risen to become the world's 17th-largest economy and the 14th-largest exporter. In the bustling capital of Taipei, 85 percent of families have personal computers in their homes. The world's tallest building -- Taipei 101 -- recently opened its doors.
Perhaps even more impressive, the people of this island have in recent years created the first Chinese-speaking democracy the world has ever seen.
Communists have never ruled Taiwan. In fact, the last time the island was under mainland China's authority was 1895. In the decades before World War II, Taiwan was a Japanese possession. In 1949, after Mao Tse-tung's forces defeated the Nationalist Chinese, Gen. Chiang Kai-shek and his followers moved here.
But Taiwan's leaders long ago relinquished any claim to govern the mainland. By contrast, Beijing still insists it has the right to rule Taiwan -- which it calls a "renegade province." Through diplomatic and economic bullying, Beijing has persuaded most governments of the world to go along with its "one China" policy.
Still, it should not be impossible for the Taiwanese to insist that two fundamental principles of human rights apply to them as much as anyone else.
The first is that any change in their relationship with their bigger neighbor must come about through peaceful means. Currently, China deploys more than 500 ballistic and supersonic anti-ship missiles directly across from the island, and the Chinese military has ostentatiously conducted amphibious landing exercises in the region.
It is the height of hypocrisy for France, Germany and other nations that vocally opposed the toppling of Saddam Hussein's genocide regime to decline to speak out clearly against the possibility of a military invasion and violent overthrow of Taiwan's democratically elected government.
And if U.N. officials can't say it would be illegal and unacceptable for Beijing to occupy and colonize Taiwan, they have no standing to talk about occupation and colonization anywhere else in the world.
The Taiwanese also have a right to self-determination. Surely, no one can legitimately rule Taiwan without the consent of the Taiwanese people -- and such consent can only be expressed at the ballot box.
Accepting such principles actually would benefit Beijing. It would mean the end of a dangerous half-century standoff. And it would open new opportunities. Beginning with non-aggression and economic cooperation, closer ties might follow -- if mainland China develops in a democratic direction as Taiwan has.
But before any of that can be contemplated, the Free World -- not least the United States, which, under President Bush, has reaffirmed America's mission of defending and spreading freedom --must pressure Beijing to stop treating Taiwan as a pariah and strong-arming others to mistreat it as well.
And just this once, is it too much to hope that the United Nations might play a constructive role?
X Clifford D. May, a former New York Times foreign correspondent, is the president of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, a policy institute focusing on terrorism.