His goodbye party in the European Parliament, organised by the EP-Taiwan Friendship Group, made clear that Ambassador Shen, during his Brussels’ year, became a well respected and appraised advocate of his country’s affairs in top circles. European Business Review (EBR) was offered the opportunity of an exclusive interview with Dr. Shen, two weeks before his departure for Taiwan’s capital, Taipei.
The first question was what, in Dr. Shen’s opinion, is the best reason for his country to consider the EU as one of the most crucial interlocutors? Is it political? Is it trade?
Dr. Shen: ‘Of course it is political, and it is also about trade. But, there is another very specific reason for Taiwan to consider the EU as one of the most important interlocutors. My country is watching the European integration process with more than normal interest. For us, this integration process is a source of inspiration for our new mainland China policy!’
‘Our President, Dr. Ma Ying-jeou, Vice-President Vincent C. Siew and Speaker of the House Wang Jin-peng have shown their interests in the EU experience respectively. Look at the social and economic integration in Europe; the minimising of military tension and the increase of the possibilities for political accommodation. Both sides of the Taiwan Strait can learn a lesson from this’.
EBR: The European integration process is very hard and laborious. And the working of the EU is very complicated…
Dr. Shen: ‘That is true, the way the EU works is complicated. We not only have to deal with the European Institutions but often on the same subjects in the capitals of the member states as well. In 19 of the 27 capitals Taiwan has diplomatic offices. To understand how to deal with the EU as well as its member states in a coordinated way, was the most difficult part of my job here in Brussels. But the alternative for the EU is probably even more complicated.
‘And, there is progress; as there is some progress in the relationship between China and Taiwan: there are now direct airlinks, intermarriages. Compare it with the two Koreas and see the difference. In my opinion the future cooperation of China and Taiwan could become the second most important integration experience in the world, after the European Union. I realise the cradle of the EU was two terrible world wars. In China there was a Civil War and we still have military confrontation. Let us, on both sides of Taiwan Strait, learn from Europe. Even if you don’t understand the whole concept, the European integration process is a luminous example’.
EBR: Sometimes we have the feeling that Taipei underestimates the EU compared with the US. Is that a correct feeling?
Dr. Shen: ‘Yes it is. But look at the past. The United States always provided Taiwan with treaties to defend it. The US was considered as the place where our best and brightest went to university after finishing college in Taiwan. The US, with all its developments, was a role model for us. Now seems to be the time to look better to the EU which can be a more relevant role model for us. If you look at something as simple as size – for example, the scale of agricultural activities, European farmers can teach us better than their colleagues in the US with their enormous farms. European cars fit better in our narrow streets than American cars’.
‘It is true; we don’t know each other very well yet. We have to increase our mutual understanding of each other. We have to increase the number of visitors. Already many Europeans are visiting our island; but, and that is very understandable, Taiwanese people are now focused on meeting relatives and old friends living on the mainland of China’.
‘It is good to see that more and more Taiwanese young people are studying in Europe. The quality of the European education is good and European universities are much cheaper than the American ones. The European system gives also a better guarantee that a country will find all its talented people because you don’t have to be rich to go to university. Education has to be affordable for every one, we say in Taiwan. And 3000 years ago Confucius already said: education knows no differences’.
EBR: Taiwan has not been represented at the United Nations and its agencies since 1971, when its seat was given to the People’s Republic of China. In May this year your country succeeded in its bid to attend the World Health Organisation as an observer. Can we expect bids for other UN agencies in the near future?
Dr. Shen: ‘In line with President Ma’s ‘modus vivendi’ diplomatic strategy, Taiwan shifted its bidding for representation to promoting ‘participating meaningfully in the activities of specialised UN agencies’. After the success of attending the WHA as observer, my government has recently announced that the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) will be the next targets for ‘meaningful participation’.
‘Since I was accredited in Geneva, seat of many UN Specialized Agencies, I have been recommending that my government should focus on building a relationship with such Agencies like ICAO, the UN agency that covers aviation safety. You have to realise that in the Flight Information Region (FIR) handled by Taiwan, on an annual basis more than one and a half million controlled flights pass. Sixty nine airlines from thirty countries are involved. All American and Japanese flights to south-east Asia pass Taiwan. Most of them don’t land but they pass through. Taiwan has no direct relationship with ICAO, because we are not a member, not even an observer, of ICAO. Sometimes we lack important information. That is not only bad for Taiwan; it is dangerous for millions of international passengers on board these flights. We want to close the gap!’
‘Immediately after ‘9/11’, when I was accredited in Washington DC, ICAO organised a special high level meeting to discuss new measures and means to increase safety on board. Very practical points such as do whether we have to allow pilots to bear weapons, better construction of cockpit doors etcetera were raised. Every country in the world was there, even the smallest ones, but Taiwan was not allowed to be at the conference table…’
EBR: What role can Taiwan play in UNFCCC, the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change?
Dr. Shen: ‘Carbon emission reduction! Taiwan is a small island, but also a highly industrialised country. There is a gap in the system when Taiwan is not in it. If something went wrong, not only Taiwan will suffer, but also the rest of the world. That is the reason why we want to be in the mechanism of carbon trading’.
EBR: The European Parliament suggested that Taiwan also has to play a role in another UN agency, WMO, World Meteorological Organisation?
Dr. Shen: ‘Recently an EU team visited Taiwan to survey the facts and effects of Morakot, the typhoon that in August of this year wrought catastrophic damage in Taiwan, leaving almost 700 people dead and missing. It was found out that the weather forecasts had been not accurate. Reason? Taiwan is not a member of WMO; so Taiwan can not use the WMO Global Telecommunication Service that provides important information. It is right Taiwan has a separate line to the GTS, but that allows not even ten percent of the information for regular members. On the other hand, Taiwan is situated in a key area hit by typhoons. Data Taiwan that can deliver are important to bridge a gap in the meteorological information system’.
In Ambassador Shen’s office the walls are bare. His personal belongings such as pictures and souvenirs of his outstanding career that brought him the last 20 years to Washington, Geneva and to Brussels are packed and will find a new place in his bureau in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Taipei.
EBR: One last question: do you expect that after all those years you will miss your work in the centres of global politics?
Dr. Shen: ‘Of course I will do. But is also good to be back home, after all those years.