| by Dr. Ruwantissa Abeyratne

" The door to safety swings on the hinges of common sense"...Jerry Smith

( February 12, 2014, Montreal - Canada, Sri Lanka Guardian) It is reported that China and Taiwan have held their first high-level talks since the end of the Chinese civil war in 1949. Wang Yu-chi and Zhang Zhijun, the top cross-strait officials from each side, recently attended the four-day talks in Nanjing, the former capital of China.

This is particularly good news from an aviation perspective. Air transport is a serious business which involves the safety of lives of humans and thus cannot be relegated to diplomatic bickering and political grandstanding. Communications in aviation and safety standards at aerodromes and in aircraft inter alia should know of no boundaries. But until late last year, Taiwan was out of the aviation loop, not being a recognized member of the United Nations and therefore excluded from the regulatory developments flowing through the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO).

In July 2013 United States President Barack Obama signed into law H.R. 1151 which was entitled An Act Concerning Participation of Taiwan in the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) with a formal accompanying statement that the United States government fully supported Taiwan's (Republic of China) participation in ICAO. The President's statement resonated public support of the United States Administration to that effect. This legislative act and statement was also accompanied by a statement of President Obama that the "one China policy" of the United States remained unchanged.

After compelling pressure from the international community to have Taiwan participate meaningfully in ICAO, the ICAO Council invited Taiwan to participate in the 38th Session of the ICAO Assembly held in September/October 2013 as a "guest of the President of the Council". This reactive measure from ICAO came also in the wake of an earlier initiative taken by the World Health Organization to invite Taiwan as an observer to its meetings

Taiwan is a full member of The World Trade Organization (WTO)—a high functional and critically important international organization. Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) is another. Other key examples include the Asian Development Bank and the International Olympic Committee. There are also other mostly-governmental-organizations and many, many international nongovernmental organizations as well. One commentator observes that " Taiwan has been able to participate widely and actively in these entities, albeit at the cost of indignities of nomenclature (“Chinese Taipei” and so on) and other affronts". Of course these Organization are not within the United Nations system and are therefore not fettered by a divisive Security Council or political hegemony.

Cheng-hua-min-kuo or Taiwan as it is popularly known, is an island situated 161 kilometres off the south coast of Mainland China (Peoples' Republic of China) and is banded to the north by the East China Sea and to the east by the Pacific Ocean. It is a multiparty republic with one legislative body. Taiwan was administered by the Imperial Chinese Government from the mid 1660s to 1895, after which Japan ruled Taiwan until 1945 when Taiwan went back to China. It broke off in 1949. The government of the Peoples' Republic of China claims jurisdiction over Taiwan, maintaining that the island is a province of China. The Foreign Ministry of the Peoples' Republic of China claims that the Taiwan question is in essence a struggle between the forces for and against division, and between the forces for and against "Taiwan independence", and the focus is the struggle between one China and "two Chinas". The Chinese Government and people adhere to the principle of one China, resolutely oppose all schemes aimed at splitting the country and the nation, and resolutely oppose any attempts of creating "two Chinas", "one China and one Taiwan" or "Taiwan independence".

Taiwan's meaningful participation in ICAO is essential for the wellbeing of the world if safety in aviation were to be ensured. This is particularly so when one considers the exclusion of a State from international participation in aviation although it accommodates more than 1.3 million flights per year in its flight information region. Taiwan's participation in ICAO, whatever the nomenclature used for such participation, should be fundamentally and essentially based on the teleological argument that it is the purpose of such participation that matters primarily. The key word here is "safety". Taiwan has managed to offer safety in air transport within its sphere of responsibility by clinging on to ICAO work, its panel recommendations, guidance material, regulations and principles through a benevolent espionage process where they get in the fringes or shadows of ICAO events and are compelled to unobtrusively "scavenge" the outcomes and material that emanate from ICAO events from the "legitimate" attendees. Recently the Times of India reported: "Taiwan has not shied away from its responsibilities despite the obstacles. It continues to follow ICAO standards, rules and regulations, ferreting out information through informal channels and sympathetic international partners. However, there is no denying that this is a tedious process, requiring Taiwan to spend additional resources to catch up with the rest of the world every time ICAO effects a rule change or upgrades safety procedures".

Meaningful participation in ICAO must mean participation that serves a purpose and ensures compliance with standards. This would essentially mean sustained participation under whatever label the international community gives Taiwan. In this context it is important to remember that meaningful participation is not only attending meetings but also being involved in the regulation making process. For example, when the ICAO Council adopts a Standard, it takes more than a year to reach the final stages since the formulation of that Standard. Taiwan, when is not in the formulation or development process, is suddenly confronted with a readymade Standard which it has not prepared for, whereas Contracting States of ICAO have been in the lop throughout the entire process. This makes Taiwan incur lengthy periods of time to prepare for and finally adhere to the Standard.

Political and diplomatic wrangling aside, Taiwan's meaningful participation in ICAO is a grave issue of ensuring safety in aviation. On the one hand ICAO has this to say of its Strategic Objective on safety: " Enhance global civil aviation safety. This Strategic Objective is focused primarily on the State's regulatory oversight capabilities. The Global Aviation Safety Plan (GASP) outlines the key activities for the triennium. Here ICAO does not use the word "Contracting" before "State" and must mean any State irrespective of whether that State has signed or ratified the Chicago Convention. It is already established that Taiwan is a State as per the definition in the Montevideo Convention which calls for a State to have a permanent population; a geographic area; a government; and the capacity to enter into relations with other States.

A Brookings Institute study released in September 2013 recognizes Taiwan as an economic success. The Study records that since 1992 Taiwan's GDP growth has averaged 4.5 per cent, raising the per capita income from $9,116 in 1992 to $ 19,772 in 2012. Today, Taiwan, which is run by a vibrant democracy, is the 28th wealthiest country in the world and 6th richest country in Asia.

The Taipei Flight Information Region (FIR) each year provides more than 1.3 million navigation services to aircraft carrying 45 million passengers and over 1.68 million tons of cargo. In 2011, tonne-kilometres performed by Taiwanese airlines (passengers, freight and mail) totalled 15.9 billion. The large volume of cargo and passenger traffic make Taiwan an important part of the global air transport network. For over four decades, due to the lack of direct contact with ICAO, Taiwan’s aviation authority, the Civil Aeronautics Administration (CAA), has had to make extra efforts to keep abreast of constant updates of flight safety and security standards set by ICAO. Although they have an excellent record in keeping their systems up-to-date, obtaining the latest ICAO standards has often been a costly and drawn-out process.

It is so encouraging that sanity may finally be starting to prevail.

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