Thursday, August 17, 2000 ; A28
SHUI-BIAN, the president of Taiwan, has just ended his 15-hour
stopover in Southern California. Didn't notice that the
newly elected leader of one of Asia's most vibrant democracies
was on American soil? Well, you weren't supposed to. In
deference to the government of Communist China--which considers
Taiwan not a success story but a renegade province--the
Clinton administration did everything it could to keep Mr.
Chen under wraps while he paused en route to the Caribbean
and Central America.
recognizing Beijing and de-recognizing Taipei more than
two decades ago, the United States has observed an informal
ban on high-level official visits from Taiwan. The Communist
government is exceedingly prickly about any U.S.-Taiwan
contact it considers "interference in China's internal
affairs." Thus, it saw the mere granting of a U.S.
transit visa to Mr. Chen as an affront, especially since
Mr. Chen has, in the past, spoken more favorably of Taiwan
independence than any previous president of the island.
China, Mr. Chen's brief stopover was a potential repetition
of the four-day visit to the United States in 1995 by Mr.
Chen's predecessor, Lee Teng-hui, who wanted to stop in
at his alma mater, Cornell University. That visit, permitted
by the Clinton administration at the insistence of Congress,
prompted China to recall its ambassador to the United States
and stage military exercises near Taiwan. Apparently fearing
another such tiff, the Clinton administration made it clear
to the Chinese that Mr. Chen's transit visa was strictly
for his "safety, convenience and comfort."
China howled anew when it was announced that Mr. Chen planned
to go to a private, unofficial reception in the Los Angeles
home of a former aide to Rep. Sam Gejdenson (D-Conn.), to
which Mr. Gejdenson and four other members of Congress were
also invited. So, still deferring to China, the Clinton
administration pressured the guest of honor not to attend.
Mr. Chen, who has himself bent over backward not to provoke
China since being elected last March, got the message and
asked his hosts to call off the reception. Instead, he had
dinner in his hotel, where Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.),
alone among the invitees to the canceled reception, dropped
by to express support.
United States should not go out of its way to inflame China
on Taiwan. But a quick meet-and-greet between Mr. Chen and
a few members of Congress hardly constituted anything a
reasonable person would describe as reneging on the longstanding
U.S. policy of recognizing Beijing as the sole government
of China--or even as the equivalent of Mr. Lee's 1995 tour,
which was itself actually innocuous. By bowing to China's
bluster, the Clinton administration implied otherwise, setting
a dangerous precedent. This was a pretty blunt example of
Chinese interference in American internal affairs. Since
when does any foreign government get a veto over where authorized
foreign visitors--not to mention members of Congress--may
go and whom they may see?