Taiwan's independence must be protected
Hill- The Right View: By David Keene June 14, 2000
last month, as Congress prepared to grant China its long-sought
permanent normal trading status, the people of the other China
on the island of Taiwan were installing a new president.
Shui-bian was elected not as the candidate of the Kuomintang,
the party which has run Taiwan since Nationalist Chinese forces
fled the mainland back in 1949, but of the 13-year-old Democratic
Progressive Party (DPP). Chen's victory came amidst threats
of military action from the mainland if Taiwan elects the
candidate of a party that refuses to accept that there is
but one China and that Taiwan is a part of it.
The threats may or may not be real, but between the time of
his election and his inaugural address on May 20, Chen softened
his line on independence considerably. He pledged that, as
long as Beijing resists the temptation to use military force
against his country, his government will not declare independence
or promote a national referendum on the question.
problem, however, is that the question of whether the 22 million
citizens of the Republic of China on Taiwan will remain free,
quasi-independent and in control of one of the world's strongest
economies won't be decided in Taipei, Taiwan's capital. It
will be decided in Beijing and, to a lesser extent, in Washington.
China has never wavered in its stated desire to take Taiwan,
which it claims as part of China. Moreover, Beijing's leaders
have consistently charged that anyone who questions their
right to take the island by whatever means they ultimately
deem appropriate is a threat to peace in Asia.
communist regime in Beijing has never controlled Taiwan, and
few on the island are prepared to let them do so. Those on
Taiwan who support reunification support it contingent on
a change of regime in Beijing; they are no more willing to
voluntarily surrender what they have spent generations building
than are the most radical leaders of the DPP.
the Taiwanese have built on Taiwan is awesome. Per capita
income is more than $14,000 or about 18 times the per capita
income on the mainland. In economic terms, Taiwan is a true
world power with a huge trade surplus and the industrial capacity
and human base to compete anywhere with anyone. Her people
have produced about two-thirds of the notebook and laptop
computers in the world, and she boasts the largest shipping
company on earth.
Chen's election and the transition of power from a party that
has been in power on the island since 1949 marked the first
peaceful transition of real power in Chinese history. Chen's
predecessor, Lee Teng-hui, who had fostered the development
of democracy on Taiwan, gracefully stepped aside after the
election. The world press hailed the outgoing president as
"Mr. Democracy," and those watching closely knew
they were witnessing the emergence of the first free democratic
state in Asia.
United States should have been proud. After all, the Republic
of China exists today only because of the protection we extended
to it over the years. Just as importantly, it is one of the
few nations anywhere that has done what our founders hoped
many nations would do - emulate the example of the United
States by creating free institutions of their own.
many in this country aren't proud of what we helped create.
They see Taiwan instead as a stumbling block, a nuisance that
stands in the way of hopefully better relations with Mainland
China. A lot of folks here would, in fact, like to see Taiwan
is just what Beijing is counting on. A Chinese general was
quoted last year as suggesting that he doubts if Americans
want to trade Los Angeles for Taipei, and suggested that we
might have to do that if we want to continue underwriting
the island's security. Of course, if it becomes clear to the
Chinese that our commitment to our ally on Taiwan isn't very
deep, the likelihood that Beijing will resort to force against
Taiwan will increase exponentially.
cannot let that happen, for moral as well as strategic and
historic reasons. The mainland regime might like to seize
Taiwan, but they are not fools. They'll only unleash the Peoples
Liberation Army if they think they can get away with it. Many
in Congress understand this and are prepared to pass legislation
underscoring our commitment to Taiwan and giving her access
to the defensive military technology she needs to guarantee
her own security. That legislation should pass, but we should
next administration should upgrade our relations with Taiwan
by at least allowing high-ranking executive branch officials
to visit the place. At present, those in this country who,
in effect, have the power to decide the fate of 22 million
free people aren't even allowed to visit Taiwan.
is one of the most vibrant and free nations on earth. If the
elections and economic data they can observe at a distance
aren't enough maybe they'll be convinced when they discover
it's easier to find a Starbucks in Taipei than in Washington.
Keene is chairman of the American
Conservative Union and a Washington-based government