Far Eastern Economic Review
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Taiwan won't be abandoned

Issue cover-dated November 8, 2001

PRESIDENT Chen Shui-bian has probably been fretting. Chief among his concerns must be whether China's support of the American-led campaign against terrorism has slackened United States support for Taiwan. Certainly, China tested this during the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum's summit in Shanghai, when it shabbily treated Taiwan, a fellow "economy" -- not state, mind you -- by refusing to extend an invitation to Li Yuan-zu, Taipei's former vice-president and its representative for Shanghai. Even before this, Beijing had been pushing anew for unification on the back of Taiwan's economic troubles. But in fact, Mr. Chen has little to fear of Taiwan being abandoned.

The latest sign came with the proposal by the U.S. to sell Taipei 40 Javelin anti-tank missile launchers and 360 missiles. The Javelin, which hits its targets from above, will provide Taiwan with an effective defence against China's new tanks, whose armour otherwise is reportedly impervious to most anti-tank weapons now in Taiwan's arsenal. In addition, the U.S. earlier said it planned to sell Taiwan 40 AGM-65G missiles for use with F-16 aircraft. These and other weapons sales previously agreed to represent a significant defence against any Beijing opportunism.

All this must have had Beijing surprised, if not a little miffed. Such would be the result of a failure to understand the various and separate strands of security issues. Anti-terrorism is only one strand, and support for this must anyway be taken for granted of any government that claims sovereign legitimacy, as China does. So though China supports this, it does not excuse the threat to security in East Asia that Beijing represents by its continuing animus toward Taiwan. Moreover, China's growing economic prowess (though exaggerated) may have offered it a new standing as it hosted the Apec summit, for instance. But this says nothing about the pace of its own democracy. Taiwan, however, has a functioning democracy and continuing support for its regime by other liberal democracies is only to be expected.

A China that craves international respect may want to keep in mind that this won't come until Taipei has nothing to fear from Beijing -- when China learns what it means to be a real democracy. Until such a time, whatever Beijing's posture on any number of issues, Taipei can count on its friends and allies not to abandon it to the Chinese wolves.