An extraordinary meeting took place in Taiwan from December 6th through 12th 2003: a group of some 35 international friends from the US, Canada, Japan, the Netherlands and the UK returned to Taiwan at the invitation of the Taiwan Foundation for Democracy.
Through the past four decades, each of these people had played a role in Taiwan's transition towards democracy through their support for the democracy movement on the island. Many of the older participants came in the 1950s, 1960s, or 1970s as missionaries, and were primarily associated with the Presbyterian Church in Taiwan.
Virtually all of them were expelled by the Kuomintang authorities, and for many it was the first time back in Taiwan since that time. Several of them -- including Rev. Don Wilson, Wendell Karsen, and Dr. David Gelzer -- helped the Church draft three courageous public statements on Taiwan's political status in the 1970s.
Since its establishment in the second half of the nineteenth century, the Presbyterian Church has played a crucial role in Taiwan: it was the only Church which had its base in the native Taiwanese population, and it was the only Church which stood fast in its support of human rights and democracy on the island. In the 1970s, it issued the following three statements: On our National Fate, 29 December 1971, Our Appeal, 18 November 1975, and On Human Rights, 16 August 1977. For the text of these statements, see http://www.taiwandocuments.org/doc_other.htm.
Other participants in the conference were instrumental in helping Professor Peng Ming-min escape from Taiwan in 1969-70. Professor Peng, a prominent political science professor in the early 1960s, was arrested in 1964 for issuing a "declaration of self-salvation." He was imprisoned, but was released after strong international protests, and put under indefinite house arrest. By 1968-69, this house arrest was so suffocating, that he decided to escape Taiwan, which succeeded with the help of a network of international friends. Rev. Milo and Judith Thornberry and Rev. Mark and Virginia Thelin (who worked with the Presbyterian Church in Taipei at the time), and Munakata Takayuki (a Japan-based Taiwan supporter) gave presentations on how the escape had occurred.
Yet others at the conference, including Lynn Miles, Linda Arrigo, and Taiwan Communiqué editors Gerrit and Mei-chin van der Wees became involved through human rights activities in the second half of the 1970s, culminating in the 1979 "Kaohsiung Incident": the arrest of opposition leaders of the tangwai movement, which became a major turning point in Taiwan's history, because it galvanized many Taiwanese on the island and overseas into political action, laying the foundation for Taiwan's transition to democracy.
The conference involved a two-day seminar at which the participants each presented their story. The meeting gave a good historical perspective, and wove the interconnected individual stories into a colorful tapestry of Taiwan arduous but successful road towards democracy.
The group was welcomed by President Chen Shui-bian in the presidential palace, while vice-President Annette Lu -- herself, like the president, a former political prisoner -- treated the group to an appreciation dinner. On 9 December 2003, the group attended a Human Rights Night concert in Taipei's Da-An Park, and were presented symbolic gifts of soil, water and seeds of Taiwan.
On 10 December 2003, the group travelled to Tainan for a meeting at the Presbyterian Theological College and Seminary, where they were welcome by Rev. Kao Chun-ming, the courageous Presbyterian minister who served a secretary-general of the Church through its most difficult period in the 1970s and 1980s.
The evening of 10 December 2003 was highlighted with a waterfront concert in Kaohsiung, offered by Kaohsiung mayor Frank Hsieh Chang-ting, who served as one of the defense counsels for the Kaohsiung Incident defendants in 1980. The group also visited the site when the December 1979 "Kaohsiung Incident" took place.
On 11 December 2003, the Washington DC-based National Security Archives published newly declassified documents on its website (http://www.nsarchive.org/NSAEBB/NSAEBB106/index.htm), which gave a word-by-word account of the discussions between former President Nixon and NSA adviser Kissinger and Chinese premier Chou En-lai during Mr. Nixon's February 1972 trip to Beijing. The documents posted were the last ones in the long-delayed declassification process of the Nixon trip materials.
The documents show that -- contrary to Mr. Kissinger's claims in his memoirs that "very little time" was spent on Taiwan -- it was a major issue during the discussions. It showed that Messrs. Nixon and Kissinger stated that " the U.S. would not support, but could not suppress, the Taiwan independence movement."
Interestingly, during the visit, Mr. Premier Zhou Enlai claimed that Washington had let pro-independence politician Peng Meng-min escape from Taiwan. Messrs. Nixon and Kissinger denied that Washington had given any help -- probably one of the few truthful statements they ever made.
During Nixon's trip, Kissinger also gave the Chinese a top secret intelligence briefing on Soviet forces arrayed against China. Mr. Kissinger gave a detailed run-down of Soviet forces along China's borders, including ground forces, tactical aircraft and missiles, strategic air defenses, and strategic missiles, with special attention to nuclear weapons. In their detailed memoir accounts of the trip, neither Nixon or Kissinger mentioned this briefing, and even kept them secret from US intelligence agencies.
Taiwan Communiqué comment: The secret machinations of Messrs. Kissinger and Nixon still have a lingering effect to this day: some say they form the "basis" of US policy towards Taiwan. Nothing could be further from the truth: As we wrote earlier ("What was US policy, again?" on page 6), from the early 1970s through the mid-1990s, the US only emphasized that it needed to be a peaceful resolution, and officially took no position on Taiwan independence (or unification for that matter) until Mr. Clinton's infamous "Three noes" of June 1998.
If the US truly wants to be considered a leader of the free and democratic world, it should stick to its basic principles of democracy. These imply support for the right of the Taiwanese to determine their own future, free from outside interference by China. And if the people in Taiwan clearly show they want their country to be recognized as a free and democratic nation, the US -- and Europe should be the first to recognize it, and ensure its independence.
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