By Kristie Wang. Kristie is a Communications Specialist in San Francisco. She served as program-director of the Washington-based Center for Taiwan International Relations from 1993 through 1997.
On December 5, 1998 Taiwan held democratic elections for its legislature and for mayors of its two largest cities. Since this island of 21 million people began its dramatic march toward democracy in 1986, with the formation of its first political opposition party, the people of Taiwan have been building up solid experience with democracy. In 1996 an astounding 76% of eligible voters went to the polls in a highly publicized direct election for president, for the first time in the island's 400-plus-year history.
|Taiwan election crowd, anxiously looking towards it future|
Today, the Taiwanese people have finally marched out of the shadows of 40 years of Chinese Nationalist oppression, martial law, and "White Terror" to attain their vibrant multi-party democracy. The question now is whether Taiwan's achievements will be supported and recognized by the international community, or whether China will be allowed continue its violent threats to impede the island's further progress.
In spite of the strides Taiwan has made, it has been blocked from participation as a full and equal member of the international community. China has been a big obstacle, and the Chinese Government continues to hinder Taiwan's membership in international organizations and threatens to attack if the island moves further in the direction of de jure independence.
Thus, this democratic island with a population larger than two-thirds of the UN's member countries - which elects its own president, issues its own currency, and conducts its own foreign affairs and trade relations - is not a member of the United Nations and has diplomatic relations with only a handful of countries.
In 1995-1996, Taiwan's preparations for its historical democratic presidential election were perceived by China as one such step toward solidifying its independent status. China responded by launching missiles at Taiwan, which finally prompted the Clinton administration to take action and send two aircraft carriers to the area.
However, in mid-1998, during a visit to China, President Clinton tread significantly beyond the carefully constructed ambiguity of earlier U.S. formulations and pronounced the so-called "Three no's": no support for "Two Chinas" or "One China, One Taiwan," no support for an independent Taiwan, and no support for Taiwan's membership in any organization "for which statehood is a requirement."
These statements were immediately and strongly repudiated by near-unanimous votes in the U.S. House and Senate. Clinton was criticized by many for making gratuitous statements to appease the Chinese during his visit, while putting unnecessary constraints on the settlement of the Taiwan-China dispute.
In recent years, U.S. policy toward Taiwan has shifted back and forth in this hit or miss manner. This pendulum-swinging method is an invitation for miscalculation and is a dangerous way to conduct foreign relations, particularly at this time.
Taiwan is at a crossroads. At this point in its history, as it struggles to solidify its democracy with each election, under a constant cloud of threats from China, Taiwan needs clear and explicit support from the world's leading democracy and the world's leading democratic leader. This support is critical to ensure that the dramatic strides and sacrifices made by the 21 million people of Taiwan will not be turned back and that China will not threaten the peace and stability of the entire region with its military bluster.
Taiwan is an important ally for the United States - as its seventh largest trading partner and as a fledgling democracy. Taiwan is exactly the model of economic and political maturation that the U.S. should support and encourage around the world. Because of its location, straddling the major sea lanes from Japan and Korea to Southeast Asia, Taiwan also is of great strategic importance to the region.
As China continues to increase its military power of projection, it is ever more critical that the United States send a strong and unequivocal message that the international community will not tolerate a takeover of Taiwan by force, or even a threat or a blockade.
At the end of July 1998, just a few weeks after Clinton made his "Three no's" statements in Shanghai, China's State Council issued a "White Paper," in which it stated that China reserves the right to use force against Taiwan.
Taiwanese people around the world recently responded by issuing their own "White Paper Regarding Taiwan and Its Future" to the international community, based on the fundamental principles of democracy, respect for human rights, and peace and stability. They appeal to nations that profess to adhere to democratic principles to:
The United States must take the lead. In taking these steps, the U.S. would affirm our belief in and support for freedom and democracy, while stating unequivocally that we will not tolerate violence as a way to conduct foreign affairs.
Peaceful coexistence between Taiwan and China as two friendly nation-states is the only way through which security and stability in East Asia can be guaranteed.
The full text of the international appeal of the Taiwanese people can be found at:
In our previous issue, we reprinted a rebuke of Chas Freeman by the Defense Department. The November / December 1998 issue of Foreign Affairs carried several more letters to the editor, criticizing Mr. Freeman's dangerous and irresponsible views. Here we reprint two of them:
To the Editor:
Freeman's essay is misleading, condescending, and littered with anachronisms. For starters, the so-called consensus on "one China" has never existed among the Taiwanese people, only between the Chinese and the Nationalist Chinese Kuomintang governments. In a recent poll, nearly 40 percent of Taiwanese said they preferred to see Taiwan declare independence, while only 25 percent supported unification with China. President Lee Teng-hui's visit to the United States did not collapse any long-standing agreement or trigger new tensions, as Freeman claims. The reactions following that visit simply revealed the strains that already existed.
Contrary to what Freeman believes, Taiwan is not part of China. Claiming a territory is different from possessing one. Taiwan has been under actual Chinese rule for only eight years, from 1887-1895. Freeman also says, incorrectly, that the reunification of Taiwan and China would end the Chinese civil war. That war was fought between the Chinese Communist party and the Kuomintang (Nationalist Party), not between Taiwan and China. The Taiwanese people were the victims of this power struggle and nearly 50 years of a brutal Kuomintang regime. Now that the government in Taiwan has renounced its claim to China, only China insists on continuing the war.
Freeman also misrepresents Taiwan's independence movement, which was sparked by Chinese Nationalist oppression, not by any encouragement from U.S. weapons. Such independence would give Taiwan freedom and self-rule-universal rights and priceless gifts for any country. Freeman should check out an American history book and read about his own country's struggle for independence.
Senior Analyst, Formosan Association for Public Affairs
To the Editor:
Chas. W. Freeman, Jr., has a selective memory ("Preventing War in the Taiwan Strait," July / August 1998). While he recalls the 1982 Sino-U.S. Communiqué write clearly, he appears to have more trouble with the 1979 Taiwan Relations Act, which established U.S. arms transfer policy to Taiwan. When Congress was informed about the 1982 communiqué, it denounced it as totally inconsistent with the 1979 act.
Freeman espouses the preposterous notion that terminating arms sales to Taiwan would promote peace, implicitly legitimating a Chinese use of force against Taiwan. Freeman must have been pleased when President Clinton accepted Beijing's position on Taiwan-that it is a renegade province-in June, contradicting the policy of all previous presidents, who "acknowledged" but did not "accept" China's position on Taiwan.
Taiwan has not been a part of mainland China since 1895. Of the island's 21 million people, 84 percent are of pre-1949 Taiwanese ancestry, and only 14 percent are ethnic Chinese. The United States should not rule out independence or any other option these people decide on. Unlike Freeman and Clinton, fortunately, more members of Congress think that national self-determination remains an important American value.
Stephen P. Gibert
Director, National Security Studies Program and Professor of Government
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