Taiwan Communiqué No. 93, September 2000

Muzzled in LA

President Chen keeps a low profile

President Chen and AIT Chairman Richard Bush in LA

On 13 and 14 August 2000, Taiwan's President Chen Shui-bian made a stop-over in Los Angeles, enroute to visit six countries in the Carribean and Africa. A number of members of the US Congress, many of whom were in LA to attend the Democratic National Convention, were planning to meet with the newly-elected president, who just entered office on May 20th, after his March 2000 election victory.

The members of Congress included Sam Gejdenson (D-CT), Howard Berman (D-CA), Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA), David Wu (D-OR), Bob Wexler (D-FL) and Sherrod Brown (D-OH), who have all been consistent supporters of Taiwan in the House.

However, the Clinton Administration put heavy pressure on the DPP-government to decline any requests by Congressmen to meet with President Chen. An aide to Congressman Gejdenson said that the Clinton Administration "…has pressured Chen not to meet with the lawmakers…".

Taiwan Communiqué comment: We suggest that this course of action by the Administration is yet another signal in the wrong direction: why is the democratically-elected leader of one of the most free and democratic nations in Asia shunned, and being treated like a pariah, while the leaders of a repressive, communist-led government (Messrs. Jiang Zemin and Li Peng) get a red-carpet treatment at the White House in Washington and at the UN in New York.

If the US wishes to enhance democracy in Asia and the rest of the world it should display a more friendly attitude to those who through hard work and much personal sacrifice brought about a democratic transition in their country. Instead of shunning Chen Shui-bian in LA, we should welcome him in Washington.

Both Berman and Rohrabacher wrote to Deputy Assistant Secretary for East Asia and the Pacific Stanley Roth to protest the restrictions.

In an excellent editorial titled Snubbing Taiwan, the Washington Post on 17 August 2000 strongly criticized the State Department's restrictions. Two quotes from the editorial:

Chen 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. ….

… 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?

In an OpEd article titled A missing compass in the China connection in the Washington Times of the same day, commentator James Hackett wrote:

Whenever someone from Taiwan is treated with common courtesy, the rulers in Beijing throw a tantrum, which the Clinton administration wanted to avoid, especially during the Democratic National Convention in Los Angeles. China has been unusually quiet as it awaits final action by Congress on the bill granting it permanent normal trade relations, but Beijing did state its opposition to Mr. Chen's stopping, even briefly, on U.S. soil.

Ever eager to kowtow to communists, the Clinton administration not only restricted what Mr. Chen could do and whom he could see, it also trampled on freedom of the press. Unable to control the press in this country, the administration instead pressured Taiwan to keep Mr. Chen under wraps. There were no profiles in courage as the administration bowed to Beijing's demands.

In commentary in the National Review, Ted Galen Carpenter, vice president at the Washington-based Cato Institute, also strongly criticized the Clinton Administration. A few quotes from the article, titled Appeasing China, humiliating ourselves, are given here. The full article can be found at the website of the Cato Institute at http://cato.org/dailys/08-15-00.html

…. The administration's conduct is disgraceful but not surprising. It is reminiscent of the policy adopted more than five years ago when then-Taiwanese president Lee Teng-hui requested a visa to attend a reunion at his alma mater, Cornell University. The administration's initial response to objections by the Chinese regime was to offer assurances that the visa request would be denied. Only after Congress overwhelmingly passed a resolution demanding that Lee be allowed to come to the United States did the administration beat a hasty retreat.

The proper response to Beijing's attempts to block the visits of Lee and Chen would have been a firm rebuff. Indeed, the episodes created an opportunity to throw a favorite objection made by Chinese officials back in their faces. The Beijing government habitually responds to U.S. protests about its egregious human-rights record by denouncing "interference in China's internal affairs." Yet Chinese leaders don't hesitate to try to dictate America's visa policy or decide whether a traveler in transit can set foot on American soil. ….

The administration's excessively deferential behavior toward China not only betrays important American values; it is potentially dangerous. Chinese leaders are impressed with quiet displays of strength and pride; they have justifiable contempt for fawning behavior. Unfortunately, the Clinton administration has all too often engaged in the latter. ….

Few people would dispute that it is important for the United States to maintain a cordial relationship with China. But there is a big difference between that goal and having U.S. officials abase themselves when China's Communist rulers make outrageous demands or engage in outrageous conduct. The Clinton administration seems incapable of grasping that distinction.

Congress: for high-level contacts with Taiwan

On 25 August 2000, seven Democratic members of the US House of Representatives wrote Secretary Madeleine Albright urging her to end the inappropriate ban on high-level visits between elected Taiwanese officials and US officials.

The Democrats expressed their strong disappointment at the State Department's restrictions on Taiwan President Chen Shui-bian's stopover in Los Angeles in mid-August 2000, and stated that the US policy towards China and Taiwan should be evenhanded: "Since Jiang Zemin comes to the United States to give his views, Chen Shui-bian and his ministers should have the same right", the Congressmen stated in their letter.

The Congressmen added: "The United States has fought for democracy around the world and is without a doubt the world's leading democracy as we enter the new century. Yet, when visiting the US, Taiwan's president was denied the basic rights of freedom of speech and freedom of assembly. The 23 million people of Taiwan have built a mature democracy over the past decade. We wanted to speak with President Chen about his country's accomplishments and its plans to support U.S. interests in Asia."

They concluded their letter by requesting Secretary Albright to ".. immediately conduct a review of Administration policy on visits by high-level Taiwanese officials to the U.S. and take the necessary steps to end the inappropriate ban on high-level visits between elected Taiwanese officials and U.S. officials, including the democratically-elected President of Taiwan."

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