Taiwan Communiqué No. 98, September 2001

US politics and Taiwan

Playing party politics

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Taiwan about the US 'One China' policy: "I don't know whether to get angry or be grateful!"

Within US politics, the issue of "Taiwan" has always received broad-based political support. Resolutions in Congress received endorsements from both Democratic and Republican backers, and were voted on with near-unanimous support.

Administrations have swung back and forth between support for Taiwan in tight situations _ such as Mr. Clinton's dispatch of two aircraft carrier battle groups during China's missile crisis in February-March 1996 _ and kowtowing to China because of its size and perceived market.

During these pendulum motions by the successive administrations, the Congress acted as the American conscience, reminding the administration of the basic principles the US should stand for. The 1979 Taiwan Relations Act was such a corrective measure: it was drafted by Congress after President Jimmy Carter dropped recognition of the Kuomintang regime in Taipei in favor of the regime in Beijing. Mr. Carter had totally overlooked the people of Taiwan themselves, and Congress acted to rectify that.

During the first few months of the Bush Administration, the pendulum swung towards Taiwan. Mr. Bush stated firmly that he would do "whatever it took" to help defend Taiwan if it was attacked by China, and approved a significant arms sales package. (See "The demise of strategic ambiguity" and "A balanced package" on pp. 5-10 in Taiwan Communiqué no. 97).

A disheartening development during these few months has been the fact that several prominent Democrats have been playing US party politics with Taiwan, its defense and its future. Leading Senators, such as Mr. Joseph Biden (D-DE) and John Kerry (D-MA) as well as House leaders, such as Richard Gephardt (D-MO) have made statements criticizing Mr. Bush's statements and policies.

Taiwan Communiqué comment: While a healthy "give-and-take" discussion is an essential part of the democratic process, we feel that these Democrats are damaging Taiwan's vital interests by their partisan politics. If they want to emphasize the importance of the Congressional role vis-à-vis the White House in US foreign policy, so be it, but these Congressional leaders need to keep in mind that Taiwan's future as a free and democratic nation is at stake.

The Democratic Party played an important role in Taiwan's democratization, when in the early 1980s, Senators Edward Kennedy (D-MA) and Claiborne Pell (D-RI), together with Congressman Stephen Solarz (D-NY), helped push for human rights and the end of the Kuomintang's martial law on the island. In recent years, courageous and visionary Democratic Congressmen such as Robert Andrews (D-NJ), Peter Deutsch (D-FL) and Sherrod Brown (D-OH) played key roles in the adoption of resolutions in support of Taiwan's membership in international organizations, such as the WHO and the United Nations.

It is thus essential that the Democratic leadership starts to follow a more constructive approach, stops playing partisan politics, and help initiate policies in support of Taiwan's acceptance as a free, democratic, and independent nation, and its defense against a belligerent China. The following editorial from the Taipei Times contains useful advise in this regard, especially for Senator Joseph Biden.

Mr. Biden's "constructive engagement" myth

This editorial appeared in the Taipei Times on 8 August 2001. Reprinted with permission.

If Joseph Biden, chairman of the US Senate's Foreign Relations Committee, really wants to understand what is blocking dialogue across the Taiwan Strait, he need look no further than the bully-boy attitude of the Beijing regime.

Ever since President Chen Shui-bian took office, Taiwan has made one goodwill gesture after another toward Beijing, including opening the "small three links" and making plans to allow Chinese tourists into Taiwan. But Beijing has ignored all these gestures and used various excuses to refuse official exchanges with Taiwan. It has shown no sincerity to Taiwan at all. This is something US Democrats, who have championed a "constructive engagement" approach toward China, should understand.

The slowness of Beijing's democratization process _ especially after the Tiananmen Square massacre — has stood in stark contrast to Taiwan's rapid democratization following the lifting of martial law in 1987. This contrast mirrors the vast, essential difference between the two government systems.

China has long relied on opposing "US imperialism" as a conduit to feed its people a steady diet of anti-democratic, anti-human rights ideas — describing democracy as the root of political chaos and human rights as a capitalist conspiracy aimed at subverting communism. Beijing has also used the so-called "democratic dictatorship of the people" to persecute anyone opposed to communist rule. The Cultural Revolution, which left tens of millions of people dead, and the massacre of students and others in Tiananmen Square attest to the cruel persecution of dissidents by the Chinese Communist Party.

It is hoped that the brief tour of Northeast Asia Biden and his team are making — with stops in Taipei, Beijing and Seoul — will give them a first-hand look at the vast political, economic and cultural differences between the two sides of the Strait. They should also be able to learn that China's refusal to carry out democratization and its trampling of human rights are major reasons why the people of Taiwan resist the Beijing regime. Despite Beijing's lies about "socialism with a Chinese face," even so-called "moderates" such as Deng Xiaoping and Jiang Zemin have insisted on one-party authoritarian rule, the persecution of dissidents and the suppression of religious freedom.

Won't the US be shooting itself in the foot if its "constructive engagement" policy solidifies the foundations of Communist rule and helps nurture the hegemonic mindset of Communist leaders who have a fondness for military solutions? "Constructive engagement" has yet to lead to any sign of the construction of a more democratic China.

Sources who attended Biden's meeting with Chen said the senator called Chen's views of cross-strait relations too optimistic and not vigilante enough. In light of the recent media reports about Chen's remarks — saying he hoped "the people on the two sides of the Strait can join hands, make peace and embrace each other" — the stories about Biden's comments could very well be true. How can Chen justify holding an overly optimistic view of cross-strait relations when Beijing will stop at nothing to corner Taiwan in the international arena?

The Bill Clinton administration's overly optimistic view of China led to a high US trade deficit with China and solidified communist rule in China. Taiwan's misguided economic policies have lead to the exodus of businesses to China. It cannot afford to make mistakes in the political arena — errors that could render it complicit in the strengthening of communist rule. Taiwan's democracy is proof of its political, economic and social advances — but such an achievement is no cause to either complacently or arrogantly underestimate the destructive power of the Beijing regime.

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Copyright © 2001 Taiwan Communiqué