. . . The Right Response
By George F. Will
Sunday, February 27, 2000; Page B07
Nations usually use diplomatic manners to mask their malevolence, but China cultivates an impressive lack of graciousness, and now, at a propitious moment, has given another glimpse of that lack. Its extraordinary threat against Taiwan may cause foreign policy to intrude upon the presidential campaign.
While Al Gore and Bill Bradley spar over decidedly nonpresidential subjects such as racial profiling by state and local police, and George W. Bush and John McCain argue about who was a meanie first, China last week issued a reminder that the world is still a dangerous place. China said that "the Taiwan issue is one left over by the Chinese civil war" that ended half a century ago, and threatened to use war to end "the state of hostility" that has not been formally ended: "The Chinese government always makes it clear that the means used to solve the Taiwan issue is a matter of China's internal affairs, and China is under no obligation to commit itself to rule out the use of force."
This is the fifth recent development that has roiled U.S.-China relations. One occurred last May, when U.S. planes mistakenly bombed the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade. Beijing cynically treated the mistake as deliberate and orchestrated an orgy of anti-Americanism, including a mob attack on the U.S. Embassy.
A second occurred last July, when President Lee Teng-hui of Taiwan stated the undeniable, that it was time to retire the fiction of "one China" by reconstituting relations between Taiwan and the mainland as a "state-to-state" relationship. The Clinton administration, always inclined to regard truthfulness as a faux pas, was very upset, having virtually adopted Beijing's position that Taiwan, the first democracy in 4,000 years of Chinese history, is a renegade province. In his 1998 grovel through China, President Clinton acceded to Beijing's demand for "three no's"--no independence for Taiwan (although Beijing has not had sovereignty over Taiwan since 1895), no two Chinas and no membership for Taiwan in international organizations for which statehood is a condition of membership.
A third development was Beijing's menacing deployment opposite Taiwan of short-range ballistic missiles, tactical aircraft and a Russian destroyer with advanced anti-ship missiles designed for use against U.S. aircraft carriers. A fourth was Beijing's arrest of more than 1,000 members of the Falun Gong religious movement, a crackdown that spoke volumes about the insecurities of the regime.
The example of Taiwan--its muscular economy (in the 20th century, world's fastest growth rate, 4.8 percent per year; 22 million people producing a GDP one-third that produced by the 1.2 billion mainland Chinese) and vibrant democracy--is the largest exacerbator of those insecurities. The Clinton administration, disposed to infuse even foreign policy with the therapeutic ethic, probably believes that the aim of U.S. policy should be to assuage those insecurities. The administration has tried to do so by aggravating Taiwan's insecurity, making the U.S. commitment to Taiwan more attenuated than at any time since President Nixon's 1972 visit to China.
Taiwan says democratization on the mainland is a prerequisite for reunification. Beijing last week called that "totally unreasonable" and--get this--"undemocratic." And, plunging into U.S. internal affairs, it denounced as a "gross interference in China's internal affairs" attempts by Congress to pass the Taiwan Security Enhancement Act and any plans to include Taiwan in a theater missile defense system. Which suggests two questions the presidential candidates should be asked.
First, do you favor a crash program for development and deployment of a ship-based theater missile defense system to be deployed near Taiwan as needed? Second, do you favor prompt passage by the Senate--the House has passed it--of the Taiwan Security Enhancement Act, which would establish close ties between the U.S. and Taiwan militaries, and would require the executive branch to inform Congress of the military supplies Taiwan seeks to purchase?
One reason all candidates should answer "yes" to both questions can be called Lord Nelson's Rule. Shortly before Trafalgar, Nelson, aboard HMS Victory with some of his officers, picked up a fire poker and said: "It matters not at all in what way I lay this poker on the floor. But if Bonaparte should say it must be placed in this direction, we must instantly insist on its being laid in some other one."
Which is why Congress should promptly respond to China's strictures against the Taiwan act and theater missile defense by demonstrating to Beijing that the Clinton era of infinite U.S. pliability is finite.