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Letters to the editor

More Bowing to Beijing

Harvey Feldman

Saturday, January 17, 2004

Kenneth Lieberthal [op-ed, Jan. 8] condemns a proposed referendum in Taiwan that would object to China's aiming of 500 or so missiles at the island republic. But apparently he has no objection to the missiles themselves.

In fact, Lieberthal argues that we -- and Taiwan -- must accept Beijing's missiles and other warlike preparations as "facts on the ground," and adjust our own policies so as not to tempt China into using that muscle against Taiwan. To accomplish this, we must simply tell Taiwan to knock it off, because holding a referendum objecting to China's policies could anger its leaders (and lead them to actually fire those missiles).

Interestingly, Lieberthal never mentions the Taiwan Relations Act, which states that military coercion against Taiwan would be regarded as a "threat to the peace and security of the Western Pacific area" and a matter of "grave concern to the United States." But this tracks with Lieberthal's view that U.S. policy must take account of Chinese sensibilities -- and, of course, force Taiwan to do the same. Yet there is no parallel need on Beijing's part.

Lieberthal also objects, as does the leadership in Beijing, to the fact that on Taiwan both the governing and the opposition parties are considering a new constitution, to be presented for popular approval in 2008. This would replace the present document, imposed by Chiang Kai-shek in 1947 when he still ruled mainland China. Chiang took that constitution with him when he moved to Taiwan in 1949, after losing the mainland to Mao Zedong. It formally proclaims the government of the Republic of China (still Taiwan's formal name) as the government of all of China, including Mongolia and Tibet.

Lieberthal fears that a new constitution written on Taiwan would acknowledge that the government in Taipei does not rule Shanghai or Chungking but rules Taiwan. In the strange world of Chinese politics and China-watching, this is the no-no of all no-no's. Why? Because it would make clear that just as the government in Taipei does not rule mainland China, the government in Beijing does not rule Taiwan. For Lieberthal, when Beijing takes a stand on an issue, rattles its sabers and adds to its naval and missile forces, it is up to the United States -- as the old imperial edicts used to put it -- to "tremble and obey."

-- Harvey Feldman

The writer is a former ambassador and alternate representative to the United Nations. He is a senior fellow in the Asian Studies Center of the Heritage Foundation.