West Virginia Gazette


One China a fantasy

West Virginia Gazette Editorial
Charleston, WV March 02, 2006

NEW rumblings in the politics of Taiwan remind Americans that there are other regions of the world needing attention.

President Chen Shui-bian, who finally broke the power of Chiang Kai-shek’s Kuomintang Party in 2000, also broke with the island’s history. Chiang’s Nationalists fled the Chinese communist revolution in 1949 and set themselves up in Taipei, claiming to be the true government of China. The United States went along until 1978, when Washington finally recognized reality and normalized relations with Beijing. But even in the following decades, both governments — island and mainland — agreed on one thing: There is only one China.

But that agreement has been shattered in recent years.

Chiang’s Kuomintang embraced an impossible fantasy that one day it would return triumphant to rule over all of China. The communists in Beijing, meanwhile, remained committed to “liberating” Taiwan.

In the intervening time, as the world knows, Taiwan also established itself as a booming capitalist economy, one of the strongest in the region.

But what of the people who were on the island before Chiang arrived, the native Taiwanese? As the decades of Kuomintang rule went on, natives grew more and more impatient with its dominance of their lives until, at the turn of the millennium, they dumped the government of displaced mainlanders and elected Chen, a native son and leader of a Taiwan-for-the-Taiwanese movement. One-party rule was over.

In 2003, Chen announced a referendum that would call on Beijing to remove the missiles pointed at Taiwan and to renounce the use of force against the island. Beijing was not pleased with this development, and despite the U.S. commitment to defend the island in case of attack by China, President Bush rebuked Chen for being provocative.

It was a strange reaction for a U.S. administration bent on spreading democracy in the world. Chen’s government represented true democratic change. The referendum would merely have asked Taiwanese voters if they wanted Beijing to back away from its threats to seize the island.

But by then, Washington was already embroiled in Iraq and clearly displeased at the idea of strife on another front.

Now Chen has upped the ante again by announcing that he is scrapping guidelines for reunification with China, inherited when he took office in 2000.

Once again, Washington is not pleased, and is urging Chen to uphold the status quo. And once again, the Bush administration’s double standard is revealed. Conflict in East Asia would be highly inconvenient right now, even though a thriving democracy — one Washington is pledged to defend — is merely asserting its right to exist.

Here is another cost of the war in Iraq. Overcommitted in the Middle East, U.S. forces are hardly in a position to act anywhere else.