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U.S. must respect strategic value of Taiwan democracy

U.S. must respect strategic value of Taiwan democracy

The declaration by United States Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on December 21 that the upcoming national referendum on whether the government should use the name of "Taiwan" to gain membership in the United Nations is "a provocative policy" which Washington "opposes" exposes a dangerous failing in U.S. strategic policy in Asia.
In the wake of a series of warnings against the referendum by U.S. State Department officials, Rice hiked the pressure imposed by the right-wing Republican administration of President George W. Bush on Taiwan President Chen Shui-bian and the Democratic Progressive Party government to an unprecedentedly public level.
Regretfully, Rice repeated Washington's misunderstanding that the referendum on whether to join the U.N. under the name of "Taiwan" is a government "policy" and ignores the fact that the initiative is being put on the ballot together with the presidential election on March 22 because of signatures of 2.72 million Taiwan citizens and not because of a decision by President Chen Shui-bian.
The 2.72 million signatures should have awakened U.S. officials to the reality that there is a strong public desire for such a vote to allow the Taiwan people a chance to voice their own collective desire to join the U.N. and end 36 years of isolation from the international community that was caused by the former authoritarian KMT regime and by the PRC.
Few Taiwan voters will expect the doors to the U.N. to open to "democratic Taiwan" even if the referendum is approved, but we disagree that the initiative is "unnecessary."
The fact of the matter is that the "Taiwan for the U.N." referendum is a defensive move that aims to protect Taiwan's status quo of independence from the intensifying and increasingly explicit drive by the PRC to "unilaterally change the status quo" by turning Taiwan into a "local government" in international society, including in global organizations that are not "sovereignty-based."
The refusal by the Bush administration to take this problem seriously, as shown by the vote by the U.S. in favor of a Beijing-sponsored resolution in the Paris-based World Animal Health Society (OIE) in May maintaining that the PRC is the "sole government of all China, including Taiwan" and numerous other examples has led the DPP, as well as many civic groups and citizens, to feel that Taiwan has to take action to defend itself or else be seen as tacitly accepting a status as a local government of the PRC.
The refeferendum reflects a commitment to the values of both democracy and peace and does not constitute "a unilateral change" in Taiwan's status quo and also would, for the first time, show the world what the majority of Taiwan residents desire instead of reflecting only the position of the president or the governing party.
Even if passed, the referendum would not change Taiwan's constitutional name and would not directly result in U.N. membership. As Rice and other U.S. officials know, only the 192 member states of the U.N. can collectively, and thus not "unilaterally," make such a decision.
Smashing the lighthouse
Rice did pledge that Washington remained committed to peace and security in the Taiwan Strait and opposed any threats of the use of force or unilateral moves by either Taiwan or the PRC to change the status quo, but she also failed to reaffirm the key democratic principle enunciated by former U.S. President William Clinton in March 2000 that any resolution of the question of the Taiwan Strait must be peaceful and have the assent of the 23 million Taiwan people.
Indeed, Rice's statement confirms suspicions that Washington does not actually take the promotion or the consolidation of democracy as a serious foreign policy priority. Apparently for the sake of Bush's illegal war in Iraq and misguided "war on terrorism," Washington has now willingly transformed itself from being the world's most important advocate of democracy and freedom into a parrot of the PRC's Taiwan Affairs Office.
The Bush administration's decision to place far higher value on the views of the PRC dictatorship instead of a lasting democratic ally such as Taiwan sends a sobering message to other democracies in Asia, including Japan, whose security would also be threatened by Beijing's annexation of Taiwan or domination of the Taiwan Strait, and thus promises to undermine the U.S.' credibility as a security partner for Asia's democracies.
Even more worrisome, Rice has now redefined the exercise or consolidation of democracy in Taiwan as a "provocation" against a totalitarian state and thus has rationalized any future use of force by Beijing against Taiwan, which Bush referred to as "a lighthouse for democratization in China" only two short years ago.
Rice's statement will also give "aid and comfort" to forces in Taiwan that oppose our democratic consolidation and advocate a partial or full return to authoritarianism and "eventual" unification with the PRC.
After all, there is no way that President Chen or the DPP government could legally "retract" or "annul" a referendum petition which has already been approved based on signatures from nearly 17 percent of the eligible electorate without throwing the presidential election to the KMT, whose commitment to political democracy is questionable and whose willingness to appease Beijing is certifiable.
The consolidation of democracy and autonomy in Taiwan is Washington's best guarantee for defense against PRC expansionism and authoritarianism in Asia, but the Bush administration's short-sighted decision to appease Beijing has undermined U.S. interests by sacrificing Taiwan's democracy and independence on the altar of Washington's outdated and unprincipled "one-China policy."
The U.S. may indeed need greater cooperation from the PRC, but Washington should not naively ignore the very real possibility that the PRC is using its growing economic, military and diplomatic clout to revamp the world community in its own authoritarian image and turning the Bush administration into a tool for the consolidation of PRC neo-authoritarian dominance in Asia. We urge rational voices in the U.S. government and Congress and other informed opinion leaders to carefully consider the long-term interests of the democratic camp in Asia and the world and cease further actions to "contain" Taiwan democracy before it is too late.


Updated : 2021-06-24 19:57 GMT+08:00