- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 14, 2002

The Republic of Taiwan is a thriving free-market, entrepreneurial democracy whose 23 million people enjoy not only the political benefits of a free society but also one of the highest living standards in the world. Taiwan is vibrant, living testimony to the fact that freedom is not something unique to Western civilization; rather, Taiwan, like Japan, demonstrates that any people of any culture, of any civilization can create a civil society if there is will and democratic leadership.

Above all, Taiwan is the first Chinese democracy in history, one, in contrast to the mainland, with respect for human rights. There is no Tiananmen Square massacre in Taiwan's history, nor could there ever be one. Two years ago we witnessed an event again unprecedented in Chinese history the peaceful transfer of political power and sovereignty by means of a democratic election. That is why the U.S. public would agree with Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz when earlier this year he pledged that the Bush administration will do "whatever it takes" to protect Taiwan from Communist China.

In light of such U.S. assurances and Taiwanese economic achievements, Taiwanese President Chen Shui-bian's speech Aug. 3, in which he called for a referendum on independence, has ill-served not only his country but also the U.S.-Taiwan alliance. Among his poorly chosen statements were sentences like these: "With Taiwan and China on each side of the [Taiwan] strait, each side is a country … Our Taiwan is not something that belongs to someone else. Our Taiwan is not someone else's local government … our Taiwan is not someone else's province." Mr. Chen's words were really a cry for formal independence from mainland China, which regards Taiwan as a rebel province and which has threatened to go to war if Taiwan were to proceed with a unilateral declaration of independence.

I do not mean to minimize the actual and potential threat of Communist China to Taiwan. The present state of Chinese militarism is alarming some 200 missiles aimed across the Taiwan Strait and two new missile bases under construction, each capable of firing some 100 additional weapons. By 2005, the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency anticipates China's total arsenal aimed at Taiwan will grow to 650 weapons.

But what is important now is that China, grappling with the problem of a successor to President Jiang Zemin, has been on good behavior since it was awarded the 2008 Olympics. Beijing has even invited Western journalists on a tour, guided to be sure, of Tibet in the hope of changing democratic opinion about its shameful imperialist takeover in 1950 of this peace-loving country, a country which threatened no one, least of all China itself. And today, with ethnic Chinese migrants pouring into Tibet by the thousands, the Tibetans will in a generation become a minority in their own country.

From an American standpoint, Mr. Chen's speech couldn't have come at a worse time, just when President Bush is preparing a strike against Iraq's tyrant, Saddam Hussein. At a time when the Bush administration's energies are directed at creating an alliance in the Middle East against Saddam, does the United States need Mr. Chen to start a war of words with China? And this mind you at a time when Taiwan with Mr. Chen's support is investing multi-billions of dollars in Chinese non-governmental businesses.

Sidney Hook, the philosopher, once wrote: "A social system is a historical phenomenon whose possible development cannot be predicted by logic. The question of its future can only be based on a whole web of probabilities." Who knows, who can predict what the future will bring in Communist China, where at least half the GDP is already in private hands? Did anyone predict the sudden 1991 collapse of the Soviet empire?

After the French defeat by Prussia in the war of 1870 and the loss of Alsace-Lorraine, the French Army adopted as its slogan: "pensons-y toujours, n'en parlons jamais." Always think about it, never talk about it. I would recommend that Mr. Chen follow the same course as the French Army.

Mr. Chen ought to cast a blind eye across the straits of Taiwan for the foreseeable future and avoid challenges that would distract the United States from meeting a global challenge against the democracies, including Taiwan.

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