- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 30, 2003

Amidst an encircling global gloom Libya chairs the U.N. Commission on Human Rights, Saddam Hussein still in power, Osama bin Laden still at large let's take a moment and look at something cheerful: the government of Taiwan has announced a campaign to "prioritize" human rights. Its current president, Chen Shui-bian, is determined, he said, to turn the island democracy into "a human-rights state." That's more than a slogan for as President Chen put it:

"In Taiwan, the campaign for human-rights protection is still in its infancy compared with the 50 years of single-party authoritarian rule and 40 years under martial law."

As I read the Taiwan government's announcement, I thought of the other government across the Straits of Taiwan: the communist police state dictatorship that tramples on human rights day and night, which still engages in forced labor, which still bans freedom of worship, freedom of organization and which hopes one day to overthrow Taiwan democracy as it has in Hong Kong.

Taiwan is a shining example of how an authoritarian regime can be turned around peacefully onto a democratic path after living under one-party Kuomintang rule for half a century. Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek fled into exile after his defeat in 1949 by the communist genocidist Mao Tse-tung and died in 1975. His son, Chiang Ching-kuo, succeeded him as president and began democratization of Taiwan, a process that expanded rapidly after his death in 1988. Since then a de facto independent Taiwan has become a roaring success, politically and economically. And there's the rub Communist China insists Taiwan, a full-fledged democracy of 23 million people, is a province of mainland China. a communist dictatorship.

What does Taiwan say? President Chen, 52, has put it bluntly when asked how he would define Taiwan politically:

"The Republic of China [ROC] is a sovereign state. … I want to make it clear that Taiwan is not part of, a local government of, or a province of any country. … [A]s a sovereign state, the ROC cannot be downgraded, treated as a local government or marginalized by anyone. … Taiwan is not a part of the PRC. … We absolutely cannot accept Beijing's unilateral imposition of its 'one China' principle or 'one country, two systems' formula."

With these words "a sovereign state" President Chen has challenged China's reunification campaign. His interview Jan. 22 with Harvey Sicherman, president of the Foreign Policy Research Institute, was an announcement there is no other way to read it of independence for Taiwan. Webster's defines "sovereign" as "possessed of supreme power." President Chen was replying to the Jan. 24, 2002, policy formulation of Politburo member Qian Chichen: "There is only one China in the world. The Chinese mainland and Taiwan are part of China, and China's sovereignty and territorial integrity cannot be divided."

Mr. Chen was elected president as the candidate of the Democratic Peoples Party (DPP) and took office in May 2000. He was the first ROC president who was not from the longtime ruling party, the Kuomintang. His election is a further sign of Taiwan's affirmation of its independence from the PRC because a large sector of his supporters is determined to transform Taiwan's de facto into de jure independence. The DPP electoral victory was a devastating defeat for the PRC that had accepted, unwillingly to be sure, what has been called "creeping independence" but the new Taiwan administration means "independence" with no qualifying adjectives.

For the U.S., President Chen's utterances must be an embarrassment at a time when the PRC has been highly cooperative with the White House in the post-September 11 war against terrorism. And even more importantly, the Chinese Communist Party's 16th party congress in November 2002 under the new leadership of Secretary General Hu Jintao has shown a guarded friendliness to American foreign-policy aims. Some of the reasons for this honeymoon in U.S.-PRC relations were proffered by a dozen China experts who met at the Hoover Institution at a two-day conference last week. Good behavior by the government before the 2008 Olympics might be essential if they are to attract hard-currency spending "capitalist roaders." And membership in the World Trade Organization mandates observance of certain behavioral norms.

China is in the middle of great internal modernizing changes. These were heralded by a startling question asked rhetorically by Jiang Zemin, then party secretary, at a March 2001 meeting of the Chinese People's Consultative Conference: "What is communism? No one knows. I don't know." He was so quoted in a Hoover conference paper presented by Stanford professors John W. Lewis and Xue Litai. It is a cause for optimism when a top Chinese communist leader asks: "What is communism?" and has no answer.

China is now part of the information revolution. The information revolution has made the democratic counterrevolution possible. Albert Wohlstetter has written that in the West, modern computer technology and its spinoffs "are now the most powerful engine driving innovation and economic growth, creating markets and reducing the costs and uncertainties of innumerable widely separated voluntary transactions." Taiwan has shown how it can be done democratically and has become a leader in the information revolution. China is now playing catch-up.

The face of mainland China under its new leadership will change in the decade ahead as dramatically as it did in the Soviet Union under Mikhail Gorbachev. Whether the change will be as relatively peaceful as it was in Russia is to be seen. The fate not only of Taiwan but of all of China's neighbors depends on what happens next in the most populous nation on Earth.

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