Thursday, March 23, 2006

During his visit to Japan in November 2005, President George W. Bush said that by embracing freedom at all levels, Taiwan has delivered prosperity to its people and created a free and democratic society. For Taiwanese who lived through the four decades of authoritarianism and martial law under the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT), Mr. Bush’s words were no less an official recognition of what Taiwan has fought hard to achieve over the past few decades.

We, the Taiwanese people, understand and appreciate that the U.S. government has contributed significantly to our democratization. As Taiwan has now democratized, some in Washington have shifted their attention to other authoritarian battlegrounds. We’ve recently seen some of these defenders of liberty challenge giant American enterprises that are helping the Chinese regime. The Taiwanese people applauded this act, just as we cheered Mr. Bush’s speech in Japan.

While some writers and other advocates of freedom continue to struggle on inside China, Taiwan is quietly helping by working hard to poke small holes in the “Great Firewall” with the hope that very soon information can freely flow to the Chinese people. Taiwan’s own experience tells us that as long as there is outside support, freedom fighters will continue their battle from within against that seemingly invincible enemy, state control. The Taiwanese people stand firm together with members of Congress and these Chinese champions of liberty both in word and in deed.

Ironically, Taiwan, just like any other young democracy, still bears some trappings of the authoritarian dictatorship of the past. The national anthem of Taiwan is that of the KMT, and the emblem of the national flag is the KMT emblem. In addition, corporations such as China Airlines, China Ship Building, China Petroleum, and China Steel are actually Taiwan’s state-owned corporations, not China’s.

For any other newly democratized country, the issues mentioned above could be easily remedied. Unfortunately for Taiwan, these issues persist because China consistently threatens Taiwan with force when these issues are publicly discussed. But just like in any other democracy, these issues will not be ignored and will be open to public deliberation. Taiwan’s government understands the sensitivity of these issues and has handled them with prudence, despite public opinion strongly being in favor of the continuation of political reform. Taiwan is deeply committed to maintaining peace and stability in the region.

In Taiwan today, there is a clear sense of insecurity despite pride in her democratic achievements. China is becoming increasingly more influential internationally and cleverly uses its power to marginalize and suffocate Taiwan. Taiwan cries out for help from time to time, but the results have been extremely disappointing. While Taiwan desires a free trade agreement with the U.S. to counter China’s attempt to marginalize Taiwan economically, it has not materialized. While Taiwan worries about China’s aggression, its defense budget continues to stall in the legislature. While the world is vulnerable to the spread of avian flu, the World Health Organization still excludes Taiwan.

Almost a year ago, China passed the Anti-Secession Law, which claimed Taiwan to be a part of China and legalized the use of non-peaceful means against Taiwan to enforce that claim. On the advice of the U.S. government, Taiwan offered a muted response to prevent conflict from erupting in the Taiwan Strait. But China’s military threat increases, its attempts to suffocate Taiwan internationally grow stronger, and Taiwan becomes increasingly divided and internally weakened in facing China. Regrettably, none of what Taiwan needs to feel secure has been forthcoming.

China again threatened Taiwan when President Chen Shui-bian recently suggested ceasing the function of the National Unification Council (NUC) and its guidelines both remnants of the past regime. The NUC and its guidelines specify that the only course open to a democratic Taiwan is unification with authoritarian China, which goes against a fundamental and guiding democratic principle that the people have the right to determine their own destiny. Ceasing the NUC and the NUG is fully in line with democratic principles.

The Taiwanese government understands the United States’ very legitimate concern over whether President Chen’s actions constitute a unilateral change of the status quo. The status quo in the Taiwan Strait is that the two sides, China and Taiwan, are fully separate entities, neither having jurisdiction over the other, best exemplified by the democratization of Taiwan, which occurred without regard to what the state of affairs was across the strait. Taiwan fully supports U.S. policy because it is against Taiwan’s interests to change what is indeed reality.

President Bush’s comments late last year were an encouragement to Taiwan. Taiwan is now refining its democracy, the better to be a beacon for democracy activists in China to follow, and in this endeavor Taiwan deserves U.S. support.

Jaushieh Joseph Wu is the Minister of Mainland Affairs, Council of Taiwan.

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