- The Washington Times - Sunday, October 18, 2009

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Your article “103-year-old is ‘optimistic’ ” (World, Friday) provides a compelling vignette on the prospects for democracy in China.

Zhou Youguang’s century of experience comes from a period that is the source of painful collective memory for Chinese intellectuals. In spite of this difficult history, his expectations for Chinese democratization are powerful and promising, particularly if you consider the successful democratic transformation of the Republic of China (Taiwan) as a reference.

Taiwan’s experience provides proof-positive evidence that democracy is functioning to great effect in a Chinese society. On Oct. 10, 1911, the last Chinese emperor was overthrown by a revolution led by Sun Yat-sen, the founding father of the republic. Today, after 98 years, the republic still exists. It won the praise of President George W. Bush, who called it a beacon of democracy in Asia in 2008 as the it completed its second peaceful transition of power. Sun’s ideals, borrowed from President Lincoln, have gradually become a reality in Taiwan: “government of the people, by the people, and for the people.”

It was 60 years ago that the republic relocated its central government to Taiwan, following the civil war on the mainland. The road toward democracy has not always been smooth - it took Taiwan three decades to achieve its economic success and another three decades to reach the level of political reform it has today. Without the continuous support and encouragement of the United States, Taiwan and its people could not have achieved these impressive changes.

Likewise, China may follow a similar path. As Taiwan, led by President Ma Ying-jeou, has successfully reduced tensions across the Taiwan Strait by taking a fresh, pragmatic approach toward mainland China, China’s exposure to Taiwan’s democratic development has increased. Sharing these developments is a crucial factor in democratization. If the world’s democracies can work together to encourage China to embrace the ideals of democracy, I believe the people of mainland China would be grateful for their support.

PHILIP SHIH

North Potomac

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