it comes to rampant hypocrisy, it doesn't
get much worse than the Bush Administration's
recent sell-out of the people of Taiwan. At
the same time that the Bush Administration
is claiming to be a champion of democracy
and democratization in Iraq and the Middle
East, the president has slapped down a country
that has been making historic strides away
from a millenium's-old totalitarian culture
and polity and creating a vibrant democracy:
the Republic of China on the island of Taiwan.
too many years ago, Taiwan and the People's
Republic of China would have been hard to
distinguish. The former was run with an iron
hand by first Chiang Kai-shek and then his
son, backed by a vicious Nationalist army
of occupation that crushed the slightest sign
of opposition from the island's native Taiwanese.
More recently, the Nationalist Party, or Kuomintang,
had mellowed and began introducing democratic
reforms, ultimately legalizing opposition
the country has vigorously contested parliamentary
elections, the president, Chen Shui-bian,
is the head of a pro-Taiwan independence party,
the Democratic Progressives, and the country
is hands down among the freest in Asia, if
not the freest.
meanwhile, while growing in economic and military
power, remains under the stifling control
of a repressive Stalinist government that
brooks no political opposition, that stays
in power through the repressive workings of
a police state that numbers its uniformed
minions in the millions, and that continues
to harass and lock up those who try to promote
freedom of trade unions, freedom of speech,
freedom of assembly, freedom of religion,
or who tries to organize a political party
outside of the Communist Party. In truth,
the Chinese political system has little to
do with Marxism these days, and much more
closely resembles fascism as it was long practiced
in countries of Latin America or Europe.
peculiar problem is that it has never really
fully separated, or has been able to fully
separate from China. When Chiang Kai-shek
realized that his corrupt and demoralized
Nationalist army was about to be completely
defeated on the mainland by Mao Tse-tung's
People's Liberation Army in the late 1940s,
he made arrangements to flee with his most
loyal troops and a large number of China's
ruling elite to the island of Taiwan, recently
freed from decades of Japanese colonial rule
(Japan called the island Formosa).
years afterwards, both the People's Republic
of China on the mainland, under the Communists,
and the Republic of China on Taiwan, maintained
the fiction that they were the only China.
The Beijing government called Taiwan a renegade
province, while the Nationalists on the island
pretended that they were the government of
all of China.
U.S., which had backed Chiang's army against
the Communist revolutionaries, initially endorsed
the Nationalist claim that they were the real
Chinese government--a fiction that endured
until Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger made
their famous trips to China and finally recognized
the Communist regime in Beijing.
ever since then, the U.S.--and particularly
the right wing of both parties--has backed
the government and people of Taiwan, making
it clear to China that it would not permit
a military attack on the island.
situation has prevailed down to the present.
has continued to insist that it wants reunification,
and on occasion has threatened military action,
most recently in 1997, when the Chinese military
launched guided missiles into the shipping
lanes to and from the ports on the northern
and southern ends of Taiwan. At that time,
President Clinton responded by sending U.S.
Navy subs and aircraft carriers to the Taiwan
Strait, a 100-mile-wide waterway that separates
Taiwan from the Asian mainland, making it
clear that the U.S. would intervene if China
attempted to attack.
current crisis has seen a much different response
an election in March, Taiwan's President Chen
has been promoting the idea of an island-wide
referendum in 2004. The issue: not independence
from China, but simply whether to call on
China to stop pointing missiles at Taiwan.
might seem a pretty reasonable--and benign--request
for the people of Taiwan to make through the
ballot box. Indeed it's a lot less belligerent
than the threat of World War III that President
John Kennedy made to Cuba and the Soviet Union
when the USSR began placing missiles in Cuba
pointed at this country.
our avowedly pro-democracy president George
Bush--the man who purports to be so enamored
of freedom that he was willing, in promoting
it, to invade a country and commit 150,000
U.S. troops to a war whose end no one can
predict--was having none of it. With China's
new premier Wen Jiabao (a Communist proponent
of dictatorial rule) standing at his side,
Bush warned President Chen not to push the
referendum idea or to try to change the status
it seems, are appropriate for Californians,
not for Taiwanese or Chinese.
was a major slapdown of Taiwan's democrats
and in fact, represents a big change in the
status quo itself.
is a fundamental right of all people, and
the people of Taiwan, who have not been a
part of China for many, many generations,
have a right to determine their own destiny,
including the right to decide that they prefer
independence to forced subjugation to and
incorporation into a fascist regime and country.
would think, to hear our president talk about
the joys of freedom and democracy, that this
is something the White House and the ruling
Republican Party could get behind, but no.
They and their corporate sponsors are so busy
making money in China and shifting American
jobs to the Chinese mainland, that they don't
want any problems from an island of 23 million
irony is that with any luck, Taiwan could
represent the real future for China. While
it's hard to imagine at the moment, Taiwan
could well be the model for China's eventual
transition to a free and democratic society.
For thousands of years, China has been a feudal
society run by emperors. Almost alone among
the great civilizations of the world, it has
had no experience with bourgeois democracy
(the few years in which Republican China experimented
with a parliament can hardly count, as the
government was thoroughly corrupt and the
country was in the grip of civil war the whole
time, and Hong Kong, where a majority of the
legislative council represents business interests,
and where the chief executive is appointed,
hardly rates as a democracy). The only real
model of Chinese democracy, then, has been
and when the sclerotic Communist regime in
Beijing finally collapses, that island model
is going to become enormously important in
the struggle to build a new, modern China--
which explains why Beijing's rulers are so
intent on snuffing it.
can only hope that the Bush regime will not
help China's current rulers extinguish this
experiment, though the president's latest
action is a bad sign.
Lindorff, who majored in Chinese in college,
has spent six years as a journalist in Hong
Kong and China, and will be a Fulbright Scholar
in Taiwan during the first half of 2004.
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