Sat, Jul 05, 2003 - Page 8 News List

With a Paal like this, who needs an enemy?

By Gerrit van der Wees

Now, did we hear that right: does the US oppose Taiwan's holding a referendum? Let's try to understand the situation. We were always under the impression that the US is a democracy, which opposes totalitarianism and authoritarianism, and wishes to further the cause of democracy in the world.

Taiwan is a democratic country, which achieved its freedom through the hard work of the people, after 40 years of authoritarian rule. It still hasn't gained a full and equal place in the international community due to the obstruction of China.

Taiwan wants to move forward on the road to democracy by letting its people have a say in major issues affecting their well-being, such as nuclear power, membership in the World Health Organization, and the future status of their country. It seems obvious that the US would be supportive of such a move.

But now we hear that American Institute in Taiwan Director Douglas Paal has told President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) that the US opposes the move toward referendums, the prime mechanism used in democracies to let people have their say in major issues. To make matters worse, news agencies quoted an unnamed US official as saying that this "warning" to Chen came after the US and China had exchanged views on Chen's intention to hold a referendum on the nuclear power and WHO issues next March.

We have to ask Paal, whose side are you on? Isn't it totally ludicrous for you as a representative of a democracy to be in cahoots with China and try to impose the dictates of a communist regime on the free and democratic people in Taiwan?

What reason would there be to deny the Taiwanese the right to hold referendums? Opposition from China or "stability" in the Taiwan Strait?

Well, dictatorships are often opposed to democratic mechanisms, but that is indeed one more reason to go ahead, so they learn what democracy is all about. And true stability in the Strait can only be achieved if the people in China would also have the right to voice their views in a referendum. A good way to show them how this works is to let the people in Taiwan give an example.

We may remember that Amer-ican democracy of the 1770s and 1780s was rather "provocative" to King George III, but in the end it certainly improved British democracy and led to a flowering relationship across the Atlantic.

We suggest that the authorities in Taipei push ahead with their referendum, and help give the people a good experience with a free and open dialogue on issues that affect their well-being. A balanced discussion doesn't only involve pushing particular views, but also listening to the other side. This give and take is a two-way street. This process isn't always easy, and doing it well requires lots of experience. The Taiwanese have a right to gain that experience.

This is not the first time Paal has sided with China against democratic Taiwan -- just after he arrived in Taipei, he scolded the government for not moving fast enough on direct links with China. Well, these links are pushing Taiwan into an unwelcome stranglehold with a repressive regime, and it is thus understandable that the government is at least a bit cautious, if not reluctant, to move ahead.

Thus, time and again, Paal seems to display basic instincts in favor of a dictatorial China and against the basic interests of the country in which he is repre-senting -- the US. This is not compatible with the principles and values for which the US stands, and the Bush administration should consider recalling Paal, and replacing him with someone who can more truly represent US principles and values.

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