Sun, Jul 06, 2003 - Page 8 News List

Editorial: All observed China during crisis

Yesterday, the World Health Organization (WHO) finally removed Taiwan from the list of areas with recent local transmissions of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), and declared that the epidemic has been contained worldwide -- at least for now. This is a major milestone for both the world and Taiwan. Looking back over the past months, it is obvious the epidemic has brought about some lasting and notable impacts on Taiwan, both positive and negative.

It appears that the wound opened in the cross-strait relationship as a result of the outbreak of the disease in Taiwan will not heal any time soon. A series of heavy-handed blows struck against Taiwan by Beijing at a time when the epidemic spread in some areas of the country should in no way be overlooked. From Beijing's objection and successful obstruction of Taiwan's observer status at the World Health Assembly, to claims that the WHO had obtained its prior approval before dispatching medical experts to Taiwan and that it is providing ample assistance to Taiwan's fight against SARS, to pressure on the WHO to refrain from removing Taiwan from the traveling advisory list, the people of Taiwan have witnessed more than enough to feel disgust.

Always quick to detect and grasp shifts and changing tides in voter sentiment, President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) forthrightly stated in an interview with the Japanese media on July 3 that the way Beijing dealt with Taiwan during the outbreak of SARS has toughened his opposition to Chinese interference. Chen emphasized in the interview that he was speaking on behalf of "the sentiment of Taiwanese." With the presidential campaign in the offing, this shift in Chen's attitude, despite having previously stated his intention to resume cross-strait dialogue during his Lunar New Year talk earlier this year, suggests that many people here have truly become disillusioned with Beijing's capability to deal with Taiwan in a civil manner.

This can only bode well for Chen and bring bad tidings for KMT Chairman Lien Chan (連戰) and his presidential running mate PFP Chairman James Soong (宋楚瑜). After all, no matter how hard the pan-blue alliance tries to deny it, the voters have come to identify the blues as being more friendly to Beijing than the greens.

In particular, the pan-blue cross-strait policy -- to open up direct links and to adapt the "one China" principle as part of the "1992 Consensus" -- has lost much of its marketability. Under the circumstances, no wonder Chen has further indicated during the interview that, so long as China insists on the "one China" principle, Taiwan cannot accept direct links. This change in posture is notable, since it was only in May last year that Chen had said direct links were "inevitable" and that he was thinking about delegating private groups to negotiate with Beijing.

It was as if Heaven willed a further chill on the marketability of the "one China" principle and "one country, two systems" by causing massive protests in Hong Kong over the pending enactment of the anti-subversion law on the 6th anniversary of the UK's handover of Hong Kong to China.

If every cloud has a silver lining, then perhaps, in the case of SARS, the people of Taiwan saw for themselves for what Beijing truly stands.

On the other hand, the contrasts in the ways the two sides of the Taiwan Strait handled the epidemic from day one also serve to highlight the huge gap in the level of freedom between them. A contrast that can only help Taiwan win recognition and respect from the international community in the long run.

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