Fri, Oct 10, 2003 - Page 8 News List

Editorial: Don't believe everything you read

An interview of President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁), which appeared on the Washington Post on Tuesday, has created a controversy, even prompting a response from US State Department spokesman Richard Boucher. Upon closer examination, how-ever, it appears that all the commotion was excessive.

The interview invited so much attention because of Chen's supposedly strong and unsubmissive posture toward China, as well as a quote about "refusing to succumb to US pressure" on issues such as national referendums. But after reading both the Post article and the transcript of the conversation between Chen and the Post's Beijing correspondent, John Pomfret, one can hardly find anything that Chen hasn't said before.

From statements about Taiwan "[taking] our own road" and "one country on each side [of Taiwan Strait]" to talks about holding national referendums and rewriting the Constitution, to rebuttals about the existence of a "one China" principle, to refusal to acknowledge the so-called "1992 consensus" between China and Taiwan, nothing was new. The people of Taiwan have heard it all before. Even Chen's language wasn't much stronger than he has used before.

Nowhere in the Post article, however, is a quote from Chen about "refusing to succumb to US pressure." Instead it was Pomfret who made the observation, "Chen said he would not bow to US pressure," after quoting Chen as saying, when asked about US pressure regard his recent moves (ie, rewriting the Constitution and national referendums) was, "Any kind of democratic reform is our own affair. I don't think any democratic country can oppose democratic ideals."

The Chinese-language transcripts provided by the Presidential Office cite Chen as saying, "Any kind of democratic reform is the internal affair of Taiwan and the ideals and goals to be pursued by the 23 million Taiwanese people, which is [not something] that any other country can oppose and restrict. The US is a democratic country, [and therefore] will naturally respect the choice and decisions of the people of another country."

Whether Pomfret's observation was correct is open for discussion. While some people may agree, others could say that Chen was simply dodging the question by noting that Washington repeatedly has said that it takes no position on Taiwan's domestic affairs.

For example, in response to an inquiry last month about Taiwan's plan to hold a referendum on the issue of World Health Organization (WHO) participation, US Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage's said that such a referendum would not be particularly helpful to that cause. He then said "this is the business of the people of Taiwan, not the United States."

The typical US response to any issues regarding Taiwan follows a basic framework -- stressing the importance of peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait, acknowledging a duty to assist Taiwan's self defense under the Taiwan Relations Act, recognizing the "one China" principle" and otherwise leaving things up to the two sides of Taiwan Strait.

In view of this, since Boucher's response to Chen's interview remained within the four corners of these long-existing US policies, it is really nothing extraordinary. Nevertheless, the pro-unification media in Taiwan has blown the Post interview completely out of proportion. For example, the Post article was titled "Chen dismisses fears in US of rising tension," yet some media translated the word "dismiss" as "contemptuously repel" (嗤之以鼻). Talk about outrageous comments.

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