Tue, Feb 03, 2004 - Page 8 News List

Chirac lost face when he caned the referendum

By Chin Heng-wei 金恆煒

In front of Chinese President Hu Jintao (胡錦濤), French President Jacques Chirac recently criticized Taiwan, saying it was committing a grave error by planning a referendum because a referendum could threaten regional stability. Of course this was said and done purely to satisfy China.

Chirac's attitude comes as a shock. He not only supported China in its violation of the spirit of the French Revolution but also blatantly interfered in another nation's domestic politics.

France is a republic with a 200-year history of practicing referendums. Chirac's opposition to another nation's referendum puts his own country to shame.

The real explanation for Chirac's attitude is that he wants to sell weapons to China to boost France's economy. After kissing China's butt, Chirac immediately demanded that the EU lift its arms embargo against China. His demand was rejected and, furthermore, he was rebuked by Graham Watson, head of the Liberal Democrats in the European Parliament, who said this proposal would benefit a communist dictatorship renowned for violating human rights.

EU foreign ministers believe Beijing has a bad human rights record and is adopting a belligerent stance toward Taiwan. If this was not a slap in Chirac's face for his opposition to the referendum, at the very least it embarrassed him.

But this is not the only defeat for Chirac. The US Department of State also voiced its opposition to the idea of France and the EU lifting the weapons embargo against China.

Chirac lost face in his harsh opposition to the US-led war in Iraq, and now he is further berated by Washington. Nevertheless attempting to curry favor with Beijing, he has put himself in this embarrassing situation.

In selling out Taiwan to cozy up to China, Chirac was not supported by the French parliament. When Hu went to Paris' City Hall to deliver a speech, demonstrators gathered outside the venue, and 327 of the total 577 councilors refused to attend the meeting. Some even stood protesting with pieces of white tape over their mouths. This made things ugly for Hu and Chirac.

French media also took aim at Chirac. Major print media, including Le Monde, Liberation and Le Figaro, ran front-page stories criticizing Chirac's leaning toward China and introduced Taiwan and its referendum in great detail.

The French TV channel TF1, which enjoys the highest ratings in the country, reported in its evening news broadcast about Taiwan's past and present -- from female factory workers to Taiwan's rapid economic growth to President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) receiving the people's warm welcome when delivering a speech.

What carries more weight is that the report quoted opinion polls saying that only 0.5 percent of the Taiwanese people support reunification with China. The French media displayed Taiwan's image in a positive light to repudiate Chirac's pro-China, anti-Taiwan attitude.

China has mustered the force of the whole nation to unite with the world's superpowers to put pressure on Taiwan's proposed referendum.

The pan-blue camp has said that holding a referendum is meaningless. But actually it is very meaningful. A small referendum immediately manifests the predicament facing Taiwan and the threat posed by China's missiles.

Before votes have even been cast on the referendum, the Taiwan issue has already been internationalized. The development of Taiwan's democracy might soon also come into the international spotlight. From a long-term point of view, this does only good and no harm.

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