Mon, Feb 23, 2004 - Page 8 News List

Editorial: You can always vote no

At first we were tempted to write off those standing against the government's representatives in the referendum debates as the shameless has-beens and opportunists that most of them are. But then we should probably be glad someone is going to do this. After all, the pan-blue camp never tells the truth about its opposition to the referendum, namely that it is motivated by deference to Beijing's wishes. Rather it seeks to portray the referendum as illegal, which it quite obviously is not, or else the pan-blues would have mounted a legal challenge to it already; or simply pointless, asking questions about which there could be no disagreement. It's true that the questions are a little bland, though the fault for that lies with Washington, where the questions were all but drafted, rather than the government here. But if the pan-blue criticism of the seriousness of the questions is to be refuted, the best way to achieve that is to see a lively debate about them.

It is hard to predict what the antis are going to say in the debate, especially given that we have no final list of who they will be. But last Wednesday one would-be debater, Lo Chih-chiang (羅智強) of the Chinese Speech and Debate Association, drew attention to the fact that there were a number of different positions that could be taken apart from either not voting at all or voting yes. Good, though we disagree with the positions that Lo himself has taken.

The two questions are, as you are probably weary of hearing, whether Taiwan should increase spending on anti-missile defense and whether Taiwan should open some kind of negotiations with China.

Actually there are respectable "anti" positions on these questions, takers of which should run no risk of being labelled a stooge of China -- the common fear of the antis.

For example, do the kind of anti-missile defenses that Taiwan might buy actually work? The only really mature system is the Patriot PAC-3 and it has yet to be shown that this is effective. Remember how the first Patriots were praised during Gulf War I by the US Department of Defense, only for us to find out later on that they were utterly useless and probably never downed a single missile?

Then again, there is an old military maxim that the best means of defense is offence. We have seen a number of senior officers, both serving and retired, question Taiwan's devotion to missile defense against China's missiles, when a far more effective deterrent might be to create missiles of our own. Those who deplore any resulting arms race should take note that China can only threaten Taiwan because it runs no risk of retaliation. Up the risk factor to China and you might even bring it to the negotiating table.

Which brings us to the second question. Should Taiwan talk to China? What for? Because its businessmen have invested there? This has been going on for 15 years without discussions and it doesn't seem to have been a handicap, looking at the investment figures. Obviously there is nothing wrong with Taiwan and China sitting down together if each is prepared to respect the other and negotiate in good faith. Experience suggest that this is impossible with the communists. They will not respect Taiwan. Why Taiwan should offer goodwill in order to be ritually humiliated is a question that the "yes" voters should try to answer. What does that Taiwanese ultranationalist Lee Teng-hui (李登輝) really think of the second question?

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