Sat, Feb 28, 2004 - Page 8 News List

The nation's true will is being made clear abroad

By James Gardner

Today, on the anniversary of the 228 massacre, Taiwan will hold a nationwide commemoration of the slaughter of its native leaders by linking together a chain of volunteers who will hold hands along a road spanning the length of the nation. Up to 1 million people will participate, many of them survivors of the incident.

This event, the brainchild of former president Lee Teng-hui (李登輝), is the first large-scale public acknowledgement of the atrocities that occurred at the hands of Chinese troops under former president Chiang Kai-shek (蔣介石) in 1947.

President Chen Shui-bian(陳水扁) is channeling this emotion into a national referendum on China's military threat to coincide with the March 20 election. Last December, Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao (溫家寶) complained bitterly to the administration of US President George W. Bush that the referendum was an attempt to change the "status quo." Bush allowed China to save face by his public acknowledgement of concern.

At the same time, Bush quietly transferred a few B-52 bombers and two nuclear submarines to Guam, and had the US Navy's Seventh Fleet make a friendly call on Shanghai.

The rapid democratization of Taiwan since 1996 has finally allowed the Taiwanese to publicly acknowledge 228 without fear of retribution. At the same time, it has caused China to scramble for a plausible definition of its relationship to Taiwan within its "one China" concept.

This is difficult because Taiwan has already satisfied many of China's stated conditions for war without suffering any unpleasant consequences. It has officially expressed its independent status, indefinitely delayed "reunification," allowed foreign military personnel (especially those of the US) on its soil -- and some even feel it may be a closet nuclear power.

Having threatened action for so long, China now stands to lose face in a large way. The Taiwanese, in the meantime, feel more distant than ever from China.

After all, this "one China" thing all started back in the days of totalitarian rule by Chiang, when the will of the Taiwanese people was never considered. Chen has told China directly that the concept of "one China" is "abnormal thinking," and went on to say, "Taiwan is, and has long been, an independent, sovereign nation ... the Taiwanese people cannot accept the idea of `one country, two systems' like Hong Kong or Macau."

How much stronger a declaration of independence does China need before launching an attack?

Calling Chen a "traitor," who speaks only for a minority of Taiwanese "separatists," and warning of "serious consequences" for defying Beijing seem all that Beijing can muster.

In a sign that the US may be getting fed up with China's belligerence and unilateral proclamations, recent comments by US Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense Randall Schriver in support of Taiwan's right to participate in the referendum process were surprisingly blunt. When asked "Should Taiwan focus a public consensus on devoting more resources to face the missile threat?" Schriver replied, "We think that's an absolute `Yes.'"

When asked if Taiwan should engage in talks with China without preconditions, he responded, "Absolutely."

Perhaps the Bush administration has finally decided to call China's bluff.

Chen and Lee are acutely aware that the best protection against a repeat of 228 is world recognition of the true will of the vast majority of Taiwanese to determine their own future. They will try to accomplish this through the 228 Hand-in-Hand Rally and the united voice of the people expressed through the referendum process.

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