Mon, Jan 31, 2005 - Page 8 News List

Bush's freedom speech and Taiwan

By Li Thian-hok 李天福

US President George W. Bush's second inaugural speech is noteworthy for its lofty vision and moral clarity. He said oppression is always wrong and freedom is eternally right. "So it is the policy of the United States to seek and support the growth of democratic movements and institutions in every nation and culture, with the ultimate goal of ending tyranny in our world."

Such exultation of freedom is in line with the US' historical tradition. Even before the US' independence Patrick Henry gave us the famous words: "Give me liberty or give me death." Former president Woodrow Wilson said "The world must be made safe for democracy," while the late president Ronald Reagan averred at the Berlin Wall: "The quest for freedom is the birthright of all humanity."

Some pundits, however, have criticized Bush's idealism as unrealistic and have pointed out that promoting democracy may even be the wrong priority in setting foreign policy. Others are turned off by the stark difference between Bush's optimistic rhetoric and the persistent violence in Iraq. Peggy Noonan, a prominent conservative commentator reminded Bush in the Wall Street Journal: "This is not heaven, it's earth."

Internationally there was unease with the inaugural speech's sweeping goals. Several senior US officials tried to assuage the concerns of friends and foes alike by stressing there has not been any change in existing policy. State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said Bush's pledge to fight tyranny did not signify a change in policy toward China and North Korea.

Does this mean Bush's freedom speech was merely high-minded inaugural rhetoric with no substantive policy consequences? The answer is clearly no. Bush's vision of advancing democracy is based on the realist's expectation that freedom will reduce terror and democracies tend to be more peaceful. Hence the words: "The survival of liberty in our land increasingly depends on the success of liberty in other lands ... America's vital interests and our deepest beliefs are now one."

The quest to end tyranny across the globe cannot be dismissed as an evangelical dream. When America declared independence in 1776, it was the sole democracy in the world. Now there are some 117.

An inaugural speech may be regarded as a long-range, basic strategic guide for making foreign policy. In applying the guiding principle, adjustment is then made at the tactical level in accordance with the circumstances of each case, and taking into account the exigencies of competing national interests.

For specific policies which Bush will adopt to spread democracy, we must wait for his State of the Union this week. In the meantime, the following are possible implications for US policy toward Taiwan.

First, the US will feel threatened by a rising China with its growing economy and increasingly powerful military so long as China remains a tyranny which violates the basic human rights of its citizens. China will be deemed a strategic competitor, even though the Bush administration has ceased saying so.

Second, Taiwan's democracy as beacon of hope for China's oppressed masses will be important. Taiwan's de facto independence will continue to be crucial to stability and peace in East Asia.

Finally, the US' commitment to help defend Taiwan will remain firm, provided the Taiwanese people demonstrate by words and deeds that they are truly committed to defend their hard-won freedom. As Bush said: "America's influence is considerable and we will use it confidently in freedom's cause ... When you stand for liberty, we will stand with you."

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