Sun, Apr 10, 2005 - Page 8 News List

Editorial: China should learn some manners

As the world mourns the death of Pope John Paul II, Beijing's conduct has indeed been both rude and shameful, showing no respect for the beloved world religious leader. China cannot win respect with its military might or its potentially lucrative market. It will only earn genuine respect from other world powers when it begins to learn some manners.

More than two hundred representatives from all over the world, including President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) and Minister of Foreign Affairs Mark Chen (陳唐山), attended the funerals, along with millions of other individuals. Those who could not personally attend the funeral, paid their last respects as they watched televised coverage of the funeral. Even Israel and Islamic countries such as Egypt and Iran broadcast the event. The funeral transcended national boundaries and religions.

Yet the Chinese government chose to boycott the event. It wasn't enough that China was almost the only country in the world that did not send delegates to attend the Pope's funeral on Friday. In fact, in China, where all the media are owned and controlled by the state, there were no broadcasts and virtually no coverage at all of the funeral. The government-run Xinhua News Agency dedicated a total of 96 words to the Pope's funeral, followed by a story that dedicated all of its roughly 400 words to condemning President Chen's attendance at the funeral as a "splittist activity" and as practicing "two Chinas" and "one China and one Taiwan."

Leaving aside Beijing's rudeness, it's just hard to see any justification for condemning Chen's attendance. After all, Taiwan and the Vatican maintain formal diplomatic relations. It is entirely appropriate for the Vatican to send a funeral invitation to the Taiwan government. Since the Vatican is Taiwan's only European ally, it was imperative that Chen personally attend and pay his respects to the Pope.

Pope John Paul II was the leader of one of the most influential and oldest religions of the world, whose followers cross all national boundaries. Attending his funeral was much more than a political statement for Chen. While it was indeed encouraging for the Taiwanese people to see their president sit alongside other prominent world leaders and be accorded a high level of diplomatic treatment at the Vatican, Chen's attendance had a humanitarian significance as well. It was a gesture of respect and an embrace of the universal values exalted by the Pope and the Catholic religion. As indicated by Chen in a speech at the Vatican, "love, courage, peace, and reconciliation" -- the four pillars emphasized by the Pope before his death -- are needed in order to break through the cross-strait impasse.

But it takes two to tango. Beijing seems to be completely uninterested in the values that the Pope stood for. China remains notorious for its systematic violation of human rights. It shows absolutely no intention of respecting freedom of religion. In fact, Beijing still cracks down regularly on the underground Catholic church, arresting priests and harassing worshippers.

For years there has been talk about the possibility of a resumption of diplomatic ties between the Vatican and Beijing. Of course, the Chinese government has adamantly insisted that the Vatican sever diplomatic tie with Taiwan first. And there is at least one other issue that keeps the two from resuming ties, namely, Beijing's insistence on naming Catholic bishops without so-called "interference" from the Vatican. Hopefully, the Vatican has seen for itself that China's behavior is incompatible with core Catholic values -- and that discarding ties with Taiwan to establish them with China is just not worth it.

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