Sat, Apr 23, 2005 - Page 8 News List

Editorial: The enemies without and within

A few weeks ago we castigated the French government over its eagerness to facilitate the sale of advanced weapons to the tyranny across the Taiwan Strait. A number of people took issue with us, claiming that it was unfair to denigrate the entire French nation on the basis of its arms-sales policy. The only response we need make to that is to point out that it is our lives -- the lives of people in Taiwan -- which are being deliberately endangered by the French government, and frankly we don't find this very amusing. Our French critics might consider how they would feel were Taiwan to make money out of selling weapons and explosives to Islamic terrorists in France.

But just when you think French behavior cannot get any more contemptible, it plunges to a new low. With much of the rest of the world appalled by China's "Anti-Secession" Law and its avowed intention to oppose Taiwanese self-determination using force, French Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin has given his blessing to this instrument of state terror and intimidation. "The Anti-Secession Law," he said, "is completely compatible with the position of France." Very probably, though it would take a proctologist to locate exactly where that position is.

When we suggested that the government take punitive measures against French institutions, businesses and expatriates in Taiwan to show its deep displeasure, our critics claimed that a nation's citizens cannot be held accountable for the actions of their government. With some nations that is certainly true. Nobody claims that the luckless denizens of Myanmar can be held responsible for the doings of the junta there. But France was -- the last we heard -- a democracy. If democracy works, then the French government is a representation of the will of French people, and as such the people are accountable. Those who find their government's policy unpalatable should not be protesting their innocence to this newspaper but doing their damnedest -- through the constitutional means at their disposal -- to change that policy or change the government. Democratic accountability works in two directions.

Apply this principle to Taiwan, however, and the prospects are rather bleak. On Thursday, former president Lee Teng-hui (李登輝), made a fire-and-brimstone speech castigating opposition party leaders' upcoming trips to China as the wrong action in the wrong place at the wrong time. The principal drawback of such visits is that they give the international community the impression that Taiwan does not object to the Anti-Secession Law. The ferocity of Lee's words was immediately blunted, however, by President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁), who gave his conditional blessing to Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) Chairman Lien Chan's (連戰) trip, after his government had spent the last three weeks condemning it. This about-face is typical of the Chen government -- both of its vacillating nature and its execrable timing. But in the end the problem goes back to democratic accountability. Chen is not sure what he wants because the Taiwanese are not sure what they want.

The dominant personality trait among Taiwanese is opportunism. For the last three centuries, bettering the lot of oneself and one's family usually meant some kind of messy compromise with unaccountable and alien power holders. The moral has always been to seek advantage where one can, and don't pay too much attention to principle. And that, unfortunately, is the way the trips to China are viewed. The overwhelming sentiment is that Lien could bring something back for us; if so, why not let him try? Given such opportunism, Chen is in no position to be doctrinaire. His wishy-washiness simply reflects the wishy-washiness of his constituents. Sadly, this is the last quality one needs in standing up to China.

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