Mon, Apr 25, 2005 - Page 8 News List

The meaning of Lien's visit

By Arthur Waldron

So Chinese Nationalist Party Chairman Lien Chan (連戰), long an admired official of the Republic of China government, who played an admirable role in Taiwan's democratization, but who very narrowly lost the last presidential election, now plans to visit Beijing. There he will evidently find plenty of time for amiable discussions with the unelected leader of one of the world's last communist dictatorships.

In preparation for this trip, moreover, Lien has found time for a secret visit to Singapore where he found time for consultation with its autocratic rulers. But Lien has been unable to find time for what is really needed: namely, a face-to-face discussion with the elected president and government of his own country, the Republic of China, and wide discussion among the people of Taiwan, to ensure that at this critical juncture politics really do end at the water's edge, and Taiwan speaks with a single voice. Few things are more important to the nation's future than a certain basic domestic consensus.

By making this trip, Lien also jeopardizes the political future of a whole younger generation of highly talented KMT politicians, poised to take the reins of government once again, probably sooner rather than later. Now they will be tarred by this ill-judged venture.

But above all, Lien puts at risk his own historical reputation. For even though Beijing is promising Lien a welcome with protocol normally reserved for heads of state, neither Lien nor anyone else should have the slightest doubt as to how Chinese communist leadership in fact sees his mission: Zheng Chenggong's (鄭成功) grandson, long expected in Beijing, has finally arrived.

That grandson, Zheng Keshuang (鄭克塽), is remembered as the man who abandoned the Ming cause and turned Taiwan over to the Qing in 1683 in return for the empty title and honors of "Duke."

If Lien cannot find the wisdom to call off this ill-judged venture, let us hope at least that he will consult broadly in Taiwan before he leaves, not least with its elected government, and that in China he will have the courage to speak truth to power, robustly defending the rights of the people of Taiwan and the great democratic tradition of Sun Yat-sen (孫中山) , of which his party is the custodian. Otherwise, I fear Lien will end in humiliation what has been a long and distinguished career.

Arthur Waldron

Professor of international relations, University of Pennsylvania

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