The sight of wily former president Lee Teng-hui (李登輝) darting around Washington and Philadelphia firing up the expatriate faithful, networking with top members of the US Congress and admiring the crown jewels of American democracy -- the Constitution, the Declaration of Independence and assorted memorials -- is oddly moving. It is an affirmation that Taiwan cannot afford to do anything less than defy Orientalists who claim that "Asians" are less suited to democracy. It is also a bleak reminder of the state of things at home.
Lee has enemies in Taiwan, no more embittered than the ossified inner sanctum of the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT), whose members hate Lee not just for purging the party of its most militant and despotic elements -- and exposing unificationists to general ridicule -- but also for the fact that, like the rest of the inner sanctum, he got rich along the way.
These enemies will be rather irritated that Lee's visit elicited powerful statements of support from both Democratic and Republican members of Congress, notably Republican Representative Dana Rohrabacher, whose words should provide no small comfort to demoralized supporters of democracy in Taiwan.
Why the irritation over such support? Because at a philosophical level Lee's opponents hold the US and its ideals in high and barely disguised contempt, despite the formidable number of them that sucked on the teat of the American education system and whose very survival in this place has been paid for over the decades by the US military. To this day, deep inside the heart of the unificationist ideologue, there lives derision toward the barbaric West and a longing for the time when the center of a true civilization -- Beijing, presumably -- can return to its rightful place as the capital of not the Middle Kingdom, as it is usually mistranslated, but the Central Kingdom.
More pressing, however, is the fact that such words of support from members of Congress endanger the pan-blue program of appeasement and ingratiation with that part of the Chinese Communist Party charged with neutralizing "separatists" in Taiwan.
Lee is all too aware of these facts, stained as he is by historical connections to both the communists and the KMT. That he can still serve as the only substantial representative of this country's democratic aspirations in the US -- even more than the nation's own president, sad to say -- is a sign of desperation that should be well noted. The fact that Lee, in his 80s, has been forced to emulate the gerontocratic flailing of communist regimes past and present is to be regretted. How much better it would have been if, as with the postwar Winston Churchill, Lee were now irrelevant and could be put out to pasture.
The fact that this man still insists on involvement in international politics reflects not just a sense of unfinished business on his part, but also a sense that the Democratic Progressive Party has dropped the ball so badly in communicating with the electorate on national identity and cross-strait security that something -- anything -- has to be done. If that means traveling to Washington and effectively pleading with two of the most powerful lawmakers in the land for a stronger commitment to Taiwan's security, then so be it.
May the members of Congress who met Lee have the courage of their convictions to stand by their friends -- the great majority of Taiwanese -- at a time of vulnerability to the ruinous agenda of pro-China legislators.
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