Sat, Nov 19, 2005 - Page 8 News List

Don't play games with the nation's security

By Dennis Hickey

The Korean people sometimes complain that their country could be described as "a shrimp between whales." Throughout the nation's history, Korea has found itself at the mercy of large foreign powers. Like Korea, Taiwan might also be described as a shrimp between whales. For centuries, the island's fate has been shaped largely by external events and outside pressures.

Beginning in the 1500s, European imperialists sought to occupy Taiwan. From 1683 until 1886 it was loosely administered as a prefecture of Fujian Province, and then it became a province of its own. In 1895, following China's defeat in the first Sino-Japanese War, Taiwan was formally ceded to Japan. Efforts by local inhabitants to resist the occupation and establish an independent republic were brutally crushed by Japanese troops and received no support from the Chinese government or other external powers. The Taiwanese were then enslaved by Japan. No outside power seemed to care.

In 1943, the Allies issued the Cairo Declaration which stated that Taiwan should be returned to the Republic of China. Several years later, Chiang Kai-shek's (蔣介石) government moved to Taiwan. As usual, the Taiwanese population was not consulted about these developments.

Taiwan's anticipated fall to the People's Republic of China was prevented by the outbreak of the Korean War in 1950. The US did not "neutralize" the Taiwan Strait to save Chiang. Rather, strategic calculations led the US to protect Taiwan.

Several decades later, shifts in the international system led US president Richard Nixon to patch up relations with China. According to declassified documents, the president made many concessions to Beijing. In fact, Henry Kissinger assured premier Zhou Enlai (周恩來) that Taiwan's "political evolution is likely to be in the direction which Premier Zhou indicated." In other words, US officials conceded that Taiwan would be absorbed by the PRC. Once again, the Taiwanese population was not consulted.

Since the 1970s, external events beyond Taiwan's control have continued to exercise an inordinate degree of influence over the island. The end of the Cold War yielded some dividends. But more recently, the war on terror has led Washington to move closer to Beijing.

Like the proverbial shrimp caught between whales, Taiwan must chart a careful course in the troubled waters of international politics. In order to survive and prosper, it must avoid antagonizing Washington, its chief ally, and Beijing, its only adversary. This is not an easy task. And it is complicated by the fact that some Taiwanese politicians are determined to play politics with the nation's defense.

If the Taiwanese people hope to have any say whatsoever in the future of their country, it is imperative that Taiwan maintain a defensive capability sufficient to deter aggression by an external power. In the interest of national security, Taiwanese lawmakers should put politics aside and pass the arms procurement bill designed to purchase diesel submarines, maritime patrol aircraft and Patriot anti-missile batteries. While politicians dither and delay, China is deploying additional missiles directly opposite Taiwan and building up its military.

Taiwan may be a shrimp between whales. As a small island, that is reality. But it should not degenerate into a pitiful, spineless jellyfish. There is much that this proud island can do to influence its future trajectory in the global community. One crucial step is to approve President Chen Shui-bian's (陳水扁) request to pass the arms bill before it is too late. After all, quarreling over the mass transit system and TV stations is just everyday politics. But jeopardizing national security for political gain is outrageous. Pass the arms bill now.

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