Much is being made by the pan-blue press in Taiwan about a statement US Deputy Secretary of State Robert Zoellick made during a hearing of the US House International Relations Committee, in which he said: "Independence means war."
I attended the hearing, and find the focus on this particular statement rather puzzling: Zoellick did indeed make it, but it was a brief, emotional outburst during a heated debate with Congresswoman and former ambassador Diane Watson, a Democrat from California, regarding President Chen Shui-bian's (
Zoellick was obviously exhausted from the long journey from Nigeria, where he had lengthy negotiations deep into the night about the Darfur situation. The members of Congress rightly applauded him for the breakthrough achieved in Africa.
It would be much more interesting to note that at least four of the committee members expressed their indignation at the fact that the administration didn't grant Chen an overnight stopover. They argued that such a gesture doesn't have anything to do with the US' lack of diplomatic ties with Taiwan, but rather with the respect due to a democratically-elected president.
Such respect was especially necessary after the White House rolled out the red carpet for a distinctly undemocratic leader of China.
What message does this send about the importance the US attaches to democracy? The supporters of Taiwan independence have always emphasized that they want peaceful coexistence with China.
China is threatening war, not Taiwan. To the Taiwanese who lived through the 228 Incident of 1947 in which tens of thousands were massacred by Chinese troops, and the subsequent 40 years of dictatorship under the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT), any "unification" with China means yet another round of subjugation by foreign dictators.
The US and other Western nations applauded when Taiwan made its transition to democracy. The Taiwanese who worked hard to bring this transition about are expecting the next step to be full and equal acceptance by the international community. The Republic of China (ROC )government lost its international recognition in the 1970s because it still claimed to be government of all of China -- in fact, that is still in the decrepit ROC Constitution which the US wants Taiwan not to change.
By clinging to its anachronistic "one China" policy, and by telling Taiwan not to change the "status quo," the US is preventing the nation from ridding itself of the anachronistic remnants of its repressive past.
At the same, it gives totalitarian China a say in the decision about Taiwan's future that should be made by the Taiwanese people themselves. Imagine if someone had suggested in 1776 that the future of the American colonies should be "acceptable to people on both sides of the Atlantic."
Is it too much to ask for the international community (including the US) to help bring about a normalization of relations with Taiwan, instead of letting themselves be used by the folks in Beijing who are threatening war?
Let's focus on the positive words spoken at the hearing, such as the following by Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, a Republican from Florida.
"And many members of our committee have already asked what steps the administration has taken to normalize diplomatic relations with Taiwan, to further trade relations with our eighth-largest trading partner through a free trade agreement, and to convince China to arrive at peaceful coexistence with Taiwan as friendly neighbors.