Tue, Aug 28, 2007 - Page 8 News List

Editorial: No friend of democracy in the US

The administration of President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) can be accused of many things, from sending mixed signals to contradicting itself on promises it made to its allies. But one thing it cannot be blamed for is striving to provide Taiwanese with the international space and recognition they deserve. And those efforts -- even when they irritate officials in the US State Department and result in diplomatic jousting of the most juvenile kind -- deserve to be commended, for they are indeed in the best interest of the nation.

What is truly deplorable is that the US -- Taiwan's supposed ally and a country that, in his new book The Assault on Reason, former US vice president Al Gore pompously says brought the gift of democracy to the world -- would turn to humiliating practices to force Taiwanese officials into a direction that is not in the best interest of the people they were elected to represent. Or -- as seems to be brewing on the horizon -- for it to pressure other countries into blocking Taiwan from seeking UN membership.

It is no small irony that this proponent of democracy abroad has seen its democratic institutions at home become so corrupted as to threaten its very system. As Gore, a victim of undemocratic practices himself, shows in his book, officials at all levels have reached unprecedented levels of unaccountability, deceiving the public on -- to name a few prominent cases -- elections, energy, the environment, security and launching a devastating war based on nothing better than a cornucopia of lies.

The end result of the White House's unaccountable practices in the past seven years, in fact, is orders of magnitude worse than anything Chen could ever do.

And yet, on every occasion the White House has worked against Taiwanese bids to join international institutions, US officials -- including former US secretary of state Colin Powell -- will paternalistically, if not condescendingly, argue that Taiwan should instead work on "strengthening" or "consolidating" its democracy, as if speaking to a small child that is unable to walk on its own.

The thing is, in this less-than-ideal relationship, the parent is basically telling the child that it should not attempt to walk. When it obstinately continues to strive for freedom, to walk and fall on its own, the parent figure berates it and calls it "immature."

Oddly enough, we never hear US officials call on China to "strengthen" or "further" its democracy. Perhaps it is because Beijing chose to walk down a different path, one in which the rights and freedoms of the people the Chinese government supposedly represents can be trampled without consequences. It would seem, therefore, that when a country has to deal with the US, being a democracy is in fact a handicap.

If the State Department and the White House want to dictate Taiwan's choices, they should at least have the decency to refrain from couching all of their self-serving policies in democratic terms that can only make a travesty of this gift to humanity. Taiwan's democracy, though imperfect like that of all its brethren, is doing well enough. After all, Cuban President Fidel Castro never offered to send monitors to oversee elections in Taiwan. The US can't say as much, ironically.

Chen's wildest blunders, about-faces and broken promises -- all made in the context of the quest for the recognition of Taiwan -- have not endangered lives or made a joke of democratic principles. Unlike Washington's own mistakes, his have not resulted in countless deaths, a gargantuan national debt and a step backward in what indeed used to be a democratic system that deserved to be the envy of the world.

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