Thu, Aug 30, 2007 - Page 8 News List

Editorial: What does `friendship' mean?

If the US State Department has a list of least favorite people, President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) must surely now be on it. US Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte made the US stance on Chen's proposed UN referendum known on Monday, branding the proposal a "mistake" and warning it would be seen by Washington as an attempt to change the cross-strait "status quo."

It could be that some State Department officials are so frustrated with Chen that they are pounding the table in their strategy rooms, complaining about the "trouble-maker," all the while scratching their heads and wondering why Chen is being so adamant this time in pushing for the referendum.

In case the US State Department hasn't realized, the answer is simple -- Chen is acting on behalf of the people of Taiwan.

As an elected president of a democratic country, Chen has the responsibility to look out for the best interests of the people of Taiwan.

And what are the people in Taiwan saying? A glance at recent polls tells it all.

A survey commissioned by the Institute for National Policy Research and conducted by the ERA Survey Research Center in June showed that more than 70 percent of participants supported the government's UN bid.

A separate survey carried out by the Taiwan Thinktank earlier this year suggested that more than 75 percent of Taiwanese expressed support for the idea of holding a referendum on the nation's UN bid.

More recently, a survey conducted by National Chengchi University's Election Study Center last week also found that more then 70 percent of the respondents supported a UN bid under the name "Taiwan."

Also, hundreds of thousands of signatures have been collected by the Democratic Progressive Party and the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) for their respective referendum proposals.

It is understood that the US has come under increasing pressure from China on the referendum issue. But what is China afraid of? Doesn't the Beijing administration often trumpet that China "places its hope in the people of Taiwan?" So what is there to fear in having the people of Taiwan raise their collective voice to tell the world what they want?

And why does the US -- the Big Brother promoter of democracy -- all of a sudden fail to understand that exercising this universal right is a hallmark of democracy?

In the Hong Kong-based Phoenix TV interview, Negroponte reiterated the US' friendship for Taiwan and Washington's support for Taiwan's democracy.

But what does it mean to "support Taiwan's democracy" and then work to the contrary and suppress Taiwanese from taking part in a referendum? What does it mean to "be Taiwan's friend" but then show disrespect for the decisions and will of that friend?

Sure, the US has its national interests to look after, but so does Taiwan. Chen, as the elected president, has the responsibility to work in the best interests of Taiwanese and continue to follow the people's call for the universal values of democracy and respect for human rights

After all, as two-time British prime minister Benjamin Disraeli put it: "I must follow the people. Am I not their leader?"

The US State Department should understand that it is not Chen who is being adamant in pushing the referendum, but Taiwanese themselves -- the true masters and stakeholders in the nation -- who are backing Chen up in the wish to exercise this universal right.

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