Sun, Mar 29, 2009 - Page 8 News List

Saving Taiwan, one letter at a time

By Strong Chuang 莊秋雄

On Dec. 15, 1978, then-US president Jimmy Carter abruptly declared the switching of diplomatic recognition from the Republic of China (ROC) to the People’s Republic of China. This move shocked Taiwan and Taiwanese-American communities. Many other Americans who cared for the US and its international relationships were also shocked.

Fortunately, less than four months later, on April 10, 1979, the US Congress passed the Taiwan Relations Act (TRA). The act effectively bridged and sustained the interrupted US-Taiwan relationship.

Section II-c of the TRA included an important paragraph concerning human rights in Taiwan.

This paragraph reads: “Nothing contained in this chapter shall contravene the interest of the United States in human rights, especially with respect to the human rights of all the approximately eighteen million inhabitants of Taiwan. The preservation and enhancement of the human rights of all the people on Taiwan are hereby reaffirmed as objectives of the United States.”

Many Taiwanese activists who subsequently struggled for democratization and were involved in the Kaohsiung Incident credited that paragraph for compelling the tyrannical Chiang Ching-kuo (蔣經國) — then-chair of the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) and Taiwanese president — to “grant” an open trial to the arrested activists, saving many of their lives.

I have also heard many say the existence of TRA’s paragraph on human rights substantially emboldened Taiwanese freedom fighters to more courageously stand out in protest against Chiang’s dictatorial rule to fight for Taiwan’s democratization. Therefore, replacing formal US-ROC diplomatic relations with the TRA might have actually expedited Taiwan’s democratization process.

I believe it important to recall my own efforts to express my concern for human rights violations in Taiwan 30 years ago.

That concern led me to a person-to-person diplomatic action that may have encouraged the inclusion of the human rights paragraph in the TRA.

Hopefully, it will inspire Taiwanese-Americans today to undertake person-to-person diplomatic efforts to save Taiwan from being further betrayed and encroached upon by China.

When Carter ceased official recognition of the ROC in 1978, I was working at Proctor & Gamble. Owen Bradford Butler, then the company’s vice chairman of the board, was one of the people worried about how this sudden change might affect the mutual interests of the US and Taiwan.

He was also the chairman of the policy/program committee of the National Association of Manufacturers. Under this capacity, Butler quickly formed a fact-finding group including representatives, a senator, a state legislator, a lieutenant governor and individuals from religious, educational, veteran and business organizations.

He led this group on a weeklong fact-finding visit to Taiwan. Upon his return, Butler wrote and published a very thorough report entitled “U.S. cannot negotiate Taiwan out of existence” published on Feb. 7, 1979, in the Cincinnati Enquirer.

Besides recounting the details of their Taiwan trip, Butler’s article suggested and recommended how best for the US to sustain the relationship with Taiwan that had been elaborately built up over years.

I quickly responded to his article with a two-page letter. Besides commending his concerns about the future of US-Taiwan relations, my letter also pointed out that the places they had visited and the people they had met in Taiwan were mostly pre-arranged by the KMT regime. This meant that their visit did not allow them to truly see and understand the real views of the majority of Taiwanese.

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