The “Jasmine Revolution” is rolling over North Africa: first Tunisia, then Egypt and now Libya. Oppressed people are suddenly seeing that entrenched regimes are not forever, and are taking to the streets, giving people power new meaning.
However, it is having worldwide repercussions: Restlessness and unrest has not been confined to neighboring countries such as Bahrain, Yemen and Syria. This weekend, pro-democracy activists in China attempted to spread the word on the Jasmine Revolution, leading to an unprecedented crackdown by security forces, and an almost total clampdown on the Internet. In addition, the Chinese Communist Party politburo reportedly met to discuss measures to prevent the news of what is happening in North Africa from spreading in China.
Where this is going in China is anybody’s guess, but we need to ask the question: “Whose side are you on?”
In Egypt, people suffered under former Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak’s repression for many decades. His secret police was all-powerful and it had student spies at US universities, tattling on their fellow students.
However, during the decades when this went on, few in the West had an inkling of what was going on and even fewer saw what was coming. Mubarak was perceived as an ally of the West and the US and Western European governments didn’t want to “rock the boat” and upset the “sensitive relations” with the regime. In doing so, we neglected to maintain relations with the leadership of the democratic movement — those who will be important in the days ahead.
By the same token, many in the West are all too concerned about not “rocking the boat” and upsetting the “sensitive relations” with the repressive leaders in Beijing. We need to be on the right side of history and do a much better job in establishing and maintaining good relations with those who work for human rights and democracy — in China itself, as well as in Tibet and East Turkestan [Xinjiang]. The Dalai Lamas and Rebiya Kadeers of this world need to be guests of honor in the White House and presidential offices around the world all the time.
For Taiwan, there is a particularly important role. Under the government of President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) it has moved toward “rapprochement” with China, but in the view of many observers, it has been too accommodating and has put insufficient emphasis on democracy and human rights.
Ma recently emphasized in an interview with the Washington Post that he wants US arms sales to proceed in order to negotiate with China “from a position of strength.” While we need to be fully supportive of US arms sales to Taiwan, we must also emphasize that Taiwan’s most important asset is its democracy. That gives it much more “strength” than all the weapon systems combined.
So, in its dealings with China, Taiwan needs to be up front with human rights and democracy, instead of keeping these issues on the back burner or avoiding them altogether. Taiwan can help China best by being much more supportive of China’s democratic movement. Taiwan should warmly welcome the Dalai Lama and World Uyghur Congress president Rebiya Kadeer instead of trying to keep these courageous leaders out.
If and when a monumental change takes place in China, as well as in Tibet and East Turkestan, we need to be able to say that we were on the right side of history. We need to be able to say that we helped push in the right direction. Taiwan has a proud history of democratic change. That needs to be held up as an example for China to follow.
Nat Bellocchi is a former chairman of the American Institute in Taiwan and a special adviser to the Liberty Times Group. The views expressed in this article are his own.
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