For the past three decades, successive US presidents have adopted a policy of engagement with China: opening the US market to Chinese products, thus enabling the People’s Republic of China’s rapid economic growth and embracing it as a member of the community of nations, thus enhancing the legitimacy of Chinese Communist Party (CCP) rule in the eyes of its citizens. This policy is based on the theory that economic reform will inevitably lead to political liberalization and democratic transformation, and that a democratic China will be friendly toward the US and its neighbors. In this scenario, the US should welcome the emergence of a more powerful China.
However, this theory has not panned out. The CCP abhors democracy, something amply demonstrated by the “Tiananmen Papers” (Andrew Nathan, Foreign Affairs, January-February 2001). According to Nathan, six party elders met with the Politburo’s Standing Committee on June 2, 1989, and decided on the removal of “counter-revolutionaries from Tiananmen Square. Both Li Peng (李鵬) and Li Xiannian (李先念) talked about the Goddess of Liberty statue erected by the students with venom. Wang Zhen (王震) fumed: “Anybody who tries to overthrow the Communist Party deserves death and no burial.”
The CCP abhors democracy for several reasons. First, democratization means the demolition of its monopoly on power (and wealth). Second, once the grip on the means of coercion is lost, emboldened citizens would demand a settlement of accounts for the party’s past sins, such as the tens of millions who perished during the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution, and the endemic malfeasance of party officials. Third, the CCP is convinced Western democracy is incompatible with Chinese culture and tradition. Finally, the CCP believes its socialist government is more efficient in achieving national goals such as economic growth, a powerful military and world domination.
During the 2007 session of the National People’s Congress, Premier Wen Jiabao (溫家寶) said China would remain at the “primary stage of socialism,” which requires guidance by the CCP, for at least another 100 years.
The preservation of Taiwan as an independent democracy is in accord with the interests of the US and its democratic allies in Asia, precisely because Taiwan’s democracy is a thorn in the side of the CCP.
Taiwan is a beacon of hope for those Chinese who aspire to a more open society that embraces the rule of law, freedom of expression and religion, and in which people can freely elect their officials and representatives at all levels of government. Taiwan’s experience invalidates the fallacy that democratic values are incompatible with Chinese culture.
An independent Taiwan hinders China’s projection of power into the Pacific and Indian Oceans and safeguards vital airspace and sea lines of communication for Japan and South Korea. The preservation of Taiwan’s freedom assists the US in maintaining its economic, political and military presence in East Asia and contributes directly to the peace and stability of the region and beyond.
For the 23 million Taiwanese, retaining their democracy means freedom from the CCP’s repressive rule and preserving the right to live in a free nation where their property, liberty and life are protected. It also ensures Taiwan’s ability as a de facto independent state to contribute to the welfare of the international community by offering technical assistance to developing nations, disaster relief and facilitating the prosperity of the global IT and communications industries through Taiwan’s role as a critical element of the supply chain.
Li Thian-hok is a distinguished fellow of the International Assessment and Strategy Center in Washington.
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