In mid-December, two US senators, John McCain and Chris Murphy, joined thousands of demonstrators in Kiev, Ukraine, to protest a move by Ukrainian President Victor Yanukovych to strengthen ties with Russia.
McCain said: “We are here to support your just cause; the sovereign right to determine [Ukraine’s] own destiny freely and independently. And the destiny you seek lies in Europe.”
Murphy added: “Ukraine’s future stands with Europe, and the US stands with Ukraine.”
A few days earlier, US Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland had also visited the protesters on Kiev’s Independence Square, speaking words of encouragement and helping to distribute food.
Her visit came after the strong statement from US Secretary of State John Kerry, which criticized recent actions of the Ukrainian government.
The US response followed weeks of demonstrations by pro-EU protesters in Kiev, who were angered by the Nov. 21 decision by Yanukovych’s pro-Russian administration to break off negotiations with the EU and to instead move to create stronger ties with Russia.
What does this have to do with Taiwan?
There are several similarities between Taiwan and Ukraine.
Both countries have made democratic transitions: Taiwan from the late 1980s to early 1990s, and Ukraine following the collapse of the former Soviet Union.
Both countries have experienced several changes in government administration that have been timely.
In Taiwan, the pro-democracy Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) came to power in 2000, while in Ukraine, the 2004 Orange Revolution brought pro-democracy leaders Viktor Yushchenko and Yulia Tymoshenko into power.
This was followed by the 2008 election of President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) and the similarly timed election of Yanukovych in 2010.
The arrest and imprisonment of former president Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) on corruption charges was followed a few years later by the May 2010 jailing of Ukrainian opposition leader Tymoshenko.
In both cases, international observers saw the convictions as persecution in a biased court system.
The EU required Ukraine to release Tymoshenko from prison as a requirement during the negotiations.
In both countries, there is a strong public desire to move closer to a Western democratic system.
In Ukraine, this is reflected by mass demonstrations in support of association with the EU, and in Taiwan this can be observed in the white-shirt and black-shirt demonstrations expressing concern over attempts to draw Taiwan closer to China.
It is important for the US to view these similarities clearly and to adjust its policies so that Taiwan moves closer to democracy.
Allowing a nation that has just recently made the transition to democracy to drift under the repressive and undemocratic control of China is not in line with the nation’s core values.
Perhaps it would be good if McCain, Murphy and Nuland visit demonstrators in Taipei and speak words of encouragement there too.
Nat Bellocchi served as chairman of the American Institute in Taiwan from 1990 to 1995. The views expressed in this article are his own.