Editorial: Breaking with the past

Sat, Mar 30, 2002 - Page 8

The most astounding reconciliation between long-time foes since the end of the Cold War may very well have taken place on Thursday at the Arab summit in Lebanon. Iraq publicly promised to respect the independence and sovereignty of Kuwait and to refrain from repeating its 1990 invasion of its smaller neighbor. If archenemies such as Iraq and Kuwait are able to mend ties, is there hope for China and Taiwan?

Many people remain skeptical of Iraq's sincerity, and rightly so. But Thursday's declaration was at least a start. Moreover, the Iraq-Kuwait example demonstrates that a promise by the aggressor to refrain from using force is the first step needed to kick off a reconciliation. It was a strong reminder that the main obstacle to improved cross-strait relations, no matter what Beijing thinks, is not pro-independence groups but China's refusal to renounce the threat to take Taiwan by force.

The main reason for Iraq's sudden willingness to act friendly, of course, is the looming threat of US military action against Saddam Hussein. The US has shown no reluctance about openly earmarking Iraq as the next target of its anti-terrorism campaign, giving it prominence on US President George W. Bush's enemies list -- the "axis of evil." International pressure on Baghdad, in particular from Arab states, has also been growing.

China is certainly as qualified as Iraq for inclusion in Bush's "evil axis." It is just as guilty of the accusations against Iraq, North Korea and Iran -- developing nuclear, chemical and biological weapons of mass destruction, helping terrorist groups obtain such weapons and threatening world peace.

Unfortunately for Taiwan, the level of US and international pressure on Beijing to clean up its act remains limited. Not only are threats of trade sanctions against China absent, but companies from around the world are rushing to invest in China. The US has also requested Beijing's help with Washington's war on terror.

The US also shows no sign of being willing to renounce the now-clearly outdated three US-Sino communiques. Key to all three communiques is Washington's hands-off policy with respect to the Taiwan issue, since people on both sides of the Taiwan Strait maintain there is but one China and that Taiwan is a part of China. However, as Vice President Annette Lu (呂秀蓮) noted yesterday, that presumption about the popular will of Taiwan is no longer accurate -- if it ever was.

At the time of the signing of the first communique in Shanghai 30 years ago, the KMT's authoritarian rule over Taiwan was at its height. The people of Taiwan had no opportunity to express or even develop any "Taiwan consciousness." This is no longer the case.

The three US-Sino communiques are a violation of the right of the people of Taiwan to self-determination. Only when the US has the moral courage to admit that the communiques are not just outdated, but harmful to Taiwan -- and when the international community is willing to also acknowledge that -- will enough pressure be brought to bear on China. Only then will there be the hope that Beijing will finally renounces its self-proclaimed right to use force against Taiwan. Only then will the people of Taiwan truly be able to breathe freely.