Wrong side blamed for upsetting status quo

By Lin Tsung-kuang 林宗光  / 

Mon, Dec 22, 2003 - Page 8

China has 496 missiles pointed at Taiwan. It has threatened an "abyss of war" if Taiwan refuses to acknowledge Chinese sovereignty. China's top military leaders have stated in no uncertain terms that force will be used if Taiwan declares independence -- even if doing so could mean the cancellation of the 2008 Beijing Olympics, cause a slowdown in China's economic development and lead to the deaths of many people.

Less publicized, but widely acknowledged by experts, is the information warfare that Beijing is waging against Taiwan.

China is known to have placed thousands of spies in all sectors of Taiwanese society. In its attempts to disrupt Taiwan's communication and transportation networks, to instill fear and to induce an economic breakdown, China has resorted to such measures as hacking computers, spreading rumors and dispensing erroneous economic information.

It has gone so far as to provide financial or moral support to politicians and political parties that are deemed acceptable to Beijing.

Surely, these are not initiatives designed to preserve the status quo and yet, in the recent summit between US President George W. Bush and Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao (溫家寶), the US leader publicly rebuked the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) administration for trying to upset the status quo in the Taiwan Strait.

Taiwan is famous for its "economic miracle." More remarkable has been its rapid transition toward full democracy in the past two dozen years.

Beijing has been doing everything in its power to thwart the development of democracy in Taiwan. It sided squarely with the Chiang regime at a time when the democracy movement in Taiwan was in full swing.

In 1996, when Taiwan was taking an unprecedented step toward full democracy by allowing its president to be popularly elected, China reacted by hurling missiles toward the island, which created an international diplomatic crisis. In the 2000 presidential election, Beijing openly warned the Taiwanese electorate that a victory for the DPP's Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) could cause a Chinese invasion, and it went on to provide aid to other candidates, most of them remnants of the old Chiang regime.

Recently the legislature, on the initiative of Chen, passed a resolution allowing the people of Taiwan to exercise their democratic right to voice their views on the missile build-up across the strait and the Chinese military threat in general.

This "defensive referendum," to take place next March, has since been labeled by Beijing as a provocation designed to upset the status quo in the region.

Similarly, any talk in Taiwan of moving democracy forward by adopting a new constitution is seen in China as treacherous.

There is no doubt that it is China that is instigating fundamental change across the Taiwan Strait, and that it is the Chinese dictatorship that is trying to strangle Taiwan's democracy movement.

In this context, Bush's statement during the summit at the White House is both ironic and unfortunate.

It is ironic because the US seems to object to the Taiwanese expressing their political views peacefully through a referendum at a time when the US is sending troops to distant lands to fight terror and promote democracy.

It is unfortunate because the US seems to have sided with a country that is bent on annexing a neighbor that is seeking only peaceful, dignified coexistence with all nations.

To rebuke Taiwan for upsetting the status quo is really barking up the wrong tree.

Lin Tsung-kuang is a professor of history at Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa.