Taiwan: The Threatened Democracy is a hard-hitting statement of the pro-Taiwan and anti-China position from a US Republican commentator. The author's worldview may be in need of serious qualification, but on Taiwan itself his book is hard to fault.
What Bruce Herschensohn believes is that the US is ignoring the issue of liberty versus oppression in the interest of profits from trade with China. He feels his government has already gone far along this road, despite US President George W. Bush's claim to be willing to defend freedom anywhere in the world.
Herschensohn is a former Richard Nixon aide and current conservative activist. The book's publisher, World Ahead, is also a conservative set-up, with a kids' title Help! Mom! There are liberals under my bed! on its list.
The book has the usual Republican obsessions - a strong dislike of France as the country most eager to sell China advanced weapons technology, scorn for the UN ("that failed international organization"), and skepticism about diplomats in general. But after reading it I understood why, in American elections, most Taiwanese vigorously support Republican candidates.
Facts clearly presented are one of the book's strong points. One chapter deals with Hong Kong. There's no ranting here, just a chronological list of 109 instances in which the city has had its former freedoms eroded over the last 10 years. By the end, any idea of "One country, two systems" as a formula that might one day apply to Taiwan is in tatters.
Any claims China might have to be a civil society are demolished. Herschensohn rages against all the evils that have ever been laid at China's door - the Anti-Secession Law, the persecution of Falun Gong and Catholics loyal to Rome, the one-child policy, Tiananmen Square, the imprisonment of dissidents, aid to "terrorist nations," the sale of the organs of the executed, mass Chinese migration into Tibet, the military build-up, and so on. There's no word of praise anywhere for Chinese authorities.
There are several qualifications that a more disinterested observer might make. There's no word about the absurdity of much Falun Gong doctrine, nor anything about, say, Beijing's attempts to reduce its number of executions. And, when describing the US as the world's great defender of freedom, Herschensohn fails to mention Washington's record in South America where libertarian movements were, according to many accounts, subverted almost as a matter of course throughout much of the last century.
Herschensohn is especially outraged at the treatment of Taiwan's politicians when they travel abroad, citing Chinese President Hu Jintao being received on the White House lawn to a 21-gun salute in April, 2006, while the following month Taiwan's President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) was told he could only make a re-fueling stop in Hawaii or Alaska on his way to South America, and should under no circumstances stay overnight.
Yet there are 40 Catholic bishops and priests in jail in China and zero in Taiwan, Herschensohn trumpets. And anyway, why shouldn't Taiwan be a state if it wants to be, when the Palestinians can be one - even though many there advocate the overthrow of Israel? With Americans dying for liberty in Iraq and Afghanistan, he argues, it would be a "tragic irony" for Taiwan to be taken over by a state where liberty is unknown. (Herschensohn appears not to understand exactly what "tragic irony" is, but we'll let that pass).