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Fri, Jan 21, 2000 - Page 13 News List

Liberating Taiwan from itself

The perpetual threat of force by China in its claims to Taiwan are a tacit admission that it has lost the argument on all rational fronts; all it has left is to appeal to the emotions with the spurious attractions of ethnicity, historical continuity and ultimately to the threat of being `liberated' by the PLA

By Christopher MacDonald

China's Jiang Zemin (江澤民) deserves to be commended for his candor. No more beating about the bush. As 1999 drew to a close, with Macau safely ensconced in the loving embrace of the motherland, Jiang declared to a party of foreign visitors that China would invade and annex Taiwan, annihilating local opposition, unleashing a bloody settling of accounts and imposing a second period of White Terror on the island. Jiang promised that large segments of the community, including owners of businesses and property, university degree-holders and anyone vaguely opposed to PRC occupation would be persecuted, and added that those branded "bad elements" would be subject at any time to arbitrary detention, torture and execution. The fact that he managed to say all this with one small word, jiefang (解放), didn't make his intended meaning any less explicit, or chilling.

The words "liberate" and "liberation" -- the usual English translations for jiefang -- carry connotations of freedom, justice and equality. But in the political lexicon of the Chinese Communist Party, they bear a rather different meaning. Jiang, after all, is the leader of a regime that "liberated" the population of China into two decades of slaughter and starvation following 1949, meanwhile erecting the apparatus for political oppression on a scale never before known to mankind, and then "liberated" the neighboring country of Tibet into a state of permanent armed occupation. In the Orwellian doublespeak of China's autocracy, "liberation" is what happens to you when the People's Liberation Army comes calling.

Curiously, Jiang's statement was not labeled provocative or destabilizing. During the following days, brows were not furrowed in the foreign ministries of the freedom-loving West. Eyebrows were not raised among editorialists and opinion-makers. Thousands of column inches decrying the irresponsible and incendiary character of Jiang's remarks did not flood the international commentary pages of the world's press. In a tacit acknowledgement of China's right to menace Taiwan to its heart's content, there was none of the brouhaha that followed Lee Teng-hui's (李登輝) tentative assertion last July of state-to-state parity across the Taiwan Strait.

Of course unlike Lee, who had the temerity to speak without first clearing his text with the US State Department, Jiang at least had the courtesy to inform the Americans first -- in fact he was welcoming the new US ambassador to Beijing at the time. And while Lee's move clearly represented another awkward step in Taiwan's ten-year backtracking from the claim to sovereignty over China, Jiang's threat implied no change of policy -- the PRC has never been shy about its desire to savage Taiwan by force if the disobedient little province won't be brought to heel by other means. The impact was also softened by the fact that Jiang's interpreter that day cannily -- or by pre-arrangement -- opted to translate jiefang by the more neutral "reunify," knowing full well that her Shakespeare-quoting boss was capable of correcting her if necessary.

But the threat still stands, both as a nod, on Jiang's part, to the more hawkish elements in the Chinese army and government, and as an implicit acknowledgement, on the part of the PRC, that it has well and truly lost the argument on the question of Taiwan.

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