As a naturalized US citizen and a native of Taiwan teaching at a US university, Dec. 9 was a sad day. On the eve of International Human Rights Day, US President George W. Bush, with the visiting Chinese premier at his side, stated, "We oppose any unilateral decision by either China or Taiwan to change the status quo. And the comments and actions made by the leader of Taiwan indicate that he may be willing to make decisions unilaterally to change the status quo, which we oppose."
I had believed that this country was founded on the principles of liberty, equality and democracy -- values inculcated in every US citizen, born here or naturalized. But Bush's comments made me wonder whether the US' promotion of democracy only applies when it suits US interests.
Since Taiwan's democratization has progressed too fast for the comfort and convenience of the US, it must be reined in. Previously, Bush showed strategic and moral clarity regarding Tai-wan, exemplified by his April 2001 remarks: "We will do whatever it takes to help Taiwan defend itself," which contributed to the simultaneous improvement of ties with both Beijing and Taipei -- an underappreciated feat that no previous administration had been able to achieve.
Now, the exigencies of the war on terror, the quagmire in Iraq, and the crisis over North Korea appear to have caused Bush to abandon a policy that reflected the US' values.
Many Americans have sympathy for Taiwan as a democratic quasi-ally that has achieved an economic miracle and built a vibrant democracy amid perennial threats and pressure from China, and Bush is known for his empathy with the Taiwanese people. He has also justified his war on terror and his rebuilding Iraq in the name of preserving freedom and spreading democracy.
It is thus puzzling why Bush came down so hard on President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁), whose sin was to propose a referendum coinciding with next March's presidential election that calls on China to withdraw its missiles aimed at Taiwan and renounce the use of force.
A public rebuke of a democratic ally in an obvious ingratiation of the leader of a regime seeking to absorb one of the US' staunchest friends -- by force, if necessary, without any public reprimand of China's coercive diplomacy -- makes it increasingly clear that Bush now views Taiwan's ballot box as more threatening than China's missiles.
US policymakers often tout how the one-China policy, en-shrined since the Nixon-Kissinger years, has enabled the US to improve its relations with China, whose cooperation on many international issues the US needs, and how it has helped Taiwan prosper economically and democratize politically, albeit under an ambiguous status. The implicit message is that the patron (the US) has been magnanimous, and the client (Taiwan) should be more grateful.
But gratitude should go both ways. During the Cold War, the US used its support of the Republic of China as the legal government of all China as a tool to contain communist China.
With detente, former US president Richard Nixon visited the PRC in 1972 and signed the Shanghai Communique, which paved the way for normalization of relations between the two countries.
But the framework that would be used to govern US policy toward Taiwan for the next three decades -- the diplomatic fiction that the US acknowledges that all Chinese on each side of the Taiwan Strait maintain that there is only one China and that Taiwan is a part of China -- not only lacked any input from Taiwanese people, whose fate was affected, but is out of sync with Taiwan's fast-democratizing polity.
Yet Bush has now bluntly told the Taiwanese to continue accepting a formula that serves US convenience and interests but is made without Taiwanese consent. The root problem lies in Beijing's refusal to acknowledge Taiwan as a separate and sovereign country and its insistence that all major powers and international organizations adhere to its one-China worldview.
But the US, with its power and prestige, should be able to set a better example than perpetuating a diplomatic fiction and chastising anybody who points out the obvious.
I recently met my relatives in Shanghai for the first time. It was a warm occasion. They sincerely told me that Taiwan would eventually return to the motherland. I had enough respect for them to tell them that most people in Taiwan do not want to join China -- at least now, when China still has an authoritarian and nationalist government that threatens Taiwan, and that their textbooks had failed them by telling only half-truths.
We in the US teach our children that US foreign policy reflects this country's democratic values. How can we explain our Taiwan policy to them?
Vincent Wang is a political science professor at the University of Richmond and author of numerous articles on Taiwan and China.
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