I agree with your editorial's assessment (Feb. 8, page 8) that the changes to the names of state-owned firms resulted in some "tortured," "stupid" and "laughable" compromises.
Indeed, it is difficult to disagree with former Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) chairman Ma Ying-jeou's (馬英九) characterization of the name changes as "childish."
However, I think both positions may have missed the larger point.
To an observer from the US, the name changes are yet another opportunity to clarify the issues and determine who is on which side. Here again the administration of US President George W. Bush has shown its values and priorities.
Three thousand of the US' finest young men and women have died in Iraq, along with more than 60,000 Iraqis, all in Bush's vain attempt to force democracy upon a land that has never known it.
Democracy is perhaps humanity's greatest invention, which is why many people have been sympathetic to Bush's goal. But history teaches us that democracy cannot be forced upon anyone; it must be home-grown by people who are ready, willing and able to produce it.
Some argue that the stable democracies created in Germany and Japan after World War II disprove that view. However, these countries were ready because they were decimated by the war and saw that their condition was their own fault as a result of prior excesses.
While it is possible to compare former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein to Adolf Hitler, Iraq never created an empire that waged war upon its neighbors like Germany or Japan did.
In Taiwan, people behave as if they are at a New England town meeting. After elected officials change the names of government-run corporations, opponents and supporters debate the awkward names in a free press. Meanwhile, the US president and his State Department voice their disapproval.
Democracy cannot be forced, but it can be forcibly overthrown, which is why it must be protected.
Protecting democracy is what the US waited too long to do in World War II, and what it pretended to do during the Cold War by protecting numerous phony "democracies" such as that run by Chiang Kai-shek (
But when the US has the opportunity and responsibility to protect a true democracy that has grown peaceably on its own, it turns up its nose, as seen in the State Department's announcement that "we do not support administrative steps by Taiwan authorities that would appear to change Taiwan's status unilaterally or move towards independence."
This clarifies the limits of Taiwan's democracy as the US sees it and illustrates the depth of China's influence in Washington. In effect, the US' desire for smooth relations with China has given the Chinese veto power over any "administrative steps" taken by Taiwan's elected authorities.
"The United States does not, for instance, support changes in terminology for entities administered by Taiwan authorities," the State Department announcement went on.
This helpful clarification serves notice that Washington does not approve of Taiwanese renaming their own agencies or corporations. It shows that the US believes that the Taiwan government merely "administers" entities that are owned -- and named -- by China.
Finally, the statement warned: "President Chen's [Shui-bian, 陳水扁] fulfillment of his commitments will be a test of leadership, dependability and statesmanship, as well the ability to protect Taiwan's interests, its relations with others and to maintain peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait."
Yes, the opposition is absolutely right: the new names are embarrassing. But democracy can be messy and embarrassing sometimes, as can free speech.
One embarrassing fact about democratic governments is that they are often run by incompetent leaders. This could soon change in Taiwan, however, after the upcoming legislative and presidential elections. I fear the embarrassment and incompetence might end soon after the elections -- or seem to end -- with the election of pro-China officials. In that case, Taiwan's democracy and free press could end as suddenly as they began.
In the meantime, I'd like to suggest that it matters not one whit whether the names of these corporations are Tom, Dick or Harry.
The nation's future hangs on the next fateful year of democracy. Taiwanese need to understand that the US did not bring democracy to Taiwan, nor will it lead Taiwan to independence, stability or peace. Taiwan must find its own way in the world.
The world would benefit greatly if the nation's democracy emerges victorious despite the opposition of great powers like China and the US. The stakes could not be higher.
Colorado Springs, Colorado
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