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Jewish World Review April 12, 1999 /26 Nissan 5759

Don Feder

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Taiwan more worthy of U.S. support

(JWR) ---- (
SATURDAY MARKED THE 20TH ANNIVERSARY of the Taiwan Relations Act, one of America's wiser and more successful foreign-policy initiatives. The anniversary should bolster our determination to keep Taiwan free.

For the Republic of China on Taiwan, things began to unravel with Nixon's 1971 trip to Beijing in search of Cold War allies.

Shortly thereafter, Taiwan was unceremoniously ejected from the United Nations. Under Jimmy Carter, Washington established diplomatic relations with the communists and severed ties to Taipei.

That was too much for many in Congress, who recalled that nationalist China was our ally for a quarter century and thought this a shabby way to treat a loyal friend.

To reassure the Taiwanese, Congress passed the act requiring the United States to provide arms to the island adequate for its defense. The law declares that any attempt to determine Taiwan's future by force would be "of grave concern" to this country.

Politically, Taiwan was then more like Albania than Athens. Its legislature was composed of octogenarians elected by mainland constituencies 40 years earlier. Demonstrations were illegal and censorship was rigorously enforced. Lee Teng-hui, then mayor of Taipei, was barely known outside the capital city.

In 1986, the great march to democracy began. Martial law ended and new political parties were allowed. The legislature was gradually transformed into a democratic body.

In 1996, Lee was elected president, becoming the first Chinese leader in 5,000 years to be chosen by popular vote.

A Taiwanese economic miracle rivaled this political progress. In 1979, agriculture still accounted for 30 percent of the island's gross domestic product. Today, Taiwan is the fourth major manufacturer of computer chips. U.S. exports to Taiwan total $18 billion annually, 50 percent more than our yearly exports to China.

Perhaps the key to economic and political development is for a nation to lose its U.N. membership and become an international pariah.

When the Taiwan Relations Act became law, there was cautious hope that China would take the same path. Deng Xiaoping was liberalizing the nation's economy. Could democratization be far behind?

Very far, as Tiananmen Square brutally demonstrated a decade later. It quickly became apparent that economic reforms were designed to entrench communist rule.

While Taiwan held its ninth multiparty election in December, China tried Wang Youcai for organizing a political party. For "endangering the security of the state," Wang was sentenced to 11 years in prison.

According to a State Department report released in February, "China's human-rights record has deteriorated sharply over the past year," which is like saying that ethnic harmony in the Balkans has suffered serious setbacks.

China has a foreign policy to match its domestic record. In 1979, the communists were content to glare across the Taiwan Strait and assert absurd claims to an island that hasn't been ruled by the mainland for more than four years in the past century.

Since the West fed it Hong Kong, China has become increasingly ravenous. It now has over 300 missiles targeted on Taiwan. Part of its huge trade surplus is used to purchase fighter aircraft and submarines to further menace its peaceful neighbor.

Late last month, Wang Daohan, a senior advisor to Chinese President Jiang Zemin, had the unmitigated gall to warn us that deploying a theater missile defense to protect Taiwan would precipitate a new cold war.

If we provoke the Marxist mandarins, they will do what? Steal our nuclear technology? Try to buy our elections? Help North Korea upgrade its missiles?

Bill Clinton holds the distinction of being the first president to publicly parrot Beijing's "three no's" -- no to Taiwan independence, no to two Chinas, no to Taipei's membership in international organizations.

Just as Congress did an end run around Carter's China policy, there are moves to circumvent this feckless president. In March, the House passed a resolution reaffirming our commitment to the defense of Taiwan. In the Senate, legislation is pending to increase weapons sales to Taipei.

If Taiwan was worth defending as a dictatorship 20 years ago, is it not more deserving as a democracy? If we were willing to risk alienating China in 1979, when we needed it to counter the Soviet threat, shouldn't we be able to stand up to a bully that's quickly taking the Kremlin's place?


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©1999, Creators Syndicate