Sunday, January 30, 2005

Bush to China: "Communists are bullies"

Back in winter 2003, prior to the Taiwan Presidential Election, President Bush hosted the Chinese Premier Wen Jia Bao at the White House. During the Q&A with the press, President Bush made some remarks that virtually all commentators said was a “blunt warning to Chen” not to declare independence from China. The idea that President Bush had “warned” Chen was re-enforced by the PRC’s reaction to the President’s comment. “We appreciate that,” I think were Wen’s exact words. But let’s look at what President Bush said that was characterized as such a “blunt warning:”

Let me tell you what I've just told the Premier on this issue. The United States government's policy is one China, based upon the three communiques and the Taiwan Relations Act. 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.

“We oppose any change in the status quo,” and it looks like Chen “may be willing to make decisions…which we oppose.” Not exactly, “Do this and you will pay.” I have always maintained that all the President said was “We are in still in favor of the status quo.” Part of the perception that these remarks were blunt came from the President’s gestures as he spoke. He made sharp chops with his hand to emphasize his points. But the bottom line was America would continue to favor the status quo.

Nonetheless, I was troubled that the President seemed willing to go out of his way to please the Chinese Communists when he could have instead made a point of standing up for democracy. When would have have had a more opportune time to come out in favor of Chinese democracy than when he was standing next to the un-elected Communist who claims to be the whole Chinese people’s representative. 9 December 2003 was the President’s nadir in promoting freedom in China and Taiwan.

However, the President has come a long way up from this low point with his 2nd Inaugural Address. Here is the salient quote:

We will persistently clarify the choice before every ruler and every nation: The moral choice between oppression, which is always wrong, and freedom, which is eternally right. America will not pretend that jailed dissidents prefer their chains, or that women welcome humiliation and servitude, or that any human being aspires to live at the mercy of bullies.

Now, many nervous nellies in Taiwan and beyond want to ameliorate the Presidents words and their meaning to Taiwan by claiming that since Taiwan already has a democracy and institutions, and because America has the Taiwan Relations Act, that is enough. After all, we don’t want to antagonize China, right?

I think the President pretty explicitly overthrew this interpretation of American policy. Where in there world is a weak democracy more threatened by a huge oppressive dictatorship bent than Taiwan by China? Taiwan is at the mercy of a bully, and must be defended, explicitly.

It would be a real show of character for the President to put some actions behind his words and, at the very least, demand that Taiwan be admitted to the UN. Even better would be for the President to recognize Taiwan as an independent country. Not to do so says that America’s commitment to democracy does not extend to China and that we are still in thrall to our fear of China.

I reject both notions. It is time to show some guts.