America and Taiwan, 1943-2004

by Michael Falick, Colorado Springs, CO,
April 12, 2004

As I was going up the stair
I met a man who wasn't there.
He wasn't there again today.
I wish, I wish he'd go away!

Twelve American Presidents and No Taiwanese People

In these difficult and divisive times, it is reassuring to find an issue that brings Americans together, liberal and conservative, hawk and dove, left and right. Yet the facts are clear and consistent. Since the middle of World War II, the administrations of twelve Presidents, six Republicans and six Democrats, have all followed a policy toward the people of Taiwan that is just plain wrong. The policy is based on the simple assumption that these people - five million in Franklin Roosevelt's time, twenty-three million today - don't exist.

Most Americans think of the conflict over Taiwan as one between two Chinese governments - the Communist People's Republic on the mainland and the Nationalist Republic of China in "exile" on Taiwan. And, reasonably enough, most of us don't want to get caught in between. But I'm not talking about that conflict. I'm talking about claims by each of these Chinese governments to the island of Taiwan. (I was awakened the other night by two burglars in my house, loudly arguing over division of the loot. And the police, like the U.S. State Department, tell me to shut up and behave myself while the dispute is settled - between the two burglars! As we say in Taiwan, what am I, chopped liver?)

Current U.S. policy states that we are opposed to either China or Taiwan "unilaterally changing the status quo," a high-sounding phrase we try to pass off as even handed. But this "one-China" policy leaves Taiwan isolated and friendless, barred from the United Nations and most other international organizations, recognized by only a handful of fourth-rate powers. We have given China a veto over any Taiwanese change - their name, their constitution, even their flag! And the People's Republic has never accepted the U.S. restriction against their use of violence to take over Taiwan. They have repeatedly and clearly warned that they will attack the island if it declares independence or puts off unification "indefinitely." The Chinese giant towers over their prey, armies massed, five hundred missiles aimed and ready along the Taiwan Strait, while cowardly demagogues rant and rave across the island, declaiming that now is the time to strike a deal. And their brave friend across the Pacific will fend off any escape from this nether world of uncertainty for as long as it takes for the Taiwanese to give in.

The truth is, of course, that our Taiwan policy, bad as it is, has never been born out of malice or stupidity... well, not complete stupidity. All twelve of these U.S. Presidents had reasons for doing what they did - usually reasons having to do with peace, human rights, democracy, and prosperity - not exactly evil intentions. And although our policy has consistently ignored the will of the Taiwanese people, the United States has never been bound under international law to any such position. It is not too late to change our policy and do the right thing.

But why should the U.S. be more willing to support the rights of Taiwan's 23 million citizens than of China's long suffering billions? Are advocates of Taiwanese independence repeating the irresponsible cries of Cold Warriors like Douglas MacArthur and Joseph McCarthy to "roll back" China's "bamboo curtain?" Are we advocating a lone Superpower role for America of pre-emptive imperialism wherever a percieved "evil" lurks? The answers to these important questions depend on whether or not Taiwan is part of China. The peace and security of the world depends on international respect for national sovereignty; respect for the United States and its democratic ideals depends on our loyalty to our allies and to our ideals of national self-determination. Few questions in history have been more critical than whether or not Taiwan is part of China. Has America taken a position on that question? If so, what is it?

Is Taiwan part of China?

The Two Burglars and the Thirty-Fifth Province

At the heart of America's policy toward Taiwan lies a fable as entrenched as any folklore since George Washington's cherry tree.

Once upon a time, there was a country called China, consisting since ancient times of thirty-five provinces. Like America and many other countries, it ousted its monarchy and created a republic, under the idealistic leadership of its founder, Dr. Sun Yet-Sen. But Dr. Sun's Republic of China was soon cleft in two by a damaging Civil War which raged back and forth for decades. The Communist Party, led by Mao Tse-tung, eventually established the People's Republic of China on 34 of China's 35 provinces. The Nationalist Party (aka Kuomintang or KMT), led by Chiang Kai-Shek, held out on the remaining province, Taiwan. While these two were regrouping to continue the fight, the U.S., busy with the Cold War around the world and the Korean War in Asia, sailed the Seventh Fleet into the Taiwan Strait. Thus the temporary truce between Mao and Chiang in 1949 keeps China split in two up through this very day.

How true is this fairy-tale? Well, certainly no more than thirty-four/thirty-fifths. But even without challenging the deeply held beliefs of those who insist on the truth of this fable, Taiwan is an independent country. It has been governed separately from China for more than 50 years. It has never, even for a day, been governed by the People's Republic. All their talk of "re"-unification is a lot like all that talk about Britney Spears and I getting back together. As Ms. Spears sentimentally puts it, "Who the hell are you?"

The simple fact is that Taiwan and China have been governed separately since 1949. This one fact, acknowledged by all sides, should be enough to lay the entire issue to rest. If Taiwan was ever, as China claims, a part of a Chinese state and is in fact trying to secede, they've succeeded. Fifty-five years and counting - nearly three generations - is enough time on which to base a claim of self-determination. The comparison is probably more trouble than it's worth, but can't be avoided: wouldn't even Lincoln have recalled Grant by the 1920's?

And where was Taiwan when Dr. Sun proclaimed his Republic? Not a part of the Ch'ing Empire, not a part of the Republic of China. Even if proponents of Taiwanese independence concede all disputed points of fact, the remaining facts stack up on their side. Case closed. Read no further. Advocates of Taiwanese independence perhaps only invite trouble by allowing any part of their case to hinge on interpretation of the past when they could base their stand on undisputed terrain. But history and politics are never that simple. Nations are not built on legalistic claims, but on a unifying heritage. Such a heritage needn't be, and shouldn't be, based on blood and myth. As in our own country, ideals and history can unify a nation. Unfortunately, in Taiwan and around the world, what has been taught for so many years has been taught by the two sides in a Chinese conflict, with the Taiwanese point of view quite deliberately suppressed.

Chinese, not China: Settlement to 1895

One of Taiwan's "public relations" problems might stem from the fact that on a map it appears quite close to the mainland - less than 100 miles as a modern ballistic missile flies. But it wasn't so easy to get to in centuries past. Early emigrants made the trip across the Strait, but neither sovereignty nor effective government followed. Taiwan was settled by Chinese, not by China; Plymouth is a closer analogy than Jamestown.

The original natives of Taiwan came from the Asian mainland many thousands of years ago, well before any Chinese culture, country, or language developed. No Dynasty before the final one - the seventeenth century Ch'ing - claimed Taiwan as part of their domain. Mountainous terrain provided an obstacle to settlement of Fukien province, leaving Taiwan, a hundred miles away across the sea, even more isolated from the Yellow and Yangtze River valleys along which Chinese civilization grew. To a distant American, it comes as a surprise for seventeenth century Chinese to find Taiwan as intimidating and inhospitable as contemporaneous America was to Europeans - and its troublesome natives treated with as much fear, and as little respect, as our own.

The Ming dynasty lost control of China to the Manchurian Ch'ing in the 17th century. In a strange foreshadowing of later history, Ming holdovers, led by the famous Koxinga, took refuge on Taiwan, eventually turning from hopeless rebellion to a profitable piracy. Japanese also found Taiwan to be a suitable base for banditry. Holland, Spain, and Portugal found useful trading harbors on the island; the last mentioned bestowing its other familiar name, Ilha Formosa, "Beautiful Island" in Portuguese. Over time, however, immigrants from China began to predominate, to turn away from trade and banditry toward farming and settlement, and, of course, to taking the land from the aborigines. But the aboriginal Taiwanese remained an important element in island society both from their shrinking mountain base and in the growing immigrant settlements, since few of the arriving groups brought any women with them.

By the nineteenth century more and more Chinese were attracted to Taiwan's fertile fields, but few of these immigrants intended to colonize the island for their homeland. More likely, they were looking for a place to escape from that homeland and start over economically, socially and politically. Historian Johanna Meskill documents the story of the Lin family on Taiwan. Lin Shi was born in 1729 in Fukien province, orphaned before his teens, and came to Taiwan in the 1750's in spite of official bans on migration there. He was able to claim enough open land to survive, prosper, and bring over his brothers, again in spite of official policy. But the lack of governance eventually turned against Lin Shi; he lost everything he had in a local rebellion. Nonetheless, frontier Taiwan remained wide open for the enterprising, the fearless, and the ruthless. Lin's descendents eventually became one of Taiwan's most important families - businessmen, strongmen, landed gentry, political powers.

In the two centuries of Chinese settlement under the Ch'ing Taiwan was a wild and wooly frontier outpost - savage tribes descended from the mountains to attack the Chinese villagers, and vice-versa; and the villagers spent a good deal of time at war amongst themselves. Imperial government was absent, indifferent, corrupt, or cowardly - leaving the villagers to look to violent local strongmen to provide order. Although Lin Shi's grandson Lin Wen-Ch'a never claimed himself to be "the Law West of the Wu (River)", by mid-century he and his family managed their district with more authority than "Judge" Roy Bean ever ran his. Shootouts between rival gangs were common. Fortunes were made and lost, and made again. Family vengeance was uncontrollable, in fact admired, and deadly feuds continued for generations.

There are those who maintain, not unreasonably, that it is unfair to judge the weak and ineffectual government of the Ch'ing Dynasty on Taiwan by twenty-first century standards. They point out that the dynasty exercised as much control over Taiwan as it did over other borderland territories during the same period, such as Mongolia, Sinkiang, and Tibet. But this argument could well prove more than intended. The Ch'ing dynasty doubled the territory controlled by its predecessor. Perhaps we shouldn't doubt the sovereignty, however tenuously demonstrated, with which this dying empire exercised control of its colonies. But that is not the question. The question is, are these colonies not independent, once they are out of the empire's grip? If Louisiana secedes from the United States, does she become, automatically and against the will of her people, part of France?

The declining Ch'ing Dynasty continued its attempts to assert some imperial control over its reluctant colony, finally granting it provincial status in 1887. An American can only compare this to a U.S. Territory (i.e. colony) receiving statehood. Thus, in theory at least, Taiwan could perhaps, as of 1887, be considered "part" of China. But only until 1895.

Orphan of Asia, 1895-1945

There are also a number of things an American might find surprising about the Japanese colonization of Taiwan from 1895 to 1945. Taiwan was ceded by the Treaty of Shimonoseki after China's defeat in the Sino-Japanese War in 1895. This came just eight - yes, eight - short years after the colonial outpost was finally formally granted the status of a province. One might wonder just how important a province Taiwan was to China, since it was neither attacked by Japan during that war nor demanded afterwards, but was voluntarily offered as compensation for presumably more significant holdings. It certainly must have been a rude awakening to many Taiwanese to find out how little they meant to the Empire, and, how little protection the Empire would mean to them. In fact, some Taiwanese even began a misguided and short-lived independence movement, resulting in the declaration of Asia's first republic.

This was not a brief, wartime occupation, as in the Philippines or Southeast Asia. Taiwan was Japan's first colony, and was less brutally exploited than later ones. The Chinese colonial period was one of extensive settlement but little effective imperial government; the Japanese did not settle, but finally provided Taiwan with effective, if authoritarian, control. For a variety of reasons, both the Chinese and the Americans have tended to de-emphasize the more positive aspects of Japanese control. But the value provided by the stable environment of Japan's occupation, which allowed the Taiwanese to usefully channel their creativity, can be recognized without denying its autocratic and degrading nature. The Japanese invested in both the people and the land of Taiwan, leaving behind an educated populace, an infrastructure of railroads and highways, advanced agriculture, and industrial beginnings. They brought Taiwan under their military protection, and their economic, cultural and social domination, with a forceful brutality. Another Lin family descendent, philanthropist Lin Hsien-t'ang, was a leader of a widespread movement urging "Home Rule," whereby Taiwan could become an active part of the Japanese Empire. But they remained distinctly second-class citizens. Abandoned by the weakened Chinese and maltreated by the stern Japanese, Taiwan was, as a famous novel of the era put it, "The Orphan of Asia".

Dogs and Pigs, 1945-1949

Franklin Roosevelt believed, rightly or wrongly, that he needed Chiang Kai-Shek's aid to fight the Japanese and that self-determination for the people of Taiwan was a small price to pay for it. Meeting with Winston Churchill and Chiang in Egypt, they issued the Cairo Declaration on December 1, 1943, stating:

"All territories Japan has stolen from the Chinese, such as Manchuria, Formosa [a.k.a. Taiwan], and the Pescadores, shall be restored to the Republic of China."

This was obviously a major blow to any Taiwanese hoping for U.S. support for self-determination after the war. But the declaration itself had no legal standing or force, and was meant merely as propaganda for Chiang's benefit.

Japan surrendered to the United States in September 1945. We followed through on FDR's declared intentions and allowed our Chinese allies to take control of Taiwan from Japan in October. Chiang Kai-Shek's Republic of China government considered this action to be a "retrocession" of their former colony, but in fact it had no official standing under international law. The formal treaty terminating Japanese sovereignty over Taiwan is the San Francisco Peace Treeaty of 1951. It stipulated that Japan renounced "all right, title and claim to [Taiwan]" but did not name the beneficiary. The opinion of the people of Taiwan regarding their fate was not polled at the time, not by plebiscite, not by referendum, not by indirect representation, not at all. And their opinion remains unpolled to this day.

"Dogs go and pigs come" was the astute assessment given by many Taiwanese of the change in occupation in 1945. First came massive and unstoppable looting by undisciplined, ill-fed and underpaid Kuomintang troops, many of whom had never been exposed to the "riches" of a well-ordered economy. U.S. Navy and State Department observer George Kerr writes of soldiers carrying stolen bicycles on their backs, stringing telephone wires across railroad tracks, or driving trucks until the wheels fell off. Then a military hierarchy of sorts focused on moving as much of Taiwan's goods as possible to the mainland; meanwhile garbage collection and other government services were ignored. As if to demonstrate to the Taiwanese the relative insignificance of these economic larcenies, Governor-General Chen-Yi announced a plan to conscript Taiwanese youths to fight communists on the mainland.

The central date in American history, of course, is July 4, 1776. Perhaps along with April 12, 1861 and December 7, 1941, all events in American history seem to flow into or out of those dates. Is there a similar date in the history of Taiwan? Although few Americans may know anything about it, any Taiwanese who lived through or has studied the events of February 28, 1947 knows that is the date their nation was created. After more than a year of bullying and robbery at the hands of their Chinese overlords, a crowd at a market reacted in one furious movement to the arrest and beating of a cigarette saleswoman who had neglected to grease the right palms for the official licenses. The police over-reaction was predictable, and the market became a blood bath. But the people of Taiwan had taken all they could stand - anger erupted all over the island; and the resulting crack down by the Nationalist police murdered tens of thousands. Thousands more were imprisoned, or went into hiding, or into exile. Millions more internalized their anger and their hatred and their hopes for their country. During these massacres and their aftermath - known to Taiwanese as the "2/28" incident - the people of Taiwan saw Chinese rule for what it was: imperialistic and exploitative.

Although they were never formally polled in a democratic election, after February 28, 1947 there could be little doubt about how the people of Taiwan felt about their colonial status and this new foreign occupation. Naturally enough, many Taiwanese drew inspiration from their friends and mentors across the Pacific, aspiring to a "separate and equal station" for their country. They might well have gone on to "dissolve the political bands" connecting them with China, and to declare their independence, but no Lafayette came to aid them. Instead, America was consumed by an unreasoning terror of international Communism, and many truths held to be self-evident in the U.S. seemed a good deal murkier on the other side of the Pacific. The title of George Kerr's incriminating history is sadly more appropriate than any of Jefferson's inspiring phrases, as these were indeed the times that saw the island of "Formosa Betrayed".

Immigrants in Their Own Land, 1949-1987

Due to panic and politics, Harry Truman ignored the evaluation of General George Marshal, as FDR had ignored General Stillwell. Although we knew full well that support for the corrupt Nationalist party of Chiang Kai-Shek was a hopeless cause, we secured him in his new island kingdom. But we kept him carefully "leashed" lest he destroy himself and his army in a suicidal thrust against his Chinese enemies, and this allowed him to concentrate the military and police powers of the Nationalists on the people of Taiwan. It was not an accident that, after Chiang had lost all of China, he still had Taiwan. Was it his home base, a long-time Nationalist stronghold? Why were Mao Tse-tung's Communists so weak there? Had the local Nationalist supporters driven them off?

The answers to these questions, of course, is that Taiwan had never been part of the Chinese Civil War, had never been home to either Nationalists or Communists, because it had not been part of China! The Chinese Civil War was never fought on Taiwan. During that war, during the history of the Republic of China from 1911, neither side ever claimed Taiwan as a part of China. But since the Nationalists were now, thanks to the U.S., occupying it, of course their arch-enemies across the Strait had to claim it as well. In fact, since Chiang's exile on Taiwan was the final, most emotional issue left from the Civil War, Mao's party heartily endorsed the new Kuomintang line that Taiwan was a "part" of China. And "restoring" it - and thus finally completely ending the Civil War - became one of their highest priorities.

Throughout American history, for reasons of national security both military and economic, U.S. administrations have felt the need to support imperialist and corrupt dictatorships. During the Cold War against international Communism, this became one of our primary strategies. In supporting the Republic of China on Taiwan, we have supported a dictatorship both corrupt and imperialist, but not because the repressed population ever showed any propensity toward communism. We supported that regime on Taiwan simply to give it a home, so that it might stand in opposition to the Communists that had defeated them on their own territory - not unlike Charles DeGaul's "Free French" or the "London Poles," both in exile in London during WWII. But we never gave the exiled French or Polish governments 23 million Englishmen to govern!

During the Cold War, a series of Presidents claimed that we needed Chiang's threat - such as it was - in our battle against international Communism, and so we set him up as the first of many proto-fascist front men in our battle to save the world for American-style capitalism. Or maybe by doing so we avoided having to admit that we had in fact "lost China" to the Communists who seemed to be running the whole country. It also proved advantageous to have an amenable dictatorship conveniently located while we fought Communism in Korea and Vietnam. Many Americans think that America is "protecting" the Taiwanese from China. Wrong. We are protecting one Chinese government from another; any peace or safety provided to the population of the island is purely incidental.

Initially, when Mao's Communist party drove Chiang's Nationalists off of the mainland and declared the People's Republic there in 1949, the Truman administration offered no commitment to protect Chiang. But after enduring the irresponsible clamor of reckless and power hungry opponents in Congress, Truman felt obliged to respond to an "incident" along the Korean demarcation line in June of 1950. He also sent the U.S. Seventh Fleet into the Taiwan Strait, securing Chiang Kai-Shek as America's client and Taiwan's new overlord. The limits of this U.S. commitment to Chiang's dictatorship were tested, if not defined, by President Eisenhower and his Secretary of State, John Foster Dulles, in a series of confrontations between Chiang and Mao over two small islands off the mainland coast. While Ike and Dulles made it clear to the "Reds" that the U.S. wouldn't hesistate to use nuclear weapons to defend Chiang, they also let our client know that they expected him to confine his own violence to the people who lived on the islands he dominated.

The ignorance, avarice and larceny of the Kuomintang were ultimately no match for U.S. military investments, global economic boom times, and the industriousness of the Taiwanese. Building on what was left of the infrastructure from Japanese times, taking advantage of American and Japanese and other business investments and contacts, Taiwan prospered in spite of, not because of, the forty years of martial law and other dictatorial actions of the Chinese government. That government, from top to bottom, was always clear and consistent in its policy that the island of Taiwan was nothing more than an unfortunate, embarrassing, temporary home for a government whose country lay elsewhere.

This was "Free" China, and, indeed, the government took pains to put on a show that resembled democracy. There were elections, after a fashion, in Taiwan, elections without freedom of speech or assembly, elections held under conditions of threat and intimidation, elections that were more a part of a mass brainwashing effort than an effort in choosing leaders. In this environment, the people of Taiwan were allowed to choose representatives to their legislative assembly. But Chiang had brought with him the constitution of the Republic of China, in fact its entire government, including the assembly, and Taiwan was only one of thirty-five provinces. And if free elections couldn't currently be held in the other thirty-four provinces, well, that was hardly Chiang's fault, was it? So "holdover delegates" elected on the mainland during World War II simply kept their seats in the legislature throughout the nineteen-fifties. And sixties. And seventies. And eighties. Elsewhere, the Berlin Wall was torn down and statues of dictators were toppled around the world; but in the legislative hallways of Taipei, assemblymen were wheeled in on hospital beds, or under oxygen tents and respirators; when nature took its course the Party duly appointed a replacement.

In an equally artificial fashion, the Chiang regime did, it is true, oversee some much-needed economic reorganizations, land reform being chief among them. But these were administered with a heavy hand, corruption taking priority over any concern for success of the program. And, of course, the welfare of the Taiwanese people was hardly given a thought. More important to the Nationalist government was its campaign of propaganda and brainwashing, convincing the islanders that anything Taiwanese was shameful, that their only pride was to be part of Chiang's Chinese government.

The fact that Chiang and his regime were now housed in a country where the main languages were not Chinese at all, but Japanese and native Taiwanese, proved the lie of his claim that he had only changed his base within China and was still fighting the Communists. So both languages were effectively outlawed and degraded. All business, government, entertainment and other public activities were, by law, now conducted in Mandarin Chinese. School children were punished for speaking a word of Taiwanese at school, cruelly separating them, linguistically and psychologically, from their parents, especially rural people who suffered the degradation of depending on their children as translators in order to survive. The Taiwanese were forced to feel like immigrants in their own land. Because of these policies, people quickly learned enough Mandarin to conduct everyday business, and after a couple of generations, almost everyone in Taiwan speaks Mandarin, and Chiang's successors are able to claim they are therefore "Chinese". The idea of basing an imperial claim on this forced language is clearly in league with any of Hitler's "Big Lies".

The Republic of China's attitude toward its "temporary" homeland is well illustrated by the contrast between the government's treatment of the dilapidated Lin family mansions in Wu'Feng near Taichung, which inspired historian Meskill's researches, and that more common tourist attraction, the Palace Museum in Taipei. The Museum contains all of China's greatest treasures, from the ancient Shang and Chin Dynasties to the heights of Chinese culture in the Sung, Tang, and Ming: scrolls and literature, art and artifacts, jewels and gems; all the riches that could be stolen from every province in China, but nothing from Taiwan. If Taiwan is and has always been, as three governments insist, an integral part of China, then a visitor to the Palace Museum can only surmise that Taiwan's glorious role in Chinese history has been to...well, to house the Palace Museum. In stark contrast stand the Lin mansions. The Lin family was hard hit by Chiang's land reform, and could afford neither to upkeep their holdings nor to sell them for historical preservation. They now stand silently as wind-swept, sun faded, rat-bitten remnants of once ornately carved doors, arches, columns and balconies. One cannot help the feeling that China eventually caught up with the Lins, and reduced them again to the poverty from which they had fled so long ago.

The Three Communiques: "One" China, Taiwan Zero

Our famous "switch", begun with President Nixon's opening to Communist China and culminating in recognition of the People's Republic by the Carter administration in 1979, was a Cold War effort to play the "China card" against the Soviet Union. In courting Beijing's aid against Moscow, our former ally, the Chiang dictatorship on Taiwan, was a useful bargaining chip. None of this changed our attitude toward the people of Taiwan. This is clearly expressed in the 1972 Shanghai Communique, hammered out by Nixon and Henry Kissinger with Mao Tsetung and Chou Enlai:

"The United States acknowledges that all Chinese on either side of the Taiwan Strait maintain that there is but one China and that Taiwan is part of China. The United States does not challenge that position."

By the same logic, I suppose, all English on either side of the British Isles might agree that Ireland is part of Great Britain. But, shouldn't we ask the Irish on Ireland what they think of the situation? Although we knew that we had helped Chiang Kai-Shek bring over a million soldiers and government officials from China to Taiwan in 1949, did we never wonder who were all those people living on the island, working in the factories, waiting on our GI's?

Recognition of the People's Republic also resulted in withdrawal of U.S. recognition of the Republic of China government on the island and the loss of its seat in the United Nations. A 1979 Communique by the Carter administration goes beyond Nixon's Shanghai Communique and "acknowledges" that Taiwan is part of China. This did not, of course, contradict the continuing policy of Chiang's Republic of China that it was the government of Taiwan and of all of China.

At the same time, Congress passed the Taiwan Relations Act authorizing quasi-diplomatic relations with the Republic of China government by establishing the American Institute in Taiwan. The act also states that military action against Taiwan by the People's Republic of China would be considered a "grave threat to peace and security in the Western Pacific." The act however does not require the United States to take any action against the People's Republic in the event of an attack.

After Ronald Reagan came into office in 1981, the People's Republic began pressing him and his Secretary of State, Alexander Haig, for an agreement to end arm sales to Taiwan. After deciding that he, and not the Secretary, made foreign policy, Reagan finally signed an agreement limiting arms sales to Taiwan to the level of the final year of the Carter administration. These "Three Communiques," between the People's Republic and Nixon in 1972, Carter in 1979 and Reagan in 1982, along with the Taiwan Relations Act, have formed the basis of U.S. policy toward Taiwan ever since.

Much to their credit, some members of Congress - most, but not all of them liberals; most, but not all Democrats - were critical of U.S. support for the Chiang regime. Educated by Taiwanese dissidents and human rights groups, these politicians objected to the regime's suppression of the Taiwanese independence movement as a free speech issue. Beyond that, they questioned America's policy because they knew that the issue of independence was one for the Taiwanese, not the Americans or Chinese, to decide.

Lions and Foxes

In spite of the Cairo Declaration and other controversies, most historians think quite highly of FDR, rating him, along with Lincoln, Jefferson and Washington as one of our best Presidents. As this list shows, history has a way of finding the right person at the right time to lead. In Roosevelt's time, when a worldwide depression gave fascist and Communist demagogues and dictators opportunities to turn their countries into frenzied, armed camps, the United States somehow found strength and calm in a disabled patrician. James McGregor Burns subtitled his 1956 biography of Roosevelt The Lion and the Fox, explaining the allusion:

"A prince, wrote Machiavelli, must imitate the fox and the lion, for the lion cannot protect himself from traps, and the fox cannot defend himself from wolves. One must therefore be a fox to recognize traps, and a lion to frighten wolves...."

Will future historians have reason to think that Taiwan was likewise furnished with the leadership it needed when it needed it most? I think so.

Taiwan's is a complicated and dangerous situation, with a threatening aggressor to be calmed on one side of the waters, a reluctant protector to be roused on the other, and angry, jealous demagogues sniping all the while. This precarious circumstance requires a mixture of tact and boldness rarely found in any people, and the Taiwanese are very new to democratic politics. But apparently they are very good at it (although quite noisy). Isolated and fearful in an angry world, the decisions made by the people of Taiwan in their first all-important elections brought to power their first two democratically elected Presidents, Lee Teng-hui and Chen Shui-bian, their lion and their fox.

Democratic Taiwan, 1987: Enter the Lion

Chiang Ching-Kuo (CCK), who succeeded to the Presidency after his father's death in 1975, was a smarter and subtler despot. With loss of unequivocal U.S. support, he had to pay a little more attention to appearances. But he was just as brutal in continuing his father's reign of "white terror" and supression of any dissent that he found threatening. In 1979 CCK's director-general of the Government Information Office, James Soong, conducted a raid of Formosa Magazine, an illegal, pro-democracy publication, as a part of a widespread censorship campaign Soong was conducting. Protests against Soong's tactics in the southern city of Kaohsiung turned violent as Soong addressed the crowd, calling the leaders "bandits." The incident publicized the oppressive tactics of the KMT regime in ruling Taiwan and the trial of eight leaders of the protest allowed a team of lawyers to publicly question the practices of torture used by the KMT to extract confessions.

One of the leaders of the Kaohsiung Incident, who served over five years in prison thanks to Soong's persecution, was lawyer, feminist and writer Annette Lu, who had written for Formosa Magazine and spoken at the rally at Kaohsiung. Another lawyer who was involved in the case as a member of the defense team was Chen Shui-bian, who served eight months in prison a few years later for other activities critical of the Chiang regime. Soong, Lu and Chen would continue their careers and their paths would cross again.

CCK was genuinely frightened by events of the 1980's around the world and within Taiwan. In the nearby Philippines, Corazon Aquino and "People Power" toppled his friend, Ferdinand Marcos, early in 1986. A series of mass demonstrations across Taiwan proved that the democracy movement would never give in. In the last year or two of his life, the frightened despot made a few well publicized moves to try to out-flank his opposition. Although he rigorously suppressed dissent and enforced strict one-party rule, he finally ended 40 years of Martial Law in 1987. And, in 1984, the cagey former KGB agent appointed an unassuming native Taiwanese as his vice president. This seemed a harmless deceit, since Lee Teng-hui had been a KMT party stalwart throughout his career. The appointment, however, has proven to be one of Asia's most significant accidents. For the world was soon to see that behind Lee's toothy grin, as beneath the enforced calm of Taiwan's crowded streets, lay one of history's great forces.

The Taiwanese democracy movement had never died, but from 1947 to 1987, it had been bitterly suppressed. Generations of Taiwanese had been raised to believe they were insignificant citizens of a great but mysterious and foreign country. The government bureaucracy, the military, the city police, the media, the schools and the universities were all monopolized by the Kuomintang party. If a citizen could see anything beyond blind faith and obedience to the KMT line, it would be only fear and suspicion. Any hints of widespread unhappiness with KMT corruption and exploitation were available only through shadowy and dangerous channels.

With Chiang Ching-Kuo's death in 1988, Lee Teng-hui succeeded him to the Presidency. But how much difference could one man make? The same repressive politicians still commanded every office below the very top. KMT hardliners tried to stage a coup to prevent Lee's presidency, and were suspicious opponents of his every mover toward democracy and Taiwanese "localization." But the people and the President were determined to change Taiwan. When street demonstrations demanded popular elections, Lee stood with the demonstrators. Political prisoners were released, exiles allowed to return home. After decades of suppression, the mood of "people power" was contagious. The Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), advocating Taiwanese independence, had long been illegal. Finally able to compete in the open, it did well in 1989 elections and later. In elections in 1991 and 1993 for the National Assembly and the Legislative Yuan, the "holdover delegates" who represented districts in China, resigned and these parliamentary organs became representative of Taiwan only. Opposition candidates became legislators and mayors.

It had undoubtedly been a great convenience for U.S. policymakers to have both China and Taiwan ruled by one-party governments both of which claimed to rule both China and Taiwan. Lee was still leader of one of those parties, and was in no position to change the Kuomintang's policy that they ruled China. Only in 1991 was he able to terminate the "Period of National Mobilization for Suppression of the Communist Rebellion," Taiwan's declaration of intent to forcibly reconquer the mainland. But he always insisted on "democracy" every time he mentioned "reunification" - and insisting on a democratic People's Republic before "reunification" can be roughly translated as "reunifying" when "hell freezes over."

Lee's democratic government still faced one set of facts as indisputable as they were bizarre: if they ever renounced the Kuomintang's claim over China, then China would invade, and the U.S. would not defend Taiwan. The KMT realized that democracy would vote them out of office, and the PRC knew that democracy on Taiwan would vote for independence. Thus Lee Teng-hui had forced two of the most famous and bitter enemies of all time into one of history's oddest, and most hypocritical, alliances. Decision makers in the United States had yet to come to grips with the fact that democracy in Taiwan contradicted America's one-China policy. Administrations come to power, size up the possibilities for progress or for catastrophe as regards Taiwan, and spend four years dearly hoping to avoid any movement at all.

Enter the Wimp

America was so busy celebrating the end of the Cold War that we could hardly be expected to finish fighting it. The George H.W. Bush administration offered just about the same reaction to Taiwan's democratization as it did to the Tianamen Square massacre: nothing. After some appropriately tough talk after June 4, 1989, we returned to business as usual with Beijing. A few years later, during his campaign for re-election, Bush discovered Taiwan, General Dynamics and the F-16, and, perhaps, the votes of a few factory workers and a few still vigilant right-wing anti-communists. Overall, though, it was of course too little too late.

Bill Clinton and a number of Congressional Democrats had bitterly criticized Bush for his "coddling" of repressive Communist dictators. But soon they realized that China had by then amassed considerable economic power, and a lot of Democratic talk about "human rights" was quietly dropped in the face of business opposition. And neither party seems to have noticed that a sea change had taken place on Taiwan.

That the names Nelson Mandela and Lee Teng-hui should be linked together in history seems, from today's vantage point, not at all odd. That one would attend the inauguration of the other seems an appropriate celebration of democracy and national self-determination. But how strange it is to read that one of these international heroes, en route to the ceremony, would be treated like a criminal by the United States, not allowed to stop over for a night, and denied a visa even to briefly enter our country.

The best we could do was to allow Lee to disembark at Hickham Air Force Base in Honolulu, on his way to Mandela's inauguration in 1994, so that he could make use of a "closet-sized toilet." According to journalist and author Jim Mann's account, "Lee swore that Taiwan would no longer accept quietly the second-class status to which it had long been relegated. Things can't be the way they were before, Lee said; Taiwan is now a democracy, and its leaders are responsible to the people." Lee was furious; he refused to disembark, making it look like he'd been a prisoner on the plane and successfully turning Clinton's insult into an international incident.

Appropriately embarrassed, harassed by Congressional Republicans, and, of course, without a decent reason to oppose it, the Clinton administration agreed the next year to allow Lee to enter the U.S. on a "private visit" to his alumnus, Cornell University. Whether or not the Chinese and American governments honestly expected the Taiwanese President to restrict his remarks to college reminiscences, they pretended to be caught by surprise when Lee boasted about Taiwan's democracy and toleration of dissent. He even said that his people were "determined to play a peaceful and constructive role among the family of nations.... We are here to stay."

The next predictable acts in this comic opera were mock-horror on the part of the People's Republic, and contrite apologies from the U.S. But who would guess that Lee's dusty platitudes would lead to threats of nuclear war? The Chinese recalled their ambassador, delayed accepting Washington's new one, and began military exercises in the East China Sea, firing missiles into the waters off Taiwan. The Clinton administration responded by inviting Chinese President Jiang Zemin to Washington and by committing in writing to China's precious "three noes." Clinton told Jiang that the U.S would not support (or would oppose) (1) Taiwanese independence, (2) creation of "two Chinas", and (3) admission of Taiwan to the United Nations. The U.S. also told the Chinese that we did not "expect" Lee or other Taiwanese officials to be visiting in 1996. For the record, we also complained about the military exercises and the missile launches.

The Chinese responded with warnings that a U.S. intervention to defend Taiwan could lead to war. Lt. Gen Xiong Guangkai warned assistant secretary of defense Charles Freeman that unlike the situation in the 1950's, China could now respond in kind to American nuclear threats. " the end," he told Freeman, "you care a lot more about Los Angeles than Taipei." And in February of 1996, a month before Taiwan's first direct presidential elections, the Chinese massed 150,000 troops along their southeastern coast for another, larger, round of military exercises, and began launching more modern and accurate missiles into the waters off Taiwan, this time using live ammunition, firing very close to Taiwan's two major ports. This forced the closing of air and sea lanes. China's military also performed a mock invasion of Taiwan.

Victory, 1996

The election would be between Lee, the Nationalist Party candidate running on a platform of continuing reforms, DPP candidate Peng Ming-min, running on a platform advocating independence, and the "New" Party of conservatives split off from the Nationalist Party in opposition to Lee, advocating unification with China. Were the Chinese military actions aimed at intimidating the Taiwanese electorate, reminding them that a vote for independence could provoke an attack? Perhaps the Chinese were trying to keep Lee and his supporters in line, to intimidate them from combining with the pro-independence DPP. More ominously, the People's Republic might have been positioning themselves for a planned attack should independence be voted. Maybe they were positioning themselves for an "incident" that would give them a pretext to attack before the elections could be held. Thankfully, we will never know....

After all the encouraging signals to Beijing and rude ones to Taipei, we now advised the Chinese that any military action against Taiwan would have "grave consequences" for China, the toughest talk of any U.S. President to that country since the opening of relations in 1972. And, in spite of nuclear threats, we sent two large aircraft carriers from the Seventh Fleet, each accompanied by a flotilla of ships, to the Taiwan Strait - the largest U.S. armada in the area since the Vietnam War. If Clinton wasn't exactly following in the footsteps of his hero, JFK, who went "eyeball-to-eyeball" over Cuba in 1962, I'll bet it felt close enough for the participants, and for the people of Los Angeles.

Lee Teng-hui received 55% of the vote, the pro-independence DPP, 21%, the "New" Party and some others picking up the change. The fact is that 1996 was China's, and the old-style KMT conservatives', last chance. In their last, desperate gamble, they underestimated Lee, they underestimated the Taiwanese, and they underestimated Clinton. The United States did a great thing in spite of ourselves. That election, the fierce determination of President Lee, the bravery of the Taiwanese electorate, and the U.S. commitment to democracy sealed the future of Taiwan. Clinton did a brave and noble thing in Taiwan in 1996, and then he spent four years unsuccessfully trying to downplay and undo it. But the deed cannot be undone. If China could not get away with an attack in 1996, they will never be able to get away with it.

The lesson that Lee Teng-hui taught the Clinton administration should not be lost on his successors. It is not that we should recognize the fact that Taiwan is a viable democracy and support it however we can. It is that, try as we might, we have no other choice.

Imperialism, Racism, and Us

No one can deny that there is a great deal of money to be made in China. No one can deny that China is a powerful and growing military force. And China has a great and important and fascinating culture about which all westerners should learn more. Much American sympathy for China stems from our opposition to imperialism. Taiwan, they say, is the last (at least so far!) of the reminders to China of its past humiliating role at the hands of the western powers. We are willing enough to help China dismember the remnants of Britain's, Portugal's or Japan's Empires. But are we doing so only to reconstruct the empire of China's former dynasties? Is this really an issue of "face" for the Chinese people? Do brutalized billions lie awake at nights, haunted by a supposed diminishment of the empire claimed by the Ch'ing at its peak?

Mongolia was conquered by the Ch'ing Dynasty and claimed by its successors. Mao felt obliged to appease Stalin and swallowed this much of his imperial ambition, but Chiang was never under any such restraint. His Kuomintang continued their claim from exile on Taiwan. Why not? It was no more ridiculous than the rest of their claim. Amazingly, due to the influence of his political heirs, this claim continues, along with the rest, from Taipei today. Likewise, the Ch'ing had dominated, if not conquered, Tibet, although the early Republic was forced to recognize its autonomy, a situation the communists rectified in 1950. It too is claimed by both dictators in Beijing and by loudmouths in Taipei.

The city of Hong Kong recently received SARS ("Special Administrative Region" status) from China. The city was a British colony of Cantonese Chinese from its beginnings up until expiration of Britain's infamous ninety-nine year lease in 1997. The SAR status guarantees continuation of British laws in Hong Kong - interpreted by the People's Republic - for fifty years. The city is said to be "indefensible", even getting its drinking water from the mainland, and its colonial status endured in later years only at China's sufferance. The fact that Hong Kong couldn't make a better deal is hardly a reason for the people of Taiwan to foolishly set aside their own much stronger case for independence. Unbelievably, though, there are politicians in Taipei, backed by allies in Washington, who think that Hong Kong's SAR status would be the best of all possible worlds for Taiwan. Why? Because "we are all Chinese," they say. "Blood," they say, "is thicker than water." As Deng Xiaopeng has put it, "a desire for reunification of China and Taiwan is rooted in the hearts of all descendents of the Yellow Emperor."

Should American foreign policy be based on such racist drivel?

Obviously not. But American policy toward Taiwan did not make a sharp turn toward heroism after 1996. The Clinton administration continued to treat visiting Taiwanese Presidents like rabid dogs, and Clinton and his Secretary of State publicly committed the U.S. to the dread "three noes" from Shanghai in 1998. This sounded like a major U.S. policy shift in Beijing's favor but may have been more of an effort to dampen independence talk in Taiwan. Taiwan was not intimidated. Although Clinton's policies were personally humiliating to Taiwan's leaders, insulting to its people, and embarrassing to his own party and country, they were unable to stop progress and history.

It is worth examining the famous "three noes," first agreed to secretly by Henry Kissinger in 1971, then reiterated secretly and publicy by the Clinton administration. These three self-imposed limitations on U.S. policy are aimed precisely where the policies of the Chinese Civil War enemies, the Communist Party of the People's Republic and the Nationalist Party of the Republic of China, overlap. Neither want Taiwanese independence from China, creation of "two Chinas", or separate admission of Taiwan to the United Nations. This is the essense of the U.S. "One-China" policy. The "three noes" are designed to satisfy both, or either, dictatorship. They are clearly aimed only at suppressing the democratic rights of the citizens of Taiwan.

Ambiguity or Whatever, 2000 Here and There

Is there a vocal group in Detroit or somewhere named The Three Noes?

In 1999 President Lee announced that Taiwan and China should establish what he called "special state-to-state relations," which implied to many, especially to China, that Taiwan had taken the first step toward independence. And in 2000, the second great miracle of Taiwanese democracy, after Lee's succession, took place. The Democratic Progressive Party nominated life-long human rights activist Chen Shui-bian, known affectionately to supporters in the Taiwanese style as A-bian. Of course, he didn't stand a chance. But, the power-hunger greed and folly of the Kuomintang politicians now saved the day for Taiwan. One theory that is popular on Taiwan, and which has some support from Lee's subsequent actions, has it Lee chose political incompetent Lien Chan as his Vice President and presumed successor in a deliberate effort to destroy the KMT. In any event, James Soong had badly wanted the KMT nomination and, after the party nominated Lien, Soong announced his independent candidacy. Lee and the KMT responded by expelling Soong from the party and suing him for embezzlement.

As a result, Lien and the once all powerful KMT received just 23% of the vote. Soong did better with 37%. And, amazingly, a candidate of the once illegal, pro-independence Democratic Progressive Pary, who had been imprisoned for political crimes just 14 years earlier, was able to ascend to the Presidency of the Republic of China. His running mate, now Vice President, was Annette Lu, Soong's victim and Chen's client from the Kaohsiung Incident. The losers blamed, not themselves, but President Lee, who was still Chairman of the KMT. Soong led days of rioting that resulted in Lee's expulsion from the party, a separation that must have been pleasing to both sides.

But the DPP ticket had only won with a plurality of 39% of the vote, and to get that they had to scrupulously avoid the "independence" issue. And in his inaugural, the new President felt obliged to itemize "five noes" (aka "four noes and one without"). Provided that the People's Republic of China does not attack Taiwan, Chen's administration would not do the following things:
íP declare Taiwanese independence,
íP change the national title from "the Republic of China" to "the Republic of Taiwan",
íP include the doctrine of special state to state relations in the Constitution of the Republic of China, or
íP promote a referendum on unification or independence.
In addition, the "one without" was that Chen pledged not to abolish the National Unification Council or the National Unification guidelines.

So, although everyone knows that "independence" lies just beneath the surface of all politics in Taiwan, Chen and his party have concentrated on other issues of democracy, equality and responsible economic growth. His platform is a liberal and progressive one, with human rights as the keystone. But in March 2000, following the election, the State Council of the People's Republic released a white paper warning Taiwan that it will not wait for re-unification indefinitely.

Former President Lee, meanwhile, formed the Taiwan Solidarity Union, which helped vote down legislation designed to improve Taiwan's ties with the mainland and worked to emphasize the study of Taiwanese history in Taiwan's schools. The former Kuomanting president of the Republic of China believes that Chinese history should be taught as part of world history. Unlike his constrained policies while in that office, this 80-year old lion of Taipei is now an avid advocate of Taiwanese independence. His vision for Taiwan is of a new country with a new name, a new constitution, a new anthem, a new Taiwanese identity. He us unafraid of threats from China and trusts in the United States.

Needless to say, the 2000 Presidential election in Taiwan, their second in their history, went a great deal smoother than ours. And, although few Americans were paying attention, the issue of Taiwan surfaced during the U.S. campaign and after. "Strategic ambiguity" has been a key aspect of U.S. Taiwanese policy since Carter's recognition of the People's Republic. This means that we won't state exactly under what circumstances we will or will not come to Taiwan's aid. As Democratic candidate Vice President Al Gore put it during the campaign:

"That ambiguity is not due to a failure to think it through, it is due to a considered judgment that we do not want to give the hotheads on either side of the Taiwan Straits an ability to drive circumstances toward American involvement for their own purposes."

You mean like the People's Republic was able to do during the 1996 election crisis?

This policy actually might have made some sense at one time, sort of like the famous "leash" that kept Chiang Kai-Shek from suicidally attacking the mainland. Chiang and his son were unstable despots, like their militaristic Communist counterparts, and we needed to control them however we could. But who are the "hot-heads" that the U.S. must control in Taiwan's democracy? The voters of Taiwan? What are we afraid they are going to do that might touch off World War III? Elect someone China doesn't like? Change their flag?

The six-hundred thousand Taiwanese-Americans voted overwhelmingly for Republican George W. Bush in the American Presidential election, one of the closest and bitterest in our history. Such a choice is, of course, their right as Americans, and it is difficult to argue with the proposition that the Clinton administration and the Democratic Party got exactly what they deserved based on their humiliating treatment of the Taiwanese people and their presidents. Then again, many Taiwanese-Americans were voting against their natural progressive instincts, and it could be argued that they were only reversing sides to support the conservative, cold-war party that had once so stalwartly supported Chiang Kai-Shek, Chiang Ching-Kuo and the KMT. Would Bush really be any better, or were they being played for suckers?

In April 2001, President Bush seemed to have removed strategic ambiguity by stating that we would do "whatever it took to help Taiwan defend herself." Presumably the world slept uneasily that night and Bush's Taiwanese-American supporters felt vindicated. The next day saw Bush in CNN studios, and White House flunkies everywhere in the media, explaining that nothing had really changed, that actually Bush's policy was consistent with previous administrations, and that our commitment to defend Taiwan certainly wouldn't apply if they declared their independence. Whew, that was close, wasn't it? At least Chen has been allowed to come to the U.S. and be treated like a human being - he can't come to Washington, D.C. and be treated like a head of state, but, progress is progress. Instead of the dated policy of "strategic ambiguity," our new policy was clearly, well, "whatever."

Officials in Washington presumably were endlessly berated by their Beijing counterparts for this huge step supposedly favoring Taiwan. But the Chinese saw no reason to re-evaluate their military strategy or position. Bush's policy was nothing new to the People's Liberation Army. China had seen clearly since 1996 that America was prepared to defend democracy on Taiwan. Now they just want to make sure we never say so out loud, allowing them to keep the issue alive for domestic consumption in China. Unfortunately, the resulting double-talk by American officials also keeps the issue alive for demagogues of the Nationalist party in Taiwan.

President Lee's and President Chen's policies of democracy and sovereignty have exposed the fundamental hypocricy of American politicians from all over the spectrum. Right wing Republican Cold Warriors waxed effusively over Chaing Kai-Shek's "Free" China when it was a brutal authoritarian state, claiming it was infinitely better than the totalitarian Communist alternative. Now they want to ignore a true democracy on the island and broker a deal between the authoritarian and totalitarian regimes. Although most Democrats went along with the Republicans during the Cold War, some left wing human rights advocates were ready to point out the many failings of the Kuomintang era. Having helped to secure the release from prison of activists like Chen Shui-bian, these former friends are now anxious to stifle the democracy they helped create.

The Fox

History will look back on the Taiwanese Presidential election of 1996 as one great turning point on the way to Taiwan's ultimate place among the powers of the world. The election of 2004 will be the other turning point. President Lee has succeeded in making Taiwan's independent democracy obvious to the world; it remains to be made official. The victory of 1996 prevented an attack from the People's Republic, or a secret deal from a Nationalist politician, from destroying Taiwan's democracy. But can the country widely advertised as being both "self-governing" and "democratic" write its own constitution?

The Chinese have one great fear on Taiwan: democracy. The heirs to Chiang Kai-Shek's Nationalist Party have opposed every step that has so far been made in the transformation from an oppressive dictatorship to an open democracy. But after each battle lost, they have acknowledged and accepted their defeat, and gone on to oppose the next step toward constitutional government and democratic rights. They have used every technique ever known of intimidation, corruption, fraud and deceit to maintain a majority in the Legislative Yuan. So they naturally fear a national referendum that might let the people speak their minds and show how unrepresentative that body is. They fear the very concept of a referendum, of course; and of course they fear a referendum on any issue whatsoever; but mostly they fear a referendum on the issue: independence.

Chen honored his inaugural pledges to avoid an independence referendum during his term. But he and his party repeatedly were able to demonstrate the hypocrisy of opposition claims that their fears of a referendum on independence are due to the dangers of independence. Referenda have been proposed on changing the country's name, flag and anthem, providing a legal foundation for the government to initiate advisory referenda, on building a fourth nuclear reactor on the island, and on the date of the presidential election. All of these have likewise been opposed by the KMT coalition. In response to Chen's efforts to get a law passed allowing referendum, the legislature instead has, in effect, banned any meaningful referenda. On Novevmber 28, 2003, they enacted a referendum process that excludes issues of sovereignty, territory, and a proposed new constitution, and also denies the government the right to hold advisory referenda to gauge public opinion. An article proposed by Chen's Democratic Progressive Party allows the Taiwanese President to initiate a referendum, but strictly on national security issues, and only when the country faces an external threat that could interfere with national sovereignty (the "defense referendum"). The Taiwanese are secure, not from foreign threat, perhaps, but certainly from themselves.

The United States will not, we say, defend Taiwan if it attempts to change the "status quo." But the U.S. refuses to see that our definition of that "status quo" has been out of date for the last ten years. The U.S. sees a stalemate between two Chinese one-party dictatorships, whereas the true stalemate is between these two Chinese parties and the people of Taiwan. The Taiwanese will not change their independent status without a vote, and the Chinese will not allow that vote. They will, however, attack if Taiwan puts off "re"-unification too long.

If Lee Teng-hui had frightened off the Chinese wolves, at least for a while, this new situation, Machiavelli might say, looked like a trap.

The Referendum

Did you say, "defense?"

The incompetence of these heirs and followers of Chiang Kai-Shek to govern a modern country is demonstrated by the fact that they were foolish enough to allow President Chen an opening. Did they even know they were leaving an exception in their referendum ban for "matters of national defense?" In any event, Taiwan's crafty A-bian saw his chance and took it, and the world is still trying to catch up.

The day after the referendum vote, Chen announced:

"According to [the 17th] article -- the president is entitled to initiate a referendum on national security issues whenever the country is faced by an external threat that could interfere with national sovereignty. Therefore, I will ask the government to hold a referendum alongside the presidential election."

Chen said he could not work out why Taiwan had to accept an imposed political design of "one country, two systems" or face an invasion. After years of trying, Taiwan was finally going to have a nationwide referendum, in spite of the fears of the kind of precedent any such vote might set. Although Chen shrewdly did not specify the exact wording, expectations were for a simple denunciation of China's targeting of Taiwan and of its repeated threats of attack.

Even such a simple balloting issue, of course, faced intense opposition. After Chen elaborated on the missile threat, specifying their number and locations within 100 miles of Taiwan, his opponents accused him of leaking military secrets. The United States was reportedly against any referenda in Taiwan. Six months earlier, we had objected to a proposed referendum on Taiwan's entry into the World Health Organization on the grounds that such a referendum would "increase tension." On December 2, 2003, the U.S. State Department declared that we "would be opposed to any referenda that would change Taiwan's status or move toward independence." Taiwan's "status," Chen was trying to remind the world, is that it is the target of 500 missiles.

On December 9, standing beside a smiling Premier Wen of the People's Republic, President Bush sternly reprimanded Taiwan's "hothead," its democratically elected President, for all the world to see:

"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."

Unanimity: The Communist People's Republic, the Fascist Kuomintang, and the "world's greatest democracy" are all opposed to... a meaningless vote in a tiny country. Chen announced his determination to carry out the referendum regardless of Bush's remarks. How, he asked, does objecting to the missiles change the status quo?

Predictably enough, Bush's potential Democratic opponents were hardly critical of him. "The president's policy is right, but the president's public slap wasn't necessary," was the best that Vermont Gov. Howard Dead could do. Massachussets Sen. John Kerry was, of course, more long winded:

"I think now is time for us to also be strong with Taiwan and make it clear that while we are supportive of the democracy, and while we recognize the society they've built, a capitalist society, we are not going to permit them to declare independence, that that would be unacceptable. And I think the way we resolve it is to continue to push, as we did with Hong Kong, Macau and other places, for a one China-two systems and work through over the course of the future."

For the record, Connecticut Sen. Joe Lieberman, long a supporter of human rights in Taiwan, tried to set Kerry straight. Calling Bush's remarks "an outrageously unprincipled position for a president of the United States to take," Lieberman was just about alone in recognizeing that "this was not a declaration of independence by the Taiwanese; this was a call for a referendum on whether the Chinese should remove the missiles from across the Taiwan Straits."

Interesting, isn't it, how any democratic activity on Taiwan seems to bring out fears of a declaration of independence? As long as the wording of the referendum was not anounced, that fear lingered. And, since that wording was expected to consist a simple demand for the missiles' removal, which of course wasn't going to happen, the next fear was: what would the Taiwanese people do when their demand was not met? Would they, perhaps, take the continued presence of the missiles as a sign of hostility on the part of China, and renounce any intention to unify with such an antagonistic partner?

On January 16, 2004 President Chen announced the wording of the dreaded referendum. Making the best of the array of forces against him, Chen played Chinese and American fears against each other. The KMT coalition in the Legislature has long blocked his attempts to acquire anti-missile weapons from the U.S. Even though "budget" items are not allowed on a referendum, Chen used the national security issue to get American business support and to change Taiwanese defense policy.

On March 20, the people of Taiwan would vote on two questions:

"If China refuses to withdraw the missiles it has targeted at Taiwan and to openly renounce the use of force against us, would you agree that the government should acquire more advanced anti-missile weapons to strengthen Taiwan's self-defense capabilities?"


"Would you agree that our government should engage in negotiations with China about the establishment of a "peace and stability" framework for cross-strait interactions in order to build consensus and for the welfare of the peoples on both sides?"

The White House now announced it would neither endorse nor oppose the referendum, so long as no change to the status quo would result, whichever way the voting went. Instead, the Bush administration has turned to questioning Chen's "leadership abilities" in calling for a referendum on issues the U.S. administration says Chen should decide for himself. Sounding very much like a campaigner for KMT candidate Lien Chan, Deputy US Secretary of State Richard Armitage said from Beijing, "As I understand it, referenda are generally reserved for items or issues which are either very divisive or very difficult. And the wording I've seen of the referendum seems to be neither divisive nor difficult."

For the record, the U.S. administration has also expressed, via low level Defense Department talks in Beijing, its disapproval of the the missiles, which have been aimed at Taiwan for eight years. Chen's referendum might have angered U.S. officals; the referendum might well be the "campaign stunt" that U.S. officials suspect. But perhaps the fox is saving his people from a trap, after all.

That the referendum touched a raw nerve in Taiwan can hardly be doubted. The KMT, along with its partners, James Soong's People's First Party, continued their opposition. Having lost the battle to prevent a referendum, they started a new one to make voting for it as difficult as possible. The final result of their efforts was that the referendum would need to to be voted on by fifty percent of all registered voters, and they began a campaign to convince their followers not to vote on it. Moreover, they managed to have the referendum placed on a separate ballot from the Presidential one, which must be asked for separately by the voter and deposited onto a separate container. This is not only a complicated and cumbersome procedure. By these rules there would be little point voting against the referendum; better to simply not vote on it, so it would not meet the 50% threshold. So requiring to voter to request and deposit a separate ballot meant that the referendum vote was not by secret ballot.

A-bian! Dong-Suan!

At 1:45 Friday afternoon, March 19, A-bian and his running mate, Annette Lu, were shot while campaigning by motorcade in his home town of Tainan. They were taken to a nearby hospital and treated, and word was shortly out that the wounds were slight, the candidates had not lost conciousness, and were in no further danger. A strangely venomous opposition legislator, Sisy Chen, soon appeared on Taiwanese TV screens offering a mean-spirited conspiracy theory of self-mutilation by A-bian and Lu. KMT candidate Lien Chan offered guarded wishes for a speedy recovery combined with a stern request for a full accounting of the day's events. Both sides in the election cancelled planned rallies for that night, the last before the next day's election. A few journalists asked whether the election might be postponed, but, since Taiwanese law only calls for postponement upon the death of a candidate, no one from either camp seriously entertained that idea, and no more was heard about it.

The campaign had been hard fought and emotional. Learning their lesson from the 2000 results, Lien and Soong joined forces, with Lien heading the ticket. After that election, Soong had formed the People's First Party, which now joined with Lien's KMT in the "pan-blue alliance." Lee's Taiwan Solidarity Union supported the DPP's Chen-Lu ticket, creating the "pan-green alliance." The campaign was noted more for mud-slinging and scandals than for meaningful debate. The pan-blues unabashedly compared Chen to Hitler, Saddam Hussein, and Osama bin Laden. Was he not a demagogue, reaching out beyond the legislature and the bureaucracy directly to the people? They repeatedly accused him of enciting ethnic and racial divisions. Wouldn't the mainland-born, the aboriginal tribes, and other small ethnic groups be small minorities when the "Taiwanese" take over Taiwan?

A-bian and the pan-greens, of course, maintained they were fighting for a democracy that their opponents had never understood or supported. A-bian said he was campaigning for a "Taiwanese identity" that included every citizen of the island, and for a sovereignty of that island that belonged to its twenty-three million citizens and no one else. Although Lien found himself wanly echoing much of Chen's rhetoric about "Taiwanese identity," voters knew that A-bian's appeal was that he was the one to be trusted never to "sell out" Taiwan. Both Lien and Soong still maintained there was "one China" and that Taiwan was part of China, whereas Chen had boldly stated that Taiwan was a sovereign, independent country.

The pan-blue ticket was confident. Their combined tally from 2000 should yield a 60% victory. The economy had seen better days than under Chen. The DPP leadership had displayed its lack of experience in various details. Chen's referenda might have helped solidify some among his core supporters, but it allowed the pan-blues to play upon their strongest attraction: fear. Chen had alienated Bush; the U.S. saw him as an irresponsible hardliner. Taiwan needed a more conciliatory approach to Beijing, both for its security and for its economy. All this talk of sovereignty and identity is dangerous ideology - Taiwan needs pragmatic, business-oriented leadership that can deal with Bush and with China.

1.2 million Taiwanese registered to join with Chen and Lee and other pan-green leaders to join hands on the anniversary of the February 28 Incident. More than twice than number showed up - at least a tenth of the island's population - to form an unbroken human chain "protecting Taiwan" from the north of the island to the south. This event was so successful that the pan-blues organized huge rallies on March 13 on the somewhat less idealistic theme "Change Presidents." In front of two million supporters Lien and Soong showed their "love for Taiwan" by prostrating themselves and kissing the ground.

The slanders and smears intensified. Wild promises were heard of new administrative districts, new museums, an end to the military draft. Although polling had stopped a week before, all considered the contest too close to call, the only topic of concern or conversation. The constant din of sound-trucks, noisemakers and firecrackers was so loud that no one could hear two shots fired at a Jeep in Tainan. The wounds were only noticed when Lu felt a pain in her knee, and Chen saw some blood on his jacket. That evening, after being released from the hospital, Chen released a video in which he urged calm and indicated that neither his health nor the security of Taiwan were under threat. Within hours, police announced they were certain that the crime was not political, and that mainland China was not involved.

Unlike other countries I could mention, violent political crime is rare in Taiwan, as are privately owned guns. More credible than the political theories, was the one concerning Taiwan's many gangs involved in illegal betting on the election. The bullets found were homemade, leading some to the conclusion that the shooter was a professional assassin, others that he was a "lone nut" with a military background. Speculation was everywhere, evidence non-existant.

Saturday, March 20, 2004, is certain to be one of the greatest days in Taiwan's history. Unlike the previous two elections, this one would be a clear and simple choice between two visions of Taiwan and its future. 13,251,719 citizens cast ballots for President, 12,914,422 of them valid, 80.28% of registered voters. The country's 13,749 polling places closed at 4:00 PM and by 6:00 the now famous results were known. Chen had won by a hair: 6,471,970 (50.11%) to Lien's 6,442,452 (49.89%). (Yes, it's true, on some calculators the percentage margin of victory might round to 0.228. Actually it's 0.228566.)

The quickness of the tally was soon to be superseded by immediate and unquestionable evidence, for all the world to see, of the correctness of the people's choice. In the noisy, ugly back and forth of the campaign, charge and countercharge were lost in the din. Who was right? Which was truly the democrat, which truly the demagogue?

The Sore Loser

Lien came on TV by 8 PM, flanked by Soong and other campaign officials. According to the statement from Lien-Soong Campaign headquarters, he thanked his supporters, and called for calm and rationality. "Lien noted that the issue to be dealt at this moment was not who had won or lost in the election." Instead, he invited his supporters to consider "history, democracy, our systems, and our pride."

The magnanimous tone changed, however, as he pointed out the "exceedingly small" margin of his loss. And then, eyes narrowing, Lien cast what we can only hope is the KMT's last pall of darkness over Taiwan's democracy.

"This slight gap appeared under very suspicious circumstances. ....[P]eople had heard numerous differing pieces of information from a variety of different channels.

"....[O]ne such doubt concerned the shooting incident on the day before the election, for which, at the present time, the government has still not issued a clear statement about the true circumstances. The influence of this incident on the presidential election is self-evident, its influence was both direct and comprehensive. There are other suspicious points, which have created a widespread impression of layers upon layer of doubts."

Rather than site any of these "suspicious points," Lien simply asserted that "there were too many events that made the vote unacceptable and too many points of doubt. It was not a single act but, rather, a series of them, that made everyone feel that there were layer after layer of doubts."

Lien, and then Soong, simply stood before their supporters and called the election "unfair." They alleged no fraud or vote-tampering. They simply pointed out that the President had been shot, that the shooting was unsolved, and that they had lost the election. Then they urged their supporters to take to the streets.

They filed lawsuits almost as an afterthought, and then without providing any specific claims, let alone any evidence. They just wanted more and more supporters in the streets, in front of the President's Office, in front of the Central Election Commission, in front of courthouses and prosecuter's offices across Taiwan. Exactly what they wanted from any of these officials was never made clear, only that the election was "unfair." When the response to this "demand" was deemed unsatisfactory, more supporters were called out to join the throng in the streets to "rescue democracy."

Chen knew that he and his supporters, even in their hour of great victory, must keep quiet to avoid fanning the flames. But Taiwanese election law offered no provision for a recount in close elections. The courts said a decision would take months, assuming any evidence were ever offered. So, DPP legislators offered legislative remedies to get the votes recounted within a week. Chen announced that he would abide by any recount and invited Lien and Soong to do the same. But, as round-the-clock demonstrations began in front of government building, the pan-blues wanted no solutions.

Exactly what they did want was difficult to say with any precision: A recount? A re-vote? An investigation into the shooting? A court case?... Well, the election was "unfair!" From the beginning, Chen agreed to everything they asked for, refusing only their demand that he issue a Presidential Decree of a State of Emergency - A-bian was not the man to let the KMT taunt him into a return to martial law! But every agreement from Chen was met with another, ever shifting, demand from the pan-blues. They knew full well that they would lose again in a recount. Taiwan's elections were as open and fair as any in the world. Likewise they new that any investigation into their bizarre shooting consipiracy theories would only expose their implausibility. Even another election, after their obvious anti-democratic antics, would probably go against them. So, what they really wanted was simply to fool the country and the world into thinking there was some sort of controversy still alive, to keep the crowds in the streets as long as they could, to keep their faces on the compliant Taiwanese TV networks.

When no congratulatory call came to the winner from the U.S. White House, Lien and Soong used this fact to legitimize their protest further. They had called for a major rally to be held Saturday, March 27, a week after the election, in Taipei, and did not want any legislative, judicial, or political solutions to get in the way of a successful and angry rally.

The courts announced that any lawsuits would have to be refiled after the final posting of the Central Election Commission, expected Friday, March 26. Chen announced that he would help speed up the judicial process, and make up for his opponent's lack of evidence, by not offering any defense in the lawsuits. But it took the Commission four hours fighting violent protesters to even complete the posting. A warning came from Beijing that "We will not sit by unconcerned should the post-election situation in Taiwan get out of control..." Perhaps in response to the Commission's posting, perhaps in response to Beijing's warning, Chen received a call a few hours later from George Bush, congratulating him on his victory.

Finally, that Saturday, a half million angry Lien-Soong supporters filled the streets of Taipei. That night the crowds were cleared out. And Chen announced yet again his determination to do whatever was legally permissible to recount the ballots, investigate the shooting and end the crisis.

The World Watches...

Is this the price that Chen must pay for his reputation for craftiness? Perhaps so. After all, few men were so villified and suspected by their opponents as the "original" lion and fox, our own Franklin Roosevelt. Certainly an American with a sense of history, watching Lien and Soong on Taiwanese television screens while angry crowds gathered in the streets, could hardly avoid thinking of some of the men FDR dealt with back in his day: John L. Lewis, Charles Lindbergh, Father Coughlin, Huey Long.... Roosevelt stared them all down, as well as more formidable demagogues like Benito Mussolini and Adolf Hitler. Likewise, Lien and his cohorts have shown themselves to be no match for A-bian.

As international attention focused on the news from Taiwan, however, its doubtful that many saw it through such a lens. The few details that filtered through the western media seemed to come directly from either KMT or PRC press releases. Although Lien and Soong kept harping on the "mysterious" shooting, and offered no specifics of fraud or vote tampering, westerners soon heard about the 300,000 invalid ballots - far outnumbering the 30,000 vote margin. Obvious comparisons with Florida 2000 seemed to legitimize Lien's stand.

This might have worked on many Americans, but Taiwanese knew the facts. Unfortunately, no one took the time to explain it to us. Firstly, Taiwanese mark their ballots by an ink stamp, inside a square above a column containing the candidate's name and other information. A stamp partially outside the square, or elsewhere on the column is invalid. Why so strict? A law passed at public insistence by the KMT controlled legislature after the last election aimed to control vote-buying. And those peripherally stamped ballots were used as signals to the vote buyer that the deed had been done. So, unlike Florida's dangling chads, what would 300,000 invalid stamps atop Lien Chan's name have indicated?

Secondly, and I don't make this stuff up, there was a third party upset with both the "greens" and the "blues". They weren't allowed on the ballot and there was no facility for a write-in. So these folks had the foresight to be upset with the election before it happened. They began a well publicized campaign that Lien and Soong and even I had heard about under the slogan - really - "Mark a Million Invalid Ballots," urging their followers to stamp both Lien and Chen's squares.

From the beginning, Chen never missed a beat in agreeing to any recount or investigation. Why so confident? Was it because, as the opposition claimed, the fix was in on any solution even before they proposed it? Man, that Chen is slick! Or, could it be that these people really do have confidence in their own democracy? Western media that had spent fifty years presenting a phony dictatorship as "Free China" now didn't have the time to show a real democracy handling a crisis - two quick snapshots of the President's blood, and then some broken glass, and we'll be right back after this break.

Some Presidents want to bring democracy to the world at gunpoint. With infinite patience, Chen Shui-Bian teaches democracy to his unruly pupils by brave example. In his own country and in ours, millions watch and are inspired; millions of others don't believe a word of it.

Most the world, it seems, had been well prepared to view Chen as the dangerous demagogue. Few news reports could resist mentioning him without contrasting Lien's "conciliatory" approach to Beijing that would ease tensions and increase business. Chen, on the other hand, would "provoke" a war, we were told over and over again. His referenda would "provoke" a war. His re-election would "provoke" a war. Now that these two provocations had passed peacefully the warnings continue that his plans for a constitution will "provoke" a war.

The ephemeral attention span of the world's television audience was exausted within a few days after the election, if not in fact by the time Chen and Lu were released from the hospital. But the controversy will be kept alive, and the festering doubts fed anew, whenever someone needs a diversion. Chen's referenda did not pass - only 45% of eligible voters casting ballots, instead of the 50% needed. They did both receive a larger "yes" vote than did Chen himself. But between the referenda failure, Chen's small margin of victory, and the antics of the losers, the mandate of the reelected president is not all that he could have hoped for. Only with a clear mandate that the Taiwanese people want self-determination, we are told, could the world find the nerve to stand up to China.

But legislative elections are scheduled for December. Will the sore losers lose the swing voters, perhaps a third of all Taiwanese voters, finally allowing the DPP to gain a legislative majority? Would that be a mandate? As the current legislative deadlock is removed and progress is made over the next few years, could it become one? Imagine if one of the U.S. Presidential candidates were to question our "one-China" policy during this year's campaign? A brave, perhaps foolhardy stand, to be sure - the idea that an important U.S. foreign policy should be based on current facts. But imagine the effect in Taiwan if such a thing were even discussed: would the KMT even survive the December elections? So would such a suggestion be a brazenly partisan move in favor of the DPP? Or have we been propping up the the other side for the last sixty years?

Freedom from Fear

Immoral, anti-democratic, power-hungry thieves like Lien, Soong and the Chiang family must, of course, be responsible for their own actions. These men are not puppets on a string manipulated by a U.S. President and their many evil actions cannot fairly be blamed on Harry Truman or Bill Clinton or George Bush. But neither could these outrageous criminals command power and attention for a single second without the complete and complicit support of America. No country's political environment could ever be as impossibly, nonsensically confused as Taiwan's without the firm commitment of a superpower to make it that way.

The "One-China" policy of the United States is based on fear and ignorance. While, as part of a war against terror, the U.S. embarks on a policy of democratization on much less fertile and friendly grounds, we seem to care nothing for a nation that has struggled, successfully, to create its own democracy and looks to us for help. The idea that military solutions are best for every international problem, that the U.S. knows best how to instill "democracy" in every environment, and that international oganizations such as the United Nations are obsolete are clearly ideas that are not in Taiwan's interest.

Part of the justification for American hostility to Chen and his policies is the frequently asserted myth that he is more "belligerent" toward China than his KMT opponents. How, exactly, is he demonstrating this supposed "belligerency?" Chen is Taiwanese, they are Chinese. He insists that his country is free and independent, that the democratic rights of his fellow citizens be respected by the world, that they be allowed to live in peace and security as long as they threaten no one. What is seen as "belligerency" in a Taiwanese would be commendable national pride for a Chinese or an American. The question is the same old one: Is Taiwan part of China?

Taiwan has been subject to many influences over the course of its history: aboriginal, Portuguese, Spanish, Dutch, Japanese, Chinese. Of these, no doubt, the most important have been the Chinese settlers during the Ch'ing era. And perhaps the least influential has been China itself. When has Taiwan ever been a "part of China," rather than a settlement, perhaps a colony - often as not, in fact, somebody else's colony? Taiwan is, at most, part of the worldwide overseas Chinese community, and is no more a "part of China" than is San Francisco's "Chinatown."

The Chinese maintain that their nation should be no more lightly disbanded than Lincoln's. They define their nation as including Taiwan, just like Lincoln defined his as including Virginia, and both have asked for their claim to be recognized as perpetual and indissoluble by the nations of the world. But Lincoln had a documented democratic basis for his claim. The people of Virginia, and of the other colonies, through democratic process, chose to bind together into a nation, with no way out short of constitutional amendment. The people of Taiwan and China are free to do so at any time.

The argument is a circular one. The Chinese say the island of Taiwan is theirs. Many people on Taiwan say otherwise. When the U.S, the U.N. or other interested peacekeepers consider interceding, the Chinese are quick to point out that we have no authority to do so. This is a civil war, of no concern to outsiders. Why? Well, because the island is theirs.... An aggressor nation can always claim that what only appears to be aggression is in fact an internal police action, taking place within what should be its borders, among what should be its people. After we win the war, they will be our people, and the whole argument will be moot!

United States policy - wrongly, and for no justifiable reason of national advantage - continues to insist that Taiwan is part of China. A large part of the American rational for this absurdity is that it keeps the peace. Taiwan, we say, should take no dangerous actions; it is a prosperous, stable, self-governing democracy. Is it prosperous? Yes. Is it stable? Not with missiles pointed at it and threats of invasion. Is it self-governing? Not if it can't write its own constitution. Is it a democracy? Not if it can't hold a referendum.

Does the U.S. really fear a Chinese invasion of Taiwan? If we are the lone superpower we claim to be, then surely all important countries will follow our lead if we recognize Taiwan's right to self-determination. And no one could credibly expect a Chinese attack against the will of the world's powers. Or does American policy require that we hold the human rights of the Taiwanese people hostage, so that we have a bargaining chip to use with China? For how long do we need this bargaining chip, and for what end?

Even if U.S. policy was justified when Taiwan was ruled by a one-party dictatorship, the assumptions upon which that policy was based have clearly changed. Although we have so far not allowed the People's Republic to take over by force, we continue to consign generations of innocent Taiwanese to live in fear and uncertainty. Franklin Roosevelt spoke of "a world founded upon four essential human freedoms," including the "freedom from fear," which Roosevelt's successors have denied to the people of Taiwan for half a century.