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Give Me Liberty, or Give Me Peace?
Benjamin Darrington & Eric Tung Bridging the Taiwan Strait
November 2004

Benjamin Darrington:

In Beijing on October 25th, Secretary of State Colin Powel vowed support for reunification between China and Taiwan, highlighting the United States’ failure to support Taiwan as our ally and trading partner. Taiwanese independence offers us a means of forcing reform in the mainland and bringing about positive change for a fifth of the world’s population, yet we have been woefully neutral or even openly hostile to its efforts to preserve independence. Our lack of support for this cause thwarts the noble aspirations of a modern, liberal democracy for its freedom.

The Chinese Communist Party’s legitimacy has worn thin. After its 1940s triumph over the Japanese, the Party enjoyed immense public support for its establishment of order in the previously chaotic regime. Since then, however, the Communist Party has greatly damaged its image in the eyes of the Chinese people. The Party-led government has shown its propensity for imprisoning, slaughtering, starving, and impoverishing its citizens through extreme tyranny and misguided economic policies—witness such immense economic and social fiascos as the Great Leap Forward, the Cultural Revolution, and the Tiananmen Square Massacre, for just a few examples.

Though a great deal of progress has been made since the 1980s, when Premier Deng Xiaoping began to introduce market-oriented reforms and decentralized economic decision-making, these changes are incomplete and have spawned their own problems. China’s advances in the last twenty years have only happened because the government has loosened its grip on economic and political affairs. Yet corruption worsens daily, the banking system reels under the weight of an eighteen percent non-performing loan rate, and approximately 125 million people are unemployed.

The Communist Party remains in power only because it has impeded all alternatives to its rule and rabidly guarded its status as the only institution capable of running the country. The state sustains a constant propaganda war, reiterating the historical triumphs of the Party and emphasizing how lost the country would be without its leadership. At the same time, it carefully monitors organizations from youth groups to religious sects—any group that offers alternatives to Party rule—and frequently bans them outright. Moreover, the violence and turmoil that colored the lives of the older generations has caused many to cling to the status quo. The Chinese remain reluctant to push for change for fear of losing what little they have gained, and feel it is impossible in the present situation.

The present status of Taiwan as a small, prosperous, independent state only 100 miles off the coast of a corrupt regime poses a sharp dichotomy. Taiwan’s democratic prosperity represents all the failings of the Communist regime; appropriately, the People’s Republic has placed much priority on retaining Taiwan and tied much of its authority to the possibility of eventual reunification. Failure in this effort would cost the government its legitimacy.

The public humiliation of the Communist Party could be the catalyst that finally permits opposition to the Communist Party to triumph. The U.S. should support Taiwanese independence, not just for the people of Taiwan, but for the 1.3 billion people living across the strait in the People’s Republic of China.

Benjamin Darrington is a freshman in Pierson College

Eric Tung:

Last month, Taiwan's president Chen Shui-Bain attempted negotiating with China on a stateto- state basis. Summarily rejected by the Chinese, he has succeeded once again in deliberately provoking China. If Taiwan is indeed willing to fight for independence, then Chen and his people should not wait a minute longer to take up the fight for sovereignty.

Chen attracts votes—hence political power—by pushing for sovereignty, but more than half of his citizens reject de jure independence. The sacrifices involved, particularly the risk of war with China, make his people unwilling to embark on this infeasible project. Blindly assuming that the United States will deter China, Chen cares little about risking war. Yet President Bush has already made it clear that if Taiwan should challenge the status quo, the U.S. would not help it wage war against the mainland.

With its own political system and economy, Taiwan enjoys a de facto independence largely unchallenged by Chinese intrusion. Enter a Taiwanese demagogue who uses the pro-independence platform to his political advantage, and it becomes clear why the U.S. has rejected the cause of Taiwanese independence— we see right through President Chen’s motivations. He is fighting for nominal independence with no regard to the risk of war, which Taiwan would inevitably lose. Is this worth the cost?

Most Taiwanese do not think so. The U.S. should not risk war and damaged relations with China to fight for dubiously motivated claims of independence. We should not commit troops in order to support Taiwanese independence; to do so would only appease a powerhungry politician. Independence might bring about positive regime change in China, but we should consider a better way to accomplish it without war: trade.

Trade will cripple the Communist regime both symbolically and practically. The Party struggles hopelessly to maintain ideological legitimacy by reconciling the contradiction between capitalism and communism. Despite their nominal communism, the regime already permits privatized land and certain industries. As Chinese citizens grow wealthier, they will worry less about putting food on the table and more about demanding their freedom.

A U.S. policy of support for the status quo would keep the Taiwanese opportunists in check and prevent China from encroaching upon the island’s de facto sovereignty. This stance may seem like a betrayal of democratic ideals, but a closer look reveals its practical brilliance.

While it is noble and desirable to fight and die for independence, most Taiwanese are not willing to die for this nominal cause. We ought to recognize President Chen’s cries for independence for what they are— empty rhetoric—and disregard them.

Eric Tung is a junior in Branford College.

 
 

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