Commentary Magazine


Leadership on Taiwan

The time has come for Washington to show some leadership regarding Taiwan’s U.N. membership as the issue gains traction in China and on the island. The Bush administration should propose a way to go forward. Here are some suggestions.

First, we should state clearly that, like the Olympic games, which China is hosting next year, the U.N. is intended to be entirely inclusive. Just as Taiwan will be sending teams to the Olympics, we in Washington think she should also be able to send a delegation to the United Nations. Second, we should indicate that the United States fundamentally supports democracy and human rights for all peoples, including the people of Taiwan. We never intended that nearly thirty years should pass (since our break with Taipei in 1979) during which those people, having made themselves democratic, should be excluded from the international community. Third, we should call on China to join the rest of the world in finding a way forward, so that Taiwan can send a delegation to New York as she will send teams to Beijing. Finally, we should stress that violence and coercion are ruled out. They are simply not options and will be resisted by the United States.

By adopting such a forward-looking position, Washington would escape the trap into which she is now falling, which is serving as China’s enforcer. Since August 27th we have been manifesting a clear double standard with respect to Taiwan, the only explanation for which is fear of China. On that day Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte warned Taiwan about carrying out a referendum—a democratic exercise. Other officials have since joined in (as my previous posts have chronicled). But when Pakistan’s Prime Minister Musharraf expelled former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to Saudi Arabia, an undemocratic action if ever there was one, the same Deputy Secretary had no comment and praised Pakistan as our friend.

Meanwhile, in Taiwan, various demonstrations brought hundreds of thousands out in favor of votes on the U.N.—and 12,000 pro-China demonstrators out against such a vote. Steam is building up. If Washington does not start leading instead of reacting, case by case, to Chinese demands, trouble lies ahead. China will give us nothing in return for disciplining Taiwan. She will treat it as no more than our duty while taking it as a basis for more extensive future demands. At some point those demands will be more than we can accept. Our passivity will have brought us to a possibly dangerous impasse. Far better to seize the initiative now. Let Washington take the lead in challenging China and the world to find a way that will permit Taiwan once again to be represented in the United Nations.