Commentary Magazine


Contentions

Postmarks for Freedom

On Wednesday, People’s Daily, the self-described mouthpiece of the Chinese Communist Party, announced that China had returned all mail to Taiwan that was postmarked with the slogan “Taiwan’s Entry into the UN.”

“Taiwan authority preaching ‘Taiwan independence’ through post services has infringed on Taiwan compatriots’ freedom of communication,” said Fan Liqing, spokeswoman for Beijing’s Taiwan Affairs Office. “This has seriously impaired the exchanges of letters between people on the two sides of the Taiwan Strait as well as Taiwan people’s exchanges with other parts of the world.”

Ms. Fan has it backwards. It was Beijing—not Taipei—that disrupted the mails by refusing to deliver 158 letters. Unfortunately, her government’s tough tactic worked because Taiwan subsequently dropped the automatic use of the postmark, which was intended to boost the island’s campaign for worldwide recognition of its independent status. Taiwan Post, the island’s postal service, says it will now only use the controversial postmark upon customer request.

So Beijing has shown that it will block Taiwan’s mail. But will it block America’s? It’s unlikely that President Bush will ask the U.S. Postal Service to use the postmark that offends Beijing. As Arthur Waldron has written in contentions, Washington wrongly has taken China’s side in opposing Taiwan’s push for UN membership.

Yet Americans don’t have to wait for their leaders to act. They can customize their own postmarks. Today, we can even design our own stamps. This controversy has motivated my wife and me to customize our stamps with this slogan: “Support Taiwan.” I think it’s high time that people in the West, and especially Americans, show the world’s large autocracies what we think of their campaigns to intimidate small democracies. We can lick despots in many ways, even by licking our stamps.



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