Sunday, May 14, 2006

Taiwan Plans Big Anti-Appeasement Campaign

Concerned that time could be working against Taiwan, its increasingly isolated, independence-leaning government is preparing a major new propaganda push that will make the case for defending the island against a possible Chinese attack.

Taiwan split from mainland China in 1949, at the end of the long Chinese civil war, when defeated Koumintang (KMT) forces fled to their last military stronghold and set up an iron-fisted dictatorship.

Following decades of martial law and single-party rule, Taiwan developed into a democracy.

The KMT, which now favors reunification with China under certain conditions, lost power in 2000; and the present government, led by the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), would like to formalize the island's de facto independence--over the vehement objections of Taiwan's friend and former staunch ally, the United States, which, while recognizing China's claim to sovereignty over the island, is contradictorily also committed to help defend it in accord with the complex and controversial Taiwan Relations Act. The TRA, as it is known, was passed by the US Congress in 1979 after the establishment of diplomatic relations with China.

China, which has some 800 missiles pointed at Taiwan, has made clear, pursuant to its "One China" principle, repeated official pronouncements, and adoption last year of an ominous Anti-Secession Law, that formal Taiwanese independence means war. In fact, the Anti-Secession Law also authorizes military force against the island if peaceful reunification efforts prove fruitless.

Taiwan thinks it has a decade or so left before the shooting starts--absent acquiescing to Chinese demands.

The island intends to harness history in an attempt to mobilize international backing against Beijing. Harking back to the 1938 Munich Agreement that sacrificed much of Czechoslovakia to Hitler in the interest of preserving peace in pre-war Europe, Taiwan is expected to argue that appeasing aggression historically only encourages more aggression. So isolating--or sacrificing--tiny Taiwan in order to appease rising China will only embolden its quest for regional and global dominance, just as the appeasement of Hitler by British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain (seen in the above archival photo waving the Munich pact document to an ecstatic English crowd) and other European leaders encouraged the Nazi leader to pursue additional conquests leading to the Second World War.

That is the DPP view. The problem with it is that it ignores the key issue of China's real long-range intentions. If its military buildup and ambitions are in fact "domestic," as the Chinese say in reference to the Taiwan Question, appeasement could actually make sense, harsh as this may seem to Taiwan's residents and overseas friends and sympathizers. Sacrificing one self-ruled, albeit democratic, island for the sake of a so-called honorable peace in Asia would make more sense than going to war with nuclear China.

But if taking back Taiwan is really meant to serve as a stepping stone for Chinese regional and global hegemony, the international community would be well advised to unite and stand up to Beijing--today--in an effort to nip aggression in the bud.

Taiwan's President Chen Shui-bian, who favors formal statehood, floated the historical argument Friday night at a banquet in Taipei for European business executives and top Taiwanese officials. That Chen addressed the dinner directly after returning home from a tour of Latin American nations--his aides made sure reporters knew he had just an hour in between landing and speaking--showed the seriousness and urgency with which Taiwan's leader views the current cross-Strait situation.

"The 20th century history of Europe showed more than once that appeasing dictators and ignoring their violations of human rights only encouraged further aggression... (leading) inevitably to the tragedy that is war," Chen told the 450 assembled guests of the European Chamber of Commerce in Taipei.

"We must not repeat past mistakes and we must not allow past tragedies to occur," he added. "Isolating Taiwan, suppressing Taiwan, and even sacrificing Taiwan cannot possibly bring about cross-strait peace."

Escalating Taiwan's war of words with the mainland, Chen described China as "totalitarian," "belligerent" and "militaristic," accusing it of being the troublemaker in cross-strait relations and a threat to regional and world peace.

Worse, from Washington's point of view, the Taiwanese president, who recently assured the US he would refrain from provoking Beijing, also referred to Taiwan and China as two separate--and sovereign--states.

"Totalitarian China and democratic Taiwan are two sovereign nations," Chen said. "Neither is subordinate to the other."

There is a backstory to the president's remarks: on some level, analysts say, he was getting back at the US for a diplomatic snub. The State Department refused Chen permission for a proper stopover on US territory on his way to Latin America and instead offered him a humanitarian refueling opportunity in Alaska--with no meaningful interaction with US nationals--which he refused as an affront to Taiwan's national dignity. The US is unhappy with Chen for scrapping a long dormant reunification council and for addressing a recent DPP-sponsored pro-independence rally. In Washington's eyes, Chen is a loose cannon capable of starting a war.

China's reaction to the US treatment of Chen was to take an even tougher line. To the dismay of the State Department, It publicly called on Washington to stop supplying Taiwan with advanced weaponry--which supports the view that bellicose Beijing sees the US as a paper tiger when it comes to defending the breakaway island.

Back to the main story. In a novel twist on the historical argument, we are told Taiwan's propagandists plan to draw a moral comparison with another endangered nation, one that some might be tempted to isolate or sacrifice in an attempt to appease powerful oil producing nations. That country, of course, is Israel--which ironically supplies China with important military technology that could be used against Taiwan. Ignoring important legal and political differences (Taiwan is a United Nations outcast currently recognized by only 25 countries, while Israel is a UN member nation recognized by China, Russia, the US and 157 other countries, including two of Israel's Arab neighbors and former foes, Egypt and Jordan), the Taiwanese view is that its moral case for statehood is no weaker than Israel's, given that a Jewish State in predominantly Arab, British-controlled Palestine came into existence against the wishes of the majority of its inhabitants. Taiwanese officials argue that while it is true Israel in part owes its existence to a UN resolution that partitioned Palestine into Jewish and Arab states, the 1948 vote for partition would have been a non-starter in a post-colonial-era UN.

Taiwan's argument--which is certainly not likely to win friends among members of America's politically influential Jewish community--ignores the compelling claim of the dispersed Jewish people, following centuries of persecution culminating in the Holocaust, to reconstitute itself as a nation in its historical and spiritual homeland.

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