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PRC agenda in Pacific starts with unification
Paul Lin
1/16/2004

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After trying strategies such as propaganda attacks and military threats to block Taiwan's democratization, and having seen all of them prove ineffective, China has recently resorted to a different strategy -- internationalizing the Taiwan issue.

Under the banner of opposing Taiwanese independence, Beijing is in effect trying to deprive Taiwanese people of the right to hold referendums, rewrite the Constitution and become their own masters.

A Washington Post report published on Jan. 2 pointed out that a new national identity has emerged in Taiwan after more than 50 years of democratic advances. Politicians in major Western nations, however, have apparently failed to sense this change. Therefore, China's strategy of mobilizing international forces to "besiege" Taiwan has proven effective.

US President George W. Bush, the EU and Katsuhisa Uchida, director of the Taipei Office of Japan's Interchange Association, have expressed strong concern over Taiwan's plan to hold a "defensive referendum."

Predictably, other small nations, especially some in the Asia-Pacific region, will express their concerns as well. But the expression of delight on Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao's face after Bush's recent comments on Taiwan at the White House, and the statement of satisfaction with Japan made by Liu Jianchao, spokesperson for China's Ministry of Foreign Affairs, have revealed that China is calling the shots behind the scenes.

Isn't it farcical for Western leaders to end up becoming protagonists in a play directed by authoritarian China?

Taiwan should understand the difficulties that these leaders face but cannot mention. I believe they have not given up their faith in democracy; rather, they are only perfunctorily satisfying China's demands.

Nations with an important interest in the Asia-Pacific region care about peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait. If we look back at wars after World War II, either the expansion of autocratic nations led to military conflicts with democratic nations, or autocracies waged war against one another. It was extremely rare for democracies to resort to military force against other democracies to resolve problems.

For Western nations to maintain peace in the Taiwan Strait, the key lies in helping China peacefully transform itself into a democracy. Taiwan's democratic achievements serve as the best contrast to and containment of China's authoritarian rule.

For Western nations to isolate Taiwan as it democratizes, and give in to China's military buildup and meet its demands in exchange for temporary peace, would be an appeasement strategy similar to the one Neville Chamberlain adopted to feed Adolf Hitler's arrogance. This ultimately would bring disaster to democracies.

To a certain degree, the US and Japan have accommodated themselves to China because they need help from China on North Korea's nuclear problem. But they should realize that Beijing is on much closer terms with North Korea than with the US and Japan. They should not be bewildered by China's facade of sincerity.

In an interview published in the Chinese newspaper Global Times on Dec. 29, Chinese military expert Jiang Zhijun said that the first mission for the Chinese navy is to accomplish the unification task -- to resolve the Taiwan issue. If Taiwan were in China's hand, he said, China's path eastward into the Pacific would be wide open.

Apparently, Beijing has an ulterior motive in its unification mission. If it occupies Taiwan, the vast Pacific Ocean will be its next goal. China will target not only Japan but also the US.

*Paul Lin is a political commentator based in New York.

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