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Panda Diplomacy
Kin-Ming Liu, The New York Sun
2/3/2006

Six months after the arrival of a panda cub, Tai Shan, at the National Zoo, my fellow Washingtonians are still overjoyed. The demand to see the cute black-and-white creature has been overwhelming. All cub viewing tickets for
January have been taken. Pandas, arguably, are China's most successful, disarming charm-offensive against the world.

So when Taiwan reacted angrily to China's recent offer to send two pandas to the island, people were understandably puzzled. How could the Taiwanese reject China's olive branch and say no to the pandas?

"With pandas, there is no blue or green, only black and white," said Lien Chan, the former chairman of the opposition Kuomintang, referring to the colors of the KMT and the ruling Democratic Progressive Party. Ma Ying-jeou, the current KMT chief, the mayor of the capital city of Taipei, and a presidential aspirant in 2008, concurred: "Please do not paint pandas with political colors. It is important to make Taiwanese feel the friendship of China."

In the eyes of the Chinese Communist Party, a panda has only one color: Red. Panda, in this case, is being used as a united-front cannonball against Taiwan. Mr. Lien's visit to China last April triggered Beijing's decision to send pandas to Taiwan "compatriots" as goodwill presents. Last week, without consulting the government of Taiwan, China suddenly announced that the two selected pandas would go to Taiwan in June. The chairman of Taiwan's mainland affairs council, Joseph Wu, rightfully accused China of showing no respect for Taiwan by acting unilaterally. Taiwan's council of agriculture would decide in March whether to accept the pandas, Mr. Wu said.

According to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, pandas can only be lent - not given - by China to other countries. For example, Tai Shan's mother, Mei Xiang, and his father, Tian Tian, are on a 10-year loan from China to Washington, and both will return home in 2010. A $1 million annual fee is charged for the conservation of the species in China. Tai Shan himself would also have to be shipped back to China when he reaches 2 years old.

Taiwan should refuse to fall into China's trap. By accepting the pandas as gifts and not as rentals, Taiwan would be accepting China's absurd position that the island is part of China. Moving pandas from one province to another doesn't invoke the convention.

This is only the latest Chinese offensive against Taiwan. Following the visit of Mr. Lien and, later, of James Soong, the head of the People First Party, which is a pro-China opposition party in Taiwan, like the KMT, President Chen Shui-bian's administration has been under tremendous pressure to talk to Beijing.

"As long as the Taiwan authorities acknowledge the one-China principle ... the cross-Straits dialogue can be resumed," a spokesman for China's Taiwan affairs office, Li Weiyi, said last week, stressing that "any topic can be discussed."

I'm relieved to find out from President Chen's New Year's address that the Democratic Progressive Party has lost none of its backbone amid the Chinese Communist Party-KMT joint attack. He unequivocally defended the emergence of "Taiwan consciousness," which was viewed as taboo by the immigrant regime of the past, the KMT.

"Our country, Taiwan, has a total land area of 36,000 square kilometers," Mr. Chen proclaimed, at the risk of infuriating China. "The sovereignty of Taiwan is vested in its 23 million people, and is not subject to the jurisdiction of the People's Republic of China. Only the 23 million people of Taiwan have the right to decide Taiwan's future."

One can be forgiven for believing that what Mr. Chen stated was simply obvious. Not so. First of all, China has always threatened war should Taiwan really go independent. Moreover, the constitution of the Republic of China, Taiwan's formal name, doesn't recognize this either.

The constitution, enshrined in 1947, in fact be longs to a country that no longer exists. According to this document, the territory of the Republic of China includes Taiwan, the area we now call China, and, believe it or not, Mongolia. The political entity described in the constitution ceased to exist
after 1949, when the KMT was defeated by the Chinese Communist Party and retreated to Taiwan. Mr. Chen aims to produce "Taiwan's New Constitution" - one that is timely, relevant, and viable by 2008 when he steps down.

"Should conditions in the Taiwan society become sufficiently mature, who is to say that holding a referendum on the new constitution by 2007 is an impossibility?" Mr. Chen said.

This predictably alarms Beijing. China views the move as Taiwan inching toward dejure independence. Mr. Li of China's Taiwan Affairs Office warned that "anyone who makes enemies with his own nation and compatriots is bound to eat his own bitter fruits."

But this, regrettably, set off alarm bells in Washington, too. The State Department's response was swift and stern: "The United States has no objection to the promotion of good governance on Taiwan through referenda or constitutional reforms. Chen Shui-bian has repeatedly pledged not to declare independence, not to change Taiwan's name, not to add the state-to-state theory into the constitution, and not to promote the referendum to change status quo on independence or unification. We expect that President Chen would adhere to his pledges, which we take very seriously."

Washington is basically telling Taiwan not to go ahead. Instead, Foggy Bottom rolled out this piece of advice: "We have consistently urged both Beijing and Taipei to work to achieve direct dialogue." President Chen has said repeatedly that he's willing to meet with his Chinese counterpart, without any pre-conditions to the talk. China, as mentioned before, insists Taiwan has to surrender before any dialogue is possible. The State Department seems to agree with Beijing that the source of tension across the Straits lies more in Taiwan than in China.

Instead of showing much support and encouragement to the democratic island state in fending off nonstop threats from the communist giant, the U.S. chooses to pacify the dictatorship. No exception to the Bush Doctrine is more obvious and disgraceful than this.

Mr. Liu is a former Washington-based columnist of Hong Kong's Apple Daily.


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