Taiwan Is Winning

By Lindberg, Tod | The Washington Times (Washington, DC), November 19, 1997 | Go to article overview

Taiwan Is Winning


Lindberg, Tod, The Washington Times (Washington, DC)


TAIPEI - On the eve of the release of Chinese dissident Wei Jingsheng, I was tooling around the outskirts of Taiwan's capital, having a look at the rallies kicking off the campaign for county executive. The political debate here is nothing if not robust; rallies are replete with banners, buttons and fireworks, as well as name-calling, bad comedians (I don't speak Chinese, but you can tell anyway) and earnest folk music.

True, buildings plastered with five-story posters of political leaders are not necessarily a sign of political health. More than a few maximum leaders in Asia have seen fit to festoon the cityscape of their capitals with their over-sized mugs. The point is that in Taipei County, for every five-story poster of a wannabe pol on one side of the street, there's another five-story poster of another wannabe pol on the other side of the street. Call it "democracy with Asian characteristics." Democracy it surely is.

And ordinary democracy at that. These elections, though vigorously contested by parties with dramatically different views about Taiwan's future course, are hardly a referendum on national destiny. I had a chat with Parris Chang, one of the leading political intellectuals here, a dissident back in the old days of one-party authoritarian rule, now a legislator for the opposition Democratic Progressive Party. If anyone can give you a glimpse of the big picture on China and Taiwan, it's Mr. Chang. This time, he was explaining how he had been telling candidates they needed to focus on law-and-order issues. The big story on Taiwan has been a manhunt for two alleged kidnapper-murderers discussed here with enthusiasm reminiscent of the U.S. obsession with Andrew Cunanan. In a way, it's a sign of progress not only in that democracy here is maturing, but also in that things are calming down in relations across the Taiwan straits. We've come a long way since the last presidential campaign here, when the People's Republic was lobbing missiles in the general direction of what it considers a renegade province of China.

That crisis was a signal event, for a variety of reasons. First of all, Taiwan hung tough in the face of the pressure. Second, it's widely believed here that Chinese ruler Jiang Zemin emerged stronger from the crisis, insofar as that the more bellicose People's Liberation Army voices in the Chinese politburo were at least temporarily discredited as a result of the failure of the intimidation effort. Third, and most important, the United States dispatched not just one but two aircraft carrier battle groups to the scene. …

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