Turbulence in the Taiwan Straits; A Taiwan Referendum on Independence Is Ill-timed.(OPED)

Article excerpt

Byline: Arnold Beichman, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

The Republic of Taiwan is a thriving free-market, entrepreneurial democracy whose 23 million people enjoy not only the political benefits of a free society but also one of the highest living standards in the world. Taiwan is vibrant, living testimony to the fact that freedom is not something unique to Western civilization; rather, Taiwan, like Japan, demonstrates that any people of any culture, of any civilization can create a civil society if there is will and democratic leadership.

Above all, Taiwan is the first Chinese democracy in history, one, in contrast to the mainland, with respect for human rights. There is no Tiananmen Square massacre in Taiwan's history, nor could there ever be one. Two years ago we witnessed an event again unprecedented in Chinese history - the peaceful transfer of political power and sovereignty by means of a democratic election. That is why the U.S. public would agree with Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz when earlier this year he pledged that the Bush administration will do "whatever it takes" to protect Taiwan from Communist China.

In light of such U.S. assurances and Taiwanese economic achievements, Taiwanese President Chen Shui-bian's speech Aug. 3, in which he called for a referendum on independence, has ill-served not only his country but also the U.S.-Taiwan alliance. Among his poorly chosen statements were sentences like these: "With Taiwan and China on each side of the [Taiwan] strait, each side is a country . . . Our Taiwan is not something that belongs to someone else. Our Taiwan is not someone else's local government . . . our Taiwan is not someone else's province." Mr. Chen's words were really a cry for formal independence from mainland China, which regards Taiwan as a rebel province and which has threatened to go to war if Taiwan were to proceed with a unilateral declaration of independence.

I do not mean to minimize the actual and potential threat of Communist China to Taiwan. The present state of Chinese militarism is alarming - some 200 missiles aimed across the Taiwan Strait and two new missile bases under construction, each capable of firing some 100 additional weapons. By 2005, the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency anticipates China's total arsenal aimed at Taiwan will grow to 650 weapons. …