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Taiwan's Right to Freedom

By Frank Chang-ting Hsieh
Friday, March 25, 2005; Page A19

Tomorrow, hundreds of thousands of Taiwanese will take to the streets in our country to peacefully express their opposition to China's most recent threat to the freedom of Taiwan. This month the National People's Congress passed a so-called "Anti-Secession Law" that threatens the use of military force against our country. The demonstrators will mobilize to oppose the idea that China has a "right" to use force to subjugate the people of Taiwan -- and they will protest the notion that some 2,900 unelected and unaccountable Chinese "parliamentarians" have the right to determine the future of the 23 million people of Taiwan.

The escalation in China's campaign of intimidation is especially perplexing because it comes after a period of improvement in cross-strait relations. For example, direct charter flights between Taiwan and China have been resumed after a long hiatus. Indeed, for the past five years my government has been offering one olive branch after another to Beijing.

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Moreover, our president, Chen Shui-bian, has taken the position since his first inauguration, in 2000, that "it is time for the two sides to relinquish hostility and confrontation left over from the old days."

Since 2000 the government of Taiwan has offered on more than 200 occasions to resume cross-strait talks. We recognize that people on both sides of the Taiwan Strait share a common ancestral, cultural and historical heritage. Taiwan has sought to further promote cultural, economic and trade exchanges. We have offered to establish a code of conduct, buffer zones and military consultation procedures modeled on mechanisms that have helped minimize the risk of inadvertent or accidental conflict in other areas. And last November we proposed that the two sides open a window of opportunity for the long-term development, security and prosperity of both our peoples. We have repeatedly tried to pave the way for the "three links" of direct transportation, communication and trade.

China's response has been negative. It has refused to resume talks on a wide range of important issues. And now it has enacted a law that authorizes the use of military force against Taiwan.

The process by which this law was passed demonstrates the great differences between the political systems of China and Taiwan. China first announced its intention to pass such a law in 2004. The text was kept secret for months and revealed just before it was passed unanimously by a parliament that has no real authority other than that granted to it by the leaders of the one-party state.

Contrast that secrecy and central control with the vibrant democracy in Taiwan. Our democratic system has immeasurably enriched the lives of the Taiwanese people, while the Chinese people live in a dictatorship with no political, religious or civic freedoms. Taiwan is committed to the peaceful resolution of disputes; China has 700 missiles aimed at our country and refuses to renounce the use of force. Taiwan is an ally of the United States and has actively supported the U.S.-led Proliferation Security Initiative. China has repeatedly been the subject of sanctions for its weapons proliferation activities around the world. Taiwan has renounced all weapons of mass destruction, including nuclear weapons. China is expanding its nuclear arsenal and developing new generations of land- and sea-based ballistic missiles capable of reaching U.S. soil.

China has attempted to justify its anti-secession law by at times claiming a parallel to the U.S. Civil War and Lincoln's effort to forcibly preserve the Union. But the analogy is fundamentally flawed. Abraham Lincoln strove to maintain a Union of territories placed under sovereign control of the U.S. federal government in 1787 by a ratification process that rested on popular consent. China's "law" is the product of one-party tyranny conducted by "parliamentarians" who have never faced election. It refers to a Taiwan that has never been a part of, or under the sovereign control of, the People's Republic of China. And it ignores the most basic point: Lincoln wanted to preserve the Union in the name of freedom, not to deny it.

Taiwan agrees with the democratic vision of President Bush: Security will ultimately be guaranteed only through the advance of liberty. And certainly, over the past two decades, we have seen remarkable progress in democracy in East Asia. In fact, it's no surprise that the most serious security problems we face in East Asia come from the policies being adopted by the region's two remaining one-party dictatorships: China and North Korea.

For all the efforts to "engage" China and help it become a "responsible" power, the reality is that it continues to stifle the democratic aspirations of its own people and to threaten Taiwan's democracy with military force. Unless the great democracies of the world say this behavior is not tolerable, we will only be inviting Beijing to believe it is.

Taiwan will continue to be open to dialogue with China on how to reduce tensions. But as tomorrow's rally should make clear, it is the people of Taiwan who will determine their future, not the unelected leaders in Beijing.

The writer is premier of the Republic of China (Taiwan).

© 2005 The Washington Post Company