A Visit for Taiwan's President

Wednesday, May 10, 1995

FROM THE House (396-0) and, yesterday, the Senate (97-1) the Clinton administration now has a suitably thunderous measure of the support for granting President Lee Teng-hui of Taiwan a visa to the United States. Cornell, where he got a PhD in agricultural economics, wants to honor him at an alumni reunion in June. The State Department says that to admit him would undercut a long-term, bipartisan policy by which the United States recognizes the People's Republic of China as the sole government of one China. There the matter rests.

The virtual unanimity of congressional sentiment reflects the open-and-shut quality of the case for a visa. It is not simply that by the Beijing-favored standard of value as an American trading partner, prosperous Taiwan is far ahead of the mainland. Taiwan is farther ahead by the standard -- democracy -- that Communist-run China shrinks from being judged by at all. The State Department contends that admitting President Lee would "unavoidably be seen" by Beijing as "removing an essential element of unofficiality" from U.S.-Taiwan relations. Excluding him is unavoidably being seen by Congress and many American citizens as removing an essential element of principle from American foreign policy.

No doubt there is political art to President Lee's request to drop by on a "private" visit. A practiced diplomatist, he knows presidents aren't allowed such privacy. Nonetheless, he would not be coming to Washington and would not be doing what is normally considered official business. He is distinguished in his professional field and has legitimate cover to be solidifying an old school tie. The Beijing Chinese would have been smarter to play this little fiction out rather than allow the Taiwan Chinese to make it, as they have, a high-profile test of where China and Taiwan stand in American opinion.

In fact, President Lee has set aside the old Nationalist Chinese dream of reconquering the mainland and has instead promoted large investments there and otherwise much broadened ties between what he, like Beijing, regards as two parts of a single divided country eventually to be reunified. Except, of course, that President Lee seeks reunification within a democratic, free-market context. This is the One China policy the United States should be supporting. The State Department embarrasses the country by barring the leader of the part of the Chinese people who already enjoy much democracy and are expert in free-market ways.

© 1995 The Washington Post Company