Stop Bullying Taiwan

Tomorrow morning, Wen Jiabao, the premier of the People’s Republic of China (PRC), will speak at Harvard as part of his first official visit to the United States. When he spends time in the White House, one can be sure that Taiwan—officially, the Republic of China (ROC)—and the PRC’s efforts to maintain their stranglehold over its people, will be at the top of Wen’s agenda. The premier plans to once again reassert the PRC’s right to use military force as a means to bludgeon Taiwan’s aspirations of sovereignty.

But no matter how much PRC and Wen would like to obscure the reality, the fact is that Taiwan is a self-governing, democratic nation with 23 million people who freely and directly elect their own president and representatives, and have recently increased their commitment to open government with a package of reforms that will allow binding popular referendums—a greater level of citizen empowerment than many states in the U.S. enjoy. However, although the Beijing-based PRC government has never actually ruled Taiwan, it falsely claims it as a “renegade province” of the “sacred motherland,” and intends to eventually “liberate” the island at any cost. Wen and his officials consistently tout the threat of war and suppress Taiwan’s international activities. The PRC’s tactics of intimidation and intentional manufacturing of fear are not only unwarranted, but could themselves constitute formal aggression of the regime against a democratic and sovereign nation.

And while Taiwan itself renounced the possible use of force to resolve the issue of its autonomy as far back as 1990, the PRC has launched missiles several miles off the coast in a “military exercise” in 1996, just days before their first-ever direct Taiwanese presidential election. Just this past week, a Chinese military strategist claimed that he was “not concerned that foreign investment might drop, or that [China’s] development would be set back several years, its soldiers might die, its relations with third countries be affected or that people and property in the Asia-Pacific region would be damaged by a war.” With about 500 ballistic missiles currently stationed along the coast of China facing Taiwan, the PRC threatens not only the security of the country, but international stability in the region, with its belligerent assertions of military hubris.

The PRC has also gone to great diplomatic lengths to stifle Taiwan’s entry into international organizations such as World Health Organization (WHO) and the United Nations (U.N.). Their recalcitrance over WHO-entry is particularly troubling since, during the SARS outbreak this May, it was the PRC that continually suppressed reports of cases and refused to cooperate with the WHO, while Taiwan coped with the outbreak alone. PRC representatives even blocked all aid from directly reaching Taiwan, at the same time that it was contesting Taiwan’s bid for observer status on the grounds that it already “takes care of the health of Taiwan compatriots.” The PRC not only suppresses the right of the people of Taiwan to take part in the international community, it further demonstrates the dishonesty and blatant disregard for human welfare on account of a political agenda.

Given this clear record of unmitigated hostility, the U.S. needs to stand firm against further encroachments on Taiwan’s livelihood. The U.S. should continue its commitment to help Taiwan defend itself, as outlined in the Taiwan Relations Act of 1979. It must reject the fallacious position that Taiwan is part of the PRC and demand an end to the use of force. The aspiration of the people of Taiwan to decide their own fate must be upheld and respected. And unless President Bush impresses this reality on Premier Wen at their meeting today, the U.S. will remain hypocritical and morally unjustified in continually turning a blind eye to these severe abuses.

When Premier Wen visits the U.S. this week, he should take notice of the clear message of dissent against the policies he represents—not only at Harvard, but also on campuses across the nation that have joined in the grassroots campaign to simultaneously voice principled opposition. The U.S. government and the public at large should also take notice of these voices, and reject the unjust, coercive and ultimately oppressive treatment of Taiwan by the People’s Republic of China.

Chieh-Ting Yeh ’04 is a chemistry concentrator in Kirkland House. Sophia Lai ’04 is a social studies concentrator in Currier House. They are co-president and former board member of the Taiwanese Cultural Society, respectively.