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Jewish World Review June 15, 2001 / 25 Sivan, 5761

Doug Bandow

Doug Bandow
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Tell Beijing to mind its own business -- TAIWANESE President Chen Shui-bian has finished his trip to the United States, and the Chinese government is upset. It considers Taiwan to be part of China, so how dare Washington allow the head of a "renegade province" to land in the United States, even if only on his way to and from Latin America.

It's not the first time a Taiwanese president has visited America, of course. But it is the first time he was free to see more than an airport or hotel and meet with U.S. political figures.

In 1994, President Lee Teng-hui stopped at a military base in Hawaii, also on his way to Latin America. The Clinton administration insisted that he stay on the facility.

A year later, Lee wanted to return to Cornell University, his alma mater, for an alumni gathering. The administration was inclined to reject his request, but congressional pressure forced it to relent. Nevertheless, the State Department insisted that he avoid any "political" activities.

Last year, Chen wanted to change planes in Los Angeles on the midpoint of a trip to Latin America. The Clinton administration reluctantly granted him permission, but only if he sat in his hotel room for the entire 16-hour stay.

He had to cancel a planned meeting with four congressmen. One, Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, R-Calif., came anyway. Yet, despite the administration's timorous behavior, Beijing declared that the Chen visit might "severely" damage Sino-American relations.

Beijing has similarly pressured other nations. Earlier this year, former President Lee requested permission to visit Japan for medical treatment. Only after an agonizing delay did Tokyo approve his visit.

Similarly, last year, China bitterly protested Britain's willingness to grant a visa to former President Lee. London went ahead, but Beijing made an ugly scene.

Chen's latest U.S. visit particularly galled China because he was accompanied by 40 Taiwanese reporters and met with at least 20 congressmen. Chen also dropped in on Mayor Rudolph Giuliani and visited the Metropolitan Museum of Art. On his return, Chen attended a dinner in Houston hosted by House Majority Whip Tom DeLay, R-Texas.

This time, Beijing said little publicly: It "firmly opposes" such visits "under any excuse," allowed the foreign ministry. But both Taipei and Washington are bracing themselves for further protests.

The U.S.-Chinese relationship is already testy. The Chen visit adds another irritant on top of the spy plane incident and the Bush administration's decision to sell a variety of weapons, including submarines, to Taiwan.

Relations with Beijing are important, of course, and a military confrontation between America and China over Taiwan or anything else would be in no one's interest. But while one can legitimately debate what weapons to sell Taipei, or whether to defend Taiwan, there can be no compromise over allowing visits like that by Chen.

There may be no more basic element of statehood than deciding who can enter one's country. And there is no doubt what decision should be made by a people who purport to be free. The head of a foreign community - irrespective of its formal international status - that is both capitalist and democratic should be welcome in America. Nevertheless, this issue isn't likely to go away. Chen will undoubtedly be back, later in 2001 or beyond.

Similarly, in future years, his successor will certainly want to stop in the United States on his way to Latin America, where most of the countries that still officially recognize Taiwan as the Republic of China are located.

Washington should therefore settle the issue once and for all. It should inform Beijing politely but firmly that the United States, like China, does not appreciate outside interference in its internal affairs.

Which means that Washington will issue a transit visa to whomever it desires whenever it desires. In deference to China, the United States will keep any visit private by ensuring that no administration official meets with any visiting Taiwanese figure or figures.

But Washington will not attempt to prevent him or them from meeting with congressmen, journalists or anyone else. The United States might not be able to prevent the Beijing government from suppressing human rights in China. Washington certainly will not suppress human rights in America at China's behest.

Groveling is never good policy. Especially when it comes to the right of Americans to govern their own affairs.

JWR contributor Doug Bandow is a senior fellow at the Cato Institute. Comment by clicking here.


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