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Jewish World Review Feb. 21, 2002/ 9 Adar, 5762

Don Feder

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China would choke on Taiwan -- TODAY and tomorrow, President George W. Bush will pay a state visit to the People's Republic of China. The trip will focus on weapons proliferation, missile defense, human rights and other points of contention between Washington and Beijing. Also under the discussion will be the other China.

There is a China where democracy isn't a dream but a vibrant reality. A China that doesn't help terrorist states build weapons of mass destruction. A China that has never threatened to launch nuclear missiles at American cities.

The other China doesn't persecute members of meditation groups, imprison businessmen for importing Bibles or mete out death sentences to Christians for leading underground churches.

This China is the Republic of China on Taiwan. It is peaceful and democratic, respects human rights, and wants good relations with everyone. So, naturally, it's the China everybody pretends isn't there.

That isn't easy. With a population of 23 million, the ROC (as opposed to the PRC) is America's eighth-largest trading partner. Among the nations of the world, it ranks 21st in per capita gross national product. Freedom House puts it on par with Japan as the freest country in Asia.

While mainland China treats democracy as a disease, the Chinese on Taiwan have had a peaceful revolution over the past 15 years.

In 1987, Taiwan was under martial law, ruled by legislators elected on the mainland prior to 1949. The Democratic Progressive Party, established in 1986, is in power today. Its leader, who was imprisoned under martial law, is now the president of the Republic of China.

In 1996, the ROC had its first direct presidential election. The nationalist party's Lee Teng-hui won.

In 2000, after a half-century of nationalist rule, the DPP's Chen Shui-bian succeeded Lee. Last year, the nationalists lost their dominant position in the legislature -- surpassed by a coalition of the DPP and Lee's new Taiwan Solidarity Union.

None of this has earned Taiwan the respect it deserves. When the tyrants in Beijing scowl, the international community shudders. Nothing can provoke a PRC tantrum faster than support for Taiwan. Only 28 countries have diplomatic ties with Taipei.

Taiwan has made five attempts to join the World Health Organization -- as an observer. Even though it has a larger population than 75 percent of all WHO members, notwithstanding that even the Rotary International and Knights of Malta have observer status, Taiwan is still out in the cold.

The other China is eager to lessen tensions in the region. In his New Year's message, Chen called on his mainland counterparts to join him in pursuing "the same goal of peaceful coexistence and mutual prosperity." He's proposed talks with the People's Republic on trade and other concerns.

Tentative contacts between the two Chinas were broken off in 1999, when Beijing decided that Taipei was getting too uppity in asserting its rights.

The PRC insists the island is a rebel province and considers its prior capitulation a precondition for talks. It demands Taiwan bow to the dogma that there is one China and that the communist regime is the legitimate authority on both sides of the Taiwan Straits.

Chen responds, "If 'one China' means the disappearance of the Republic of China, a president elected under the ROC constitution could not accept that."

When he arrives on the mainland, Bush will step into the middle of this Middle Kingdom mess. He will be forced to endure whining about our weapons sales to Taipei. He must tread cautiously. His hosts will want him to become an arm of their foreign policy, as Clinton was during his 1998 visit, by publicly reciting their "three no's" (no to two Chinas, no to Taiwan independence, no to Taiwan's membership in international organizations where statehood is a requirement).

But the existence of two Chinas is a reality. Whatever formula Bush feels compelled to use during his trip, he at least understands this. In an interview last year, the president said that if Beijing resorted to force to achieve reunification, the U.S. would do whatever it takes "to help Taiwan defend itself."

If Beijing tries to swallow the other China on Bush's watch, it will choke.

JWR contributing columnist Don Feder's latest books are Who is afraid of the Religious Right? ($15.95) and A Jewish conservative looks at pagan America ($9.95). To receive an autographed copy, send a check or money order to: Don Feder, The Boston Herald, 1 Herald Sq., Boston, Mass. 02106. Doing so will help fund JWR, if so noted. He is also available as a guest speaker. To comment on this column please click here.

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© 2002, Creators Syndicate