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Jewish World Review March 1, 2000 /24 Adar I, 5760

Don Feder

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GOP nominee should go to Taiwan -- LAST WEEK, Beijing moved the tripwire on a war with Taiwan. While China found a new cause for saber rattling, Bill Clinton had the vapors.

Now, China's State Council warns that unless Taipei accepts negotiations toward reunification -- through which one of the world's most vibrant new democracies will be absorbed by one of its bloodiest totalitarian states -- it "will be forced to adopt all drastic measures, including the use of force."

The Clinton administration, which has spent seven years prostrating itself before the Middle Kingdom, reacted predictably. "One should be careful not to exaggerate the significance of this," whimpered State Department Spokesman James Rubin.

But it's difficult to overstate the gravity of the situation.

Before, Beijing said it would attack if Taiwan declared its independence.

Now, it's no longer content with the status quo. Emboldened by Clinton's "constructive engagement" and frustrated by the failure of past intimidation, China says it won't wait indefinitely for a Taiwanese capitulation.

With Clinton at the helm, Beijing can afford to gamble. Quite simply, he is the Chinese politburo's dream come true. For this president to demonstrate more sympathy for the People's Republic, we would have to start lobbing missile toward Taiwan.

Last year, when Taiwan President Lee Teng-hui said dealings with the mainland should be based on "special state to state relations" and China threatened war, Clinton spent an hour on the phone soothing Chinese President Jiang Zemin and canceled a trip to Taipei by mid-level U.S. officials. Thus, China was rewarded for its belligerence, Taiwan punished for asserting its rights.

The Taiwan Security Enhancement Act passed the House on Feb. 1 by a 341-70 vote. Among other provisions, the measure calls for increased communication between the Pentagon and Taiwanese military. Passage would signal America's determination not to stand idly by while mainland tigers devour our island ally. The administration is lobbying furiously against it.

Still, the nadir of Clinton's mishandling of China came during his 1998 trip to the People's Republic, when he became the first president to enunciate the regime's three nos -- no to two Chinas, no to an independent Taiwan and no to Taiwanese membership in sovereignty-based international organizations.

All of this has encouraged the communists to keep pushing the envelope.

Most observers believe China's obsession with Taiwan is driven by hysterical nationalism or fear that the island's democracy will somehow infect the mainland. In reality, it's a crucial step in Beijing's grand strategy to dominate East Asia.

Writing in the National Review, Ross H. Munro, author of "The Coming Conflict with China," observes, "In the eyes of PRC leaders, Taiwan is first and foremost a strategic target that must soon be subjugated if China is to realize its goal of becoming Asia's dominant and unchallenged power."

With Taiwan in its grasp, China would control the eastern entrance to the South China Sea as well as the southern sea lane connecting Japan to its petroleum supply. The air bases and sea space thus acquired would allow it to project its power throughout the region.

Munro cautions, "The security of the Philippines would be immediately threatened, and other Southeast Asian nations would find themselves more vulnerable to Chinese coercion."

Confirming Munro's thesis, the People's Liberation Army has been planning for a takeover of Taiwan at least since 1994 -- prior to the island's first presidential election or Taipei's diplomatic assertiveness.

Clinton's non-strategy here is based on the illusion that by giving Beijing everything it wants, he can somehow pacify the warlords and that, in time, China will get over its obsession. Fortunately, there's less than a year left for the president to inflict his fatal naivete on an explosive situation.

Since Clinton has once again defaulted on protecting our vital interests, Republicans must take up the burden by pushing for Senate approval of the Taiwan Security Enhancement Act.

The eventual GOP nominee could take an even more courageous step by announcing that -- like John F. Kennedy confronting the communists in Berlin -- if elected, he will go to Taiwan to express his solidarity with its free people. How does one say, "I am a Taiwanese" in mandarin?

JWR contributing columnist Don Feder's latest book is Who's Afraid of the Religious Right. Comment on his column by clicking here.

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© 2000, Creators Syndicate