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Jewish World Review Aug. 10, 1999 /27 Av 5759

Don Feder

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Politicians/media play blame Taiwan game -- THE BLAME GAME CONTINUES. Taking their cue from Clinton, media wise men complain that the latest row between Taipei and Beijing is all the fault of Taiwan's President Lee Teng-hui.

Lee's lethal error, they tell us, was to declare in an interview that henceforth Taiwan will pursue "state to state" relations with China.

That led to the predictable response from two quarters -- ugly threats from Beijing and furious appeasement from the White House. Last week, the media cadre joined the assault.

Writing in The Wall Street Journal, former National Security Adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski said Lee should be put on notice that Washington won't bail him out if his actions "provoke hostilities" with the mainland.

New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman labeled Lee's remarks "reckless." Of course, everyone outside the Chinese politburo knows that Taiwan has a separate identity, Friedman mused, but this is "no time for provoking clarity."

Friedman believes that by recognizing reality, Lee is inciting China's atavistic regime. Better to humor the Marxists than agitate them, the columnist cautions.

But one does not restrain a megalomaniac by supporting his delusions -- in this case, that Taiwan, which has had an existence apart from the mainland for most of this century, somehow is subject to Beijing's authority.

Yet feeding Beijing's fantasies is the essence of this administration's misbegotten China policy.

Clinton spent 45 minutes on the phone with Chinese leader Jiang Zemin, assuring him that America deplored Lee's comments. When Jiang told him that China has not ruled out the use of force against the island, the hero of Kosovo was silent.

The administration's message to Taiwan: We know that you're a democracy with the freest press in Asia. We know that you've built an industrial engine that's given you the world's 12th largest economy (on an island with few natural resources). And we know justice requires that your people determine their future.

But don't make waves. Don't agitate your totalitarian neighbor by asking it to treat you like an equal. Keep your head down and act like a nonentity.

We're told that the People's Republic was provoked, almost beyond endurance, by Lee's remarks. Then again, almost everything Taiwan does provokes Beijing.

In 1995, it was vexed when Lee visited his alma mater, Cornell University. In 1996, it was so infuriated by Taiwan's presidential election (democracy terrifies it) that it test-fired missiles into the Taiwan Straits.

After the takeover of Hong Kong, the mandarins talked about a 10-year timetable for the reunification of Taiwan, hinting that failure to meet the deadline would result in military action.

In his radio interview, Lee did more than state the obvious -- he began the process of rescuing Taiwan from the "One China" trap. The longer Taipei paid lip service to this dogma, the greater its peril.

If there is one China, then clearly that China is a nation of 1.3 billion, not an island of 23 million. The government of this unitary China must be the one that controls 3.7 million square miles, rather than the one whose territory is roughy twice the size of Massachusetts.

By accepting "One China," Lee's government was acceding to the eventual incorporation of Taiwan into a state that runs slave labor camps, persecutes Christians, arrests members of a group involved in meditation exercises and conducts show trials for democracy activists.

"One China" justifies the ongoing diplomatic isolation of Taiwan. In discussions with the mainland, it puts Taipei in the position of place-on-the-map negotiating with emerging superpower.

"One China" supports Beijing's position that it is entitled to rule Taiwan, regardless of the wishes of the Taiwanese, and that the island's democratically elected government is a rebel clique defying its legitimate authority.

Can the Taiwanese be blamed for refusing to put their signature to a suicide note? In the 1930s, the West believed war could be avoided by humoring the Nazis. ("Of course, Herr Hitler, you have every right to consider all Germans part of your Reich.") At the end of World War II, Roosevelt made the same fatal mistake with Stalin.

Today, in the name of pragmatism, conflict avoidance or buying time, we're endorsing the obsessions of another thugocracy and blaming its potential victims.

JWR contributing columnist Don Feder can be reached by clicking here.

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©1999, Creators Syndicate